MERCEDES team principal Toto Wolff said he would chop off Formula One’s new halo head-protection device with a chainsaw if he had his wish as the double world champions unveiled their new F1 car for the 2018 season.
After years of research and development, the FIA settled on the halo to protect drivers from flying debris and crashes following the fatal accidents of Jules Bianchi at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and Justin Wilson in a 2015 IndyCar race.
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“I’m not impressed with the whole thing and if you give me a chainsaw I would take it off,” said Wolff on Thursday, who complained about the weight of the new device.
“I think we need to look after the driver’s safety, but what we have implemented is aesthetically not appealing and we need to come up with a solution that simply looks better.” Four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was less stinging in his criticism of the halo’s new look, but warned the extra weight of the device, designed to be able to resist the weight of a double-decker bus, could lead to less exciting racing.
“Honestly I think the team have done a great job to integrate it and make it look as nice as it can look,” said Hamilton.
“I hope they don’t get much heavier, but I think next year the seat and driver can be 80 kilos. I can be a bodybuilder next year and get the beach body I want.
“There are parts of the lighter, more nimble cars I miss. It was easier to overtake. The heavier they are they will always continue to get slower.”
Hamilton cruised to the title with two races to spare last season. However, the final three races of the year were split between Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen in the Red Bull and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.
And Hamilton is expecting a closer run on his quest to match Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio as the second most successful Formula One driver of all-time.
“I think coming to the end of the year, the end of the season, Ferrari, Red Bull and us are very, very close,” he added.
“I anticipate this year will be probably quite similar in that sense. So I think we’ll see a tougher battle this year.”
Dominance damages the spectacle
Mercedes have won four drivers’ and constructors’ championships in a row, including the title Nico Rosberg won in 2016 before retiring.
Wolff admitted that it might be better for overall interest in the sport for Mercedes not to match Ferrari’s record of five straight driver’s titles.
“If you look from the outside, does a long-term dominance of the team damage the spectacle? Yes it does,” said Wolff.
“A very competitive environment where multiple teams are able to win and where the championship goes down to the wire, these are clearly the ingredients (Formula One) needs.
“But that is not our objective. We try to optimise and we can’t from where we sit have an holistic approach to the global spectacle.”
In ominous news for the competition, Hamilton, 33, also looks set to extend his six-year stay at Mercedes with both driver and team hopeful of extending his current contract, which expires at the end of the year, before the season’s opening race in Australia on March 25.
“Toto knows that I know there is nowhere else, no one better, so he’s not going to be looking anywhere else, and he knows that I know there’s no one else better so I’m not looking anywhere else,” said Hamilton.
“The next couple of weeks would be a realistic target,” added Wolff.