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.