Belgian Grand Prix: First-lap shunt calls time on halo debate

2018 is the debut season in F1, and in junior series F2, of the frontal head protection system more commonly known as the halo. Despite its unpopularity, the device has already proven its worth on numerous occasions.

Back when the halo was still in development, one of the crashes looked at was that of the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, when Romain Grosjean sent his car flying over Fernando Alonso’s, only narrowly missing the latter’s head. Grosjean was handed a race ban for the incident while everyone knew that Alonso had been very lucky to avoid any injury.

Joe Portlock / McLaren

This time it’s another first lap crash at Spa involving Alonso that has caused debate surrounding the halo, and one that could’ve had a much different outcome had the device not been there. Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point by quite some way, later saying that the turbulent air from the cars in front took weight off the front of his car, and ploughed into the back of Alonso. The Spaniard, now a passenger, then hit the back of Charles Leclerc’s car and was launched over the top of the Sauber, coming into contact with its halo.

As in 2012, all drivers involved walked away from the incident unscathed, and thoughts quickly turned to what sort of penalty Hulkenberg should get. It turned out to be a 10-place grid penalty for Monza, though Alonso insists that the penalty should’ve been more like that given to Grosjean in 2012.

The sheer damage to Leclerc’s halo was only realised when images of the device were released during the race. Alonso’s car, and more specifically his tyre, had left black rubber marks all over the right side of the halo, along with the side of the Sauber. Clearly, the outcome could, and would, have been a lot worse if those tyre marks were on Leclerc’s helmet and not his halo, showing exactly why the protection device was introduced.

Another thing the crash perfectly demonstrated is why the FIA were unwilling to delay the halo’s introduction. Imagine if that crash had happened and the halo wasn’t there. The outcome would have been a lot worse, while the FIA would be open to numerous lawsuits and we might just have lost one of F1’s brightest young stars.

This crash is, however, not the first one in 2018 to prove the halo’s worth. When Tadasuke Makino and Nirei Fukuzumi came together earlier in the F2 season, Fukuzumi’s tyre ended up on Makino’s halo, leaving similar black marks to those left on Leclerc’s. This should have ended the halo debate there and then, with Makino saying that the halo “saved his life”, but still it rumbled on.

Haters of the halo are, on various social media platforms, still trying to find ways to complain about it, despite both Leclerc and Makino’s crashes. I’ve seen a lot say that the wheel wouldn’t have come into contact with either of their heads anyway, so the halo doesn’t need to be there. But, there’s no proof for that, either way. Surely, it’s better to err on the side of caution by having the halo there, rather than risk it with their head’s exposed.

The presence of the halo makes championships without it look very exposed and excessively dangerous by comparison. Take IndyCar, for example. At Pocono, there was a huge wreck in which Robert Wickens’ car came perilously close to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s head, and a piece of debris entered James Hinchcliffe’s cockpit causing damage to his hands. Just watching IndyCar, Pocono aside, it looks like their heads are so exposed, something that has only really come to light because of the halo.

Renault Sport F1 Team

The FIA have said that they’ll share their findings from Leclerc’s crash with IndyCar, but the latter is unable to use the halo due to visibility issues on ovals and super-speedways. Nevertheless, the American series is looking to introduce a windscreen-type solution for next season.

Fellow drivers have praised the halo after Leclerc’s crash, with Leclerc himself saying that he was glad to have it over his head. 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg declared that the halo discussion was over because it clearly can save lives while Felipe Massa said that it can now be called “beautiful”. There has been a huge outcry of support for the halo and a crash like this, however awful it is to say, was needed to prove to the doubters that the device effective. Now there can be no question about that.

The strongly-opinionated type will probably still criticise the halo but, the fact is, it’s the best solution to the problem that currently exists. Eventually, there will be a halo replacement or adaptation that is better-looking but, in the meantime, the halo is most definitely here to stay and whether you like it or not, expect other series to be adopting it very soon.

 

Featured image – Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team

Belgian Grand Prix: Hamilton Claims Pole as Force India Impress in Rain-Affected Qualifying

Lewis Hamilton has claimed his 78th pole position in Formula One, setting a time seven tenths quicker than title rival Sebastian Vettel as rain showers shook things up in Q3 at Spa-Francorchamps.

The Brit now holds the record for the most pole positions claimed at the circuit, beating the previous record of four poles held by Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna.

Ferrari had looked as if they had the edge coming into qualifying, with the Scuderia setting the fastest times in every practice session as well as in Q1 and Q2. However, when the rain started to fall in Q3, the pendulum swung in Mercedes’ favour. Sebastian Vettel managed to significantly improve his lap time in the final runs of Q3 as the track began to dry but it wasn’t enough to overthrow Lewis Hamilton at the top of the timing screens. He will start the race tomorrow in P2.

