RACING

Exclusive: The story behind one of F1’s most important inventions

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Four years after its introduction to F1, Ferrari’s Laurent Mekies recounts the effort it took to bring the Halo to Formula 1.

Mekies – who serves as race director for the Scuderia – was one of those involved in presenting the data behind the device before it went into effect for the 2018 season.

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Although the Halo received praise in the years that followed for its role in protecting drivers from serious accidents, there was no universal support at the time, as Mekies recalled in an interview. exclusive with RacingNews365.com.

Mekies felt that “everyone” was against Halo

Looking back, Mekies admits there were some concerns about the introduction of a cockpit protection system in F1.

“Everyone was against us,” Mekies said.

“Everyone was against us. That’s how it started. Because of something very fair, because of aesthetics – [people thought] the aesthetic was unpleasant.

“There were these false feelings of high enough security, so [people asked]’Why are you trying to push the boundaries?'”

Despite protests, boundaries continued to be pushed in the Halo development process.

“[We pushed the boundaries] because we wanted to be productive, we wanted to take the next step,” Mekies continued.

Mekies credits Todt with a crucial role in the creation of Halo

Mekies credits the influence of former FIA President Jean Todt in terms of pushing for the introduction of the Halo and encouraging the team behind to “think outside the box”.

“The FIA ​​reviewed head protection systems from 2009, after the [Henry] Surtees crash,” Mekies explained, referring to the fatal Formula 2 accident involving the son of John Surtees.

“So we took that work back, and we finally – with the help of the teams, with the help of all the groups there – [turned] in what you know to be the Halo today. That’s what it was.

“But ultimately it’s coming from the top. It’s coming from the incredibly strong push from Jean Todt. It’s coming from the fact that – I’m biased now, because I’m here, but you can look at the other recordings and the audience elements – the only support we got at the time was from Ferrari.

“[They] were basically saying, ‘Do what you have to do, it’s safety first’.”

After Jules Bianchi’s death in 2015, Mekies said more pilots started getting involved in Halo’s plans, including Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa.

Other safety pushes in Formula 1

Alongside the Halo, various other safety developments have been pushed in Formula 1, and Mekies has identified some that he feels are particularly important, such as the high-speed camera that helps understand crashes.

“Why the high-speed camera [important]? Because you could start to understand some crash dynamics that you had no idea before,” the engineer explained.

“And it helps you design the cockpit, it helps you design the headrest, it helps you design the belt, it helps you [in] understand how to use the HANS [device].

“So now we have it everywhere, in Formula 1, Formula E and a few other [categories].”

Mekies is delighted to see the ripple effect safety innovations in F1 have had on other motorsport categories.

“I think the biggest achievement, besides the Halo, has been the cascade of what we’re doing in F1 in the other categories,” he added.

“Again, that was Jean’s huge push. He didn’t want to compromise.

“If you look now, we have the Halo in Formula 4, but it was the same for everything else we did – for the crash test, for the fire suits, for everything.

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