Sir Jackie Stewart and Halo: No stranger to F1 safety ridicule

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As soon as Sir Jackie Stewart raised his tartan cap above the parapet on the issue of the Halo, you could bet good money on the wee Scot being ridiculed. Not much has changed, then.

We may be talking vastly different eras in terms of safety but Stewart was hammered far harder in the Sixties than now, the irony being that objections then were over his temerity in thinking about reducing unnecessary deaths rather than today's critics being outraged by how a safety device looks.

The urgent need to stem the loss of top drivers (one every month between April and July in 1968; one a month!) was far greater than any concern about appearance -- which says a lot about the massive advance in safety if the Halo's undeniable ugliness is the major fuel igniting hostile social comment. Of course things have changed for the better over the course of five decades but Stewart argues that avoiding one fatality in 12 years (as opposed to 12 in one year) is no reason to dismiss the Halo as an irrelevance.

There is a parallel. Stewart's drive to introduce crash barriers sent torrents of protest flooding across the correspondence pages of motor sport magazines. One reader, T.C.W. Peacock, wrote: 'It is unthinkable for any professional [Stewart] to accept the challenge and then try to change the rules to make it all safe and cosy. This is plain cheating. Perhaps this insecure driver, diarist and emotional motorist should concern himself with the less dangerous but equally lucrative world of entertainment.'

This 'emotional motorist' did precisely the opposite. Stewart's call to install steel barriers raised claims that it went against the freedom and tradition of racing on open roads and streets. It was, in modern much-used parlance, interfering with the sport's DNA.

But having lost his fellow countryman and close friend Jim Clark at Hockenheim, Stewart was painfully familiar with the downside. When the double world champion suffered a mechanical failure at a point where the long straight curved through the woods, the F2 Lotus slammed into a tree and was torn in two. Clark was killed instantly.

Stewart campaigned hard for the cancellation four months later of the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, a magnificent 14-mile monster bristling with hazards even the most foolhardy would not contemplate today. And yet, having failed in his mission, Stewart compartmentalised emotion and set about producing a mesmerising master class -- in rain and mist -- to win the eighth round of the 1968 championship by no less than four minutes. Safe and cosy? Yeah, right.

The shiny new barriers, when they came, were indeed offensive to the eye. There were claims that they would ping cars into the path of others, the objection being that a so-called safety advance would and actually cause even more accidents and look terrible at the same time. Irritated fans also said they would turn their backs on F1; that it held no more interest now that 'risk' had been removed. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?