2018 Großer Preis von Belgien, Samstag – Steve Etherington

Force India, or Racing Point Force India if you want to be pedantic, saw both of their drivers put in superb performances. Esteban Ocon – whose future is uncertain amid rumours of Lance Stroll being drafted into the team as soon as Monza or Singapore – qualified an amazing P3. Team-mate Sergio Perez recovered from a huge moment coming out of Eau Rouge and going into Raidillon to post the fourth quickest time. There must be something in the Force India water at Spa, for this is the circuit where Giancarlo Fisichella claimed pole for them in 2009 and where previous incarnations of the team, notably Jordan Grand Prix, have always run well.

Also putting in a great performance was the Haas of Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman had been surprisingly off the pace all weekend, but he managed to get it together when it mattered and qualified P5.

Kimi Raikkonen had been looking particularly strong all weekend, but Ferrari made the strategic error of only giving him enough fuel for one lap in Q3. This meant the Finn was confined to the garage towards the end of Q3 at precisely the moment when the fastest laps were being set on track. He ended up P6.

The Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will, like Raikkonen, definitely not be satisfied. Thanks to a mix of strategic error and the low-drag trim they had been running, they ended up P7 and P8 respectively and over four seconds away from Hamilton’s pole time.

2018 Großer Preis von Belgien, Samstag – Wolfgang Wilhelm

The other Haas of Kevin Magnussen qualified P9, nearly three seconds behind his team-mate, and Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top ten having failed to set a time in Q3. The Finn came into qualifying carrying engine penalties and knowing that, whatever happened, he would be starting the Grand Prix from the back of the grid.

Outside the top ten, the main surprise came in the form of Renault’s Carlos Sainz being knocked out of Q1 by the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.

Not so surprising, however, was the pace of the two McLaren cars. It is turning into a home race to forget for Stoffel Vandoorne – the Belgian had been slowest in FP1, FP2, and FP3, and that trend, unfortunately, continued into Q1. This was McLaren’s worst qualifying of the year so far, with Vandoorne’s team-mate Fernando Alonso also failing to make it out of Q1 and qualifying P17. They will, however, get bumped up a couple of places thanks to the engine penalties given to Valtteri Bottas and also to Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.

 

Featured image: 2018 Großer Preis von Belgien, Samstag – Steve Etherington

A retrospective review of the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix – Jordan GP’s first victory

It was one of the most dramatic races ever – It’s worth mentioning also that the team hadn’t done that well that year, with numerous DNF’s and a very slow car as well. However, when the team changed their designer, bringing Mike Gascoyne on board and he introduced a new floor and sidepods. Damon Hill drove the improved car to fourth in the German and Hungarian races, the two races before Belgium.

 

During the Friday’s free practice sessions, Damon placed the car fourth and then third fastest, showing the changes were making a dramatic difference. Then in qualifying Damon put the car third on the grid, ahead of Michael Schumacher and behind only Mika and David in their McLaren Mercedes.

 

In the wet and raining warm up on Sunday morning the two Ferrari’s led the way, with Michael ahead of Eddie Irvine, whilst Damon was sixth.

1998_belgian_grand_prix_start_by_f1_history-d9inqba

At the first start there was a massive accident taking out nine cars. The drivers who didn’t restart were Rubens who was injured, Olivier, Salo and Rosset.

 

The rain eased off and after the clean up that saw so many cars out, the grid lined up for a restart with the drivers opting to switch to intermediate tyres.

 

At the start, Damon Hill took the lead, but Mika Hakkinen spun at La Source and was hit by Johnny Herbert who clipped the front of the McLaren. With Mika and Johnny colliding at the first corner, the safety car came out for a couple of laps whilst the mess was cleared up.

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At the restart after those safety car laps, Jacques passed Jean Alesi, moving into fourth place. Seven laps into the race, Damon and Michael were lapping a full three seconds faster than all the other drivers and were eight seconds ahead of Eddie Irvine who was third.

 

After eight laps, the rain started to fall harder and Michael Schumacher took the lead from Damon, out braking the Brit into the bus stop chicane. Once there, with his set-up on his Ferrari set to the track getting wetter. Each lap saw the German pull away from Damon and the lead by lap 13 was ten seconds.

