Formula 1 is set for one of its most important votes on Thursday, as team bosses and series chiefs meet in Geneva to discuss the introduction of the Halo in 2017
Six team bosses will debate its introduction with Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone at a gathering of the F1 Strategy Group, and inevitably the discussion will revolve around not just the safety benefits, but also the aesthetics of the device.
One of the biggest talking points will likely be that the very principle of F1 is as a category that has traditionally been for fully open cockpits, and there are concerns the sport will lose some appeal if it is seen as being too sterile.
Although the Halo could theoretically be pushed through by the FIA for 2017 on safety grounds without the agreement of the teams, Todt has opted to go through the normal governance procedures and get proper approval.
This means that we can expect a formal vote after the discussion on Thursday, with the teams, FIA and Ecclestone getting six votes each.
If the Strategy Group duly approves its introduction for 2017, it will then go to the F1 Commission for another vote, and onto the World Motor Sport Council for final ratification.
However, there is a chance that it won’t get beyond the Strategy Group, which would be a major blow for Todt and the FIA. In other words, he is taking a risk by going through the proper procedures, and thus must be confident that the response will be positive.
The Strategy Group members – Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, McLaren, Williams, and Force India – have already been sent a presentation which is far more comprehensive than that given to the drivers in Hungary last Friday, along with a dossier with full details of risk assessment and so on.
It also includes the feedback of Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel, and Daniel Ricciardