SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - Formula One breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday after the sport’s new ‘halo’ head protection device saved Charles Leclerc from what might have been a potentially serious impact.
His Sauber car bore the scars instead, tyre marks showing where Fernando Alonso’s McLaren had bashed against the bodywork and halo as it flew over the 20-year-old Monegasque rookie’s head.
“We can end the HALO discussion now. It will save lives,” tweeted 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg after seeing the images.
The ring-like ‘halo’ was introduced this season to protect the drivers’ exposed helmets from precisely such sideways glancing impacts as well as frontal blows.
“I felt the impact and looking at the image it is quite spectacular. It was lucky,” said Leclerc, whose family have close ties with that of the late French driver Jules Bianchi who died of head injuries in 2015.
“I got quite a lot of messages. My mum called me quite a lot of times. Everyone was quite worried.”
Alonso was the blameless party, his car sent airborne after Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg misjudged his braking into the first corner and smashed into the back of the McLaren, sending the Spaniard flying.
“The Halo was a very good thing to have today. I think for him, it helped, looking at the replay,” commented the double world champion.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who had said before the season that he would happily take a chainsaw to the unattractive device, sounded like a convert.
“That gave all the justification. As you know, I am not a fan of the halo – I think the aesthetics are terrible,” he told Reuters.
“But having saved Charles from harm and injury makes it all worth it. It could have been very nasty. I’m happy that we have the halo.”
Formula One race director Charlie Whiting said the governing FIA would be contacting Sauber for more information about any damage to the halo.
“I think what is clear is the significant tyre marks on both the chassis and the halo,” he said. “It looks like it’s had a fairly hefty whack.
“It doesn’t take much imagination to think that the tyre marks would have actually been on Charles’ head. It would be a bit of a miracle if they weren’t, had the halo not been there.”
Hulkenberg was handed a 10 place grid penalty for next weekend’s Italian Grand Prix for causing the collision that brought out the safety car.
“It was nasty, it doesn’t look great. It’s my bad, my mistake. Today it went wrong quite badly. I’ll accept it and move on,” he said.
The collision was reminiscent of one in 2012 that also involved Alonso, that time with Romain Grosjean’s Lotus-Renault flying onto the double world champion’s Ferrari at the same La Source corner.
Grosjean was fined and handed a one-race ban as a result.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Christian Radnedge