 

Lap nine saw Eddie spin off and damage his front wing and further back the remaining Stewart driven by Jos Verstappen retired after his Ford engine failed. Twelve laps in and Michael had a nine second lead over Damon. Williams driver, Heinz Harald Frenzen was now in third place, but Jean in his Sauber was actually catching the German ahead of him. On lap 14, Frenzen ran wide into the gravel in the final third of the lap, and Jean passed him, moving into third and was now lapping faster than Damon. The lap times were starting to increase as the rain began to fall heavier and Jacques had now caught his teammate. On lap 16, having not stopped for full wets the Canadian spun out and retired from the race. The result of that was our top three was now Michael, Damon and Ralf.

 

However, the race was to have a dramatic moment on lap 25, when Michael struck the rear of David’s McLaren as he was coming through to lap him, and this ripped off his right-front wheel and suspension, and David’s rear wing being knocked off! The two drivers completed the lap, Michael driving on just three wheels, but then Michael stormed down to the McLaren pits and had a go at David. He was pushed away by his own team who had tried to stop him from going down there in the first place.

 

The net result of this was that Damon was back in the lead. A couple of laps later, Damon ran wide at the bus stop chicane and took a skip over the grass. No big drama though, as he had a good lead over his teammate. In third place by this point was Jean Alesi in his Sauber and at points, he was lapping faster than the two Jordan’s ahead of him.

 

The following lap saw an identical crash – Fisichella in his Renault hit the rear of Nakano’s Minardi as they came down to the bus stop chicane, with the result that he lost control and also hit the barrier at the start of the pit lane. A small fire started on the side of the car, which was put out quickly and given the position of the car, race control released the safety car which stayed out for five to six laps whilst the mess was cleared up. A number of cars pitted during the safety car period and Damon managed to pit and re-join in the lead.

 

David’s McLaren had been rebuilt with a new rear wing and re-joined the race in seventh place but was four laps behind the sixth-place driver. With 12 laps remaining, the safety car was still out there but preparing to pit and the race would restart.

 

With 10 laps remaining, Damon had everything under control and was pulling away from his young teammate, Ralf, who in turn was keeping a good gap to Jean in his Sauber and four seconds covered the top three with eight laps remaining, but the gap then started falling as the rain eased off and with just five laps remaining just three seconds covered the top three.

 

Three laps to go and Damon had opened up a bit more of a lead now with the rain falling harder again. Jarno Trulli, running in the final points position was lapped safely by Damon on lap 42.

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The final lap passed without incident and Damon Hill crossed the line to win his twenty-second race and Jordan’s first. Ralf took second place and Jean Alesi took Sauber’s first podium in third place with a brilliant drive. Heinz Harald-Frenzen was fourth and Pedro Diniz, driving for Arrows was fifth and taking the final points position of sixth, Jarno Trulli in his Prost.

 

I’d say, that this race is definitely one of my favourites, and not just because Damon won, but for the incredible drama and excitement it brought to the those who watched.

 

Full race result

 

Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 9  Damon Hill JordanMugen-Honda 44 1:43:47.407 3 10
2 10  Ralf Schumacher JordanMugen-Honda 44 +0.932 8 6
3 14  Jean Alesi SauberPetronas 44 +7.240 10 4
4 2  Heinz-Harald Frentzen WilliamsMecachrome 44 +32.243 9 3
5 16  Pedro Diniz Arrows 44 +51.682 16 2
6 12  Jarno Trulli ProstPeugeot 42 +2 Laps1 13 1
7 7  David Coulthard McLarenMercedes 39 +5 Laps 2
8 22  Shinji Nakano MinardiFord 39 +5 Laps 21
Ret 5  Giancarlo Fisichella BenettonPlaylife 26 Collision 7
Ret 3  Michael Schumacher Ferrari 25 Collision damage 4
Ret 4  Eddie Irvine Ferrari 25 Spun off 5
Ret 23  Esteban Tuero MinardiFord 17 Gearbox 22
Ret 1  Jacques Villeneuve WilliamsMecachrome 16 Spun off 6
Ret 21  Toranosuke Takagi TyrrellFord 10 Spun off 19
Ret 19  Jos Verstappen StewartFord 8 Engine 17
Ret 8  Mika Häkkinen McLarenMercedes 0 Collision 1
Ret 6  Alexander Wurz BenettonPlaylife 0 Collision 11
Ret 15  Johnny Herbert SauberPetronas 0 Collision 12
DNS 18  Rubens Barrichello StewartFord 0 Collision 15
DNS 11  Olivier Panis ProstPeugeot 0 Collision 14
DNS 17  Mika Salo Arrows 0 Collision 18
DNS 20  Ricardo Rosset TyrrellFord 0 Collision 20