HUNGARORING -- By the time Formula One teams have integrated the Halo cockpit protection system into their 2018 chassis designs, the FIA is expecting the device to look more pleasing to the eye.
News that the Halo will become mandatory on all cars next year was met by significant backlash from fans as well as criticism from some senior figures within the paddock. For the most part the aesthetics have been the focus for criticism, although there is also an argument that the Halo is an unnecessary safety measure.
So far the device has only been tested as a removable prototype in order to get feedback from drivers on visibility and extrication, but next year it will become an integrated part of chassis design. The structural part of the Halo will be made by a single supplier and provided to all teams, but the carbon fibre fairing that goes around it will provide teams with some scope to come up with different designs.
"I think teams haven't explored the full range of possibilities to make them look a little more pleasing to the eye," FIA race director Charlie Whiting said in a press briefing on Thursday. "We've only seen the bare designs [so far] and even when Williams ran with a white one it looked a great deal better, I think you'll agree.
"Personally, I think fans will get used to it but there is a little bit of pushback at the moment. The possibilities the teams have will allow a 20mm distance from around the main tubes at the top in order for them to fit fairings. I think they will come up with some different designs. I don't think it will be quite as bad as you think."
Whiting added that the main reason for giving teams some freedom over the Halo's fairing is to combat the challenges faced by the device changing the airflow towards the car's airbox above the drivers head.
"They have to use the standard Halo which will be made by a single supplier and we will allow them to use non-structural fairings around the upper part which can be no more than 20mm from the main structure and I think there is an overall width restriction and a restriction on how far they can encroach on the cockpit opening.
"Twenty mm is quite a lot all the way around and they can do what they like with that. The main reason the first place was to give them scope to overcome any aero changes they have got to make, for example on the air box or things like that, if they want to redirect the flow."
The FIA also confirmed it was working on making the central strut of the Halo slimmer, from a width of 20mm to 16mm.
Why Halo got the nod over the Shield
The FIA remains open to exploring alternative cockpit protection devices, but has made clear that Halo has performed best in static tests. One of the key objectives is to provide protection from large flying objects such as loose wheels, and the Halo's two rival concepts, the Aeroscreen and the Shield, showed weakness in that area. The Halo, however, proved incredibly strong and will be capable of supporting 15 times the static weight of next year's cars.
"Prior to getting to these three options [Halo, Aeroscreen and Shield] we have looked at a lot more options than that," FIA safety delegate Laurent Mekies explained. "From a full canopy to a roll bar design. One of the reasons why we spent time and energy on the Shield option was to find more integrated solutions.
"As I said we feel that for now the downsides of the others are too big compared to the overall benefits of the Halo but it is possible in the future when we approach some milestones and other solutions which provide better protection."
The Shield was tested for one lap by Sebastian Vettel at the British Grand Prix before he returned to the pits complaining of distorted vision and dizziness. Mekies believes those issues can be overcome, but said the overall strength of the Shield compared to the Halo was the main reason it has been overlooked at this stage.
"We had a detailed and long debriefing with Sebastian on Friday night in Silverstone," he said. "It was the very first shield produced and Sebastian was disturbed by a slight optical distortion that he had in the straight ahead position. We have quite a few good ideas of why this is happening and we don't think that technically it is impossible to solve.
"The underlying factor is that the Shield is designed to offer a lower level of protection than the Halo, so it did not pass the [flying] wheel test. And would also have additional complications linked to visibility such as dirt, rain, etcetera, so we felt that we had to explore it and perhaps one day we will get enough strength to reach all our target.
"But the main reason to discard it was not so much that single feedback because after the first on-track test you would expect issues and you would expect work to be done, and we have done the same with the other devices, but more down to the fact that the level of protection was certainly not as high as we wanted."