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Saints and sinners in a changing F1 world

Wednesday 12 July, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, London. F1 brings a corner of the British capital to a standstill with a well-received street demo (see page 80). All the current drivers are there – except the one who really matters. As own goals go, Lewis Hamilton lobs his keeper from the halfway line. He should have dropped his holiday to be there and saved himself some aggro.

Three days later, Saturday 15 July, Silverstone. Before qualifying I take the bus from The Wing to Luffield to watch among the throng and gauge the London hangover. From Hamilton’s first pass it’s clear there isn’t one. Rapture welcomes the Merc each time Lewis arcs into the long right-hander, practising what he preached in our exclusive cover story last month. He seeks grip from the wider wet line, even when conditions improve, accelerating harder and earlier than anyone else. This is his domain – and they love him unconditionally here.

Later, he’ll claim his sensational Silverstone result – pole, fastest lap, dominant win – validated his decision to miss London. It’s hard to argue when his form is this good, but would the demo really have harmed his pre-British GP prep? Still, from sinner to saint in less than a week. That’s what it is to be Lewis Hamilton.

A few days later came more rumination on good versus evil: and this time it’s serious. The FIA’s news-bomb that the ‘halo’ cockpit safety device will offer drivers new levels of head protection from 2018, blows a thong-shaped hole through F1’s firmament. This one was always going to be ugly, both figuratively and literally.

As much as we all want racing drivers to avoid injury, is F1 about to lose something of its essence?

“I’ve made myself clear since the beginning: we don’t need anything,” said Romain Grosjean at Silverstone, when Seb Vettel’s test of the alternative shield solution ended in dizziness after one lap. “The test was not very conclusive today. I’m against every halo or shield or whatever. It’s not F1.”

Grosjean has been consistently brave on this one. In the wake of Jules Bianchi, Justin Wilson, Henry Surtees and more, it’s tough to speak out. But, for many, the halo breaches a metaphysical line. As much as we all want racing drivers to avoid injury, is F1 about to lose something of its essence? Can motor racing really become too safe?

In my head I’m screaming an emphatic ‘yes’. This is the sport I’ve grown up with and, like so many others, I quake a little at change. But were I to answer those questions out loud in front of the mother, father, husband, wife or child of a dead racing driver… I’d surely be more equivocal. We all have to search deep for our true answer to this one.

Damien Smith
European Editor-in-cheif

Inside the issue

This month's features include

Kubica: The return
Six years after his near-fatal rally crash, we interview Robert Kubica as he tests a Renault F1 car

The prince of Zandvoort
Home hero Max Verstappen thrills his fans as he breaks the lap record at the old home of the Dutch GP

Lewis vs Senna
A comparison of the talents of legends from two very different eras

F1 Live London
Formula 1 machines take to the streets of the capital for this very special fan event

You ask the questions
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat tackles the thorny subject of his demotion

Tennis with the Hülk
The Renault ace plays his other favourite sport

Lance Stroll
We take the Williams rookie back to his roots in Canadian karting

The incredible journey
Moving the 140-tonne McLaren Brand Centre from race to race

Plus

F1 Parade
The very best F1 photography

Now That Was A Car
A look back at the ground-breaking, ground-effect Lotus 78

Racer’s Edge
Peter Windsor on ’70s Renault

This F1 Life
Pat Symonds on PUs of the future

Power Play
Dieter Rencken on engine deals

Mercedes debrief
We find out what’s goes on at a top team’s paddock debrief session

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