Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Halo Rule

Get ready for change boys and girls because the visual of race cars is changing before your very eyes.

At Thursday's Formula One test from Barcelona, Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen ran an installation lap with the halo device attached to his SF16-H. 

Change is here. It's not in the living room with its feet on the coffee table but it just rang the doorbell and your significant other is about to open the door and welcomed change into the house and offer it something to drink. 

People don't like change. It's natural to not like change. If someone doesn't like change it doesn't mean they are ignorant or irrational or Neanderthal. It means they are human. Change takes time to get use to and instead of kicking people into the deep end, people should slowly be exposed to change. That is how the halo should be introduced into motorsports, especially Formula One and IndyCar. 

While the accidents of Jules Bianchi and Justin Wilson are fresh in the minds of many, the exposure of a driver's head isn't something that must be addressed immediately. Those were freak accidents and not an epidemic that is taking the lives of a dozen drivers every year but it is still a potential risk that should be addressed and improved on. 

The Formula One paddock is split over the halo and I am sure the IndyCar paddock is split just the same. Some are struggling with the proposed change and others are open to and willing to embrace it. Eventually the halo will have to be race tested and I propose that be sooner rather than later. It won't happen in Formula One but IndyCar should be begging to be the Guinea pig.

IndyCar has nothing to lose. If anything, it would gain so much from having the halo. First off, there is the capitalistic aspect. It appears the #20 Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing will not be a full-time entrant as a road/street course driver has yet to be found and St. Petersburg is only a week away. To keep an entry on the IndyCar grid full-time, here is what the series should do: 

IndyCar should give Ed Carpenter Racing a Leader Circle spot. The series should then go to the FIA and say they are willing to run the halo on one car for the entry 2016 season and has put $1.25 million (the rumored amount for a 2016 Leader Circle entry) behind the effort but would need the FIA and the Formula One teams to match what IndyCar was putting behind the effort. IndyCar would allow the FIA to watch the car and work with the team throughout the season as the halo was tested. 

It would be a win-win as $1.25 million is chump change if it were split amongst the Formula One teams. Each team would pay a little bit to get a critical piece tested and it would be more affordable for the Formula One teams than going to an airstrip and straight-line testing the halo or heading to Silverstone or Barcelona during the season to test it. IndyCar wins as it would get another full-time and both sides would benefit as Ed Carpenter, one of the most if not the most experienced oval driver would get to provide insight on it on ovals. The funding provided from the Leader Circle program and the FIA/Formula One teams could go toward making sure a qualified driver would be behind the wheel on road and street courses. I first thought Oriol Servià would be a perfect option as he is experienced and wouldn't have to worry about giving feedback while trying to learn the circuits. However, if the FIA and Formula One teams would rather have a driver they were more familiar with, such as Jean-Éric Vergne, Pedro de la Rosa, Nick Heidfeld or Sébastien Buemi, then that could also be another option. 

Having the halo on the #20 Chevrolet would get fans use to seeing it without shoving it down their throats. It would allow for it to grow on people and get use to seeing it on track. I would hope by the end of the season, let's say by Pocono, a second halo could be attached to a car and there could be two halos on track for the final three races. At the end of the season, both series would have loads of information to go on and improvements could be made together. 

For 2017, the halo could be slowly integrated to more teams and possibly slowly integrated into Formula One. For IndyCar, by the start of 2017 it could be a rule that each multi-car team must have at least one entry with a halo. All of a sudden, there would be seven halos on the grid. Maybe for Formula One it could be one car per team runs a halo. By 2018, perhaps people will be accustomed to it to the point that a full grid of them would not be a bigger deal. 

As for now, IndyCar should be on the phone with the FIA and try to get one on the grid for St. Petersburg. It would be something people would tune in to see. It would put IndyCar in the international motorsports headlines, which IndyCar rarely gets for something positive and it would put IndyCar in a position to be the first to exploit the potential commercial benefits of halos. 

The current design has its flaws most notably openings that could allow debris to still hit a driver's head. The middle bar doesn't look good at all and while Räikkönen said visibility wasn't that different, why not get rid of the obstruction now before a driver blames the halo on why he couldn't avoid hitting another car. I was wondering why couldn't a windscreen be put in to protect the driver's head from debris coming in at eye level and to remove the solid bar. Windscreens aren't revolutionary. From LMP1 cars to stock cars to GT cars, they all have windscreen. Why couldn't what would resemble a giant visor be the next step for the halo and why couldn't that step be made sooner rather than later? 

Especially if you're IndyCar, think of the potential commercial relationships that could be made, especially if IndyCar could be the series that turns the halo into the visor. Safelite would be a natural partner and even better, Safelite is based in Graham Rahal's backyard of Columbus, Ohio. 

Business potential aside, the halo is at the door and instead of fighting it and kicking and screaming we must give it a chance. At the same time, Formula One and IndyCar should slowly get people use to it. IndyCar should grab the ball on this one and make sure it is on the grid immediately. There are too many positives for IndyCar to standby and watch Formula One bicker about the halo concept. The FIA and Formula One teams should want IndyCar to be the Guinea pig. I am sure they will pitch in because it would be more affordable than the teams having to do their own research and development. 

The first Indianapolis 500 featured arguably the first rearview mirror and that car was the winning Marmon Wasp of Ray Harroun. Imagine if the 100th Indianapolis 500 winner featured a halo. The storylines would be like nothing IndyCar has seen in a long time. A halo car will win the Indianapolis 500 soon. Why not have it at least be a possibility this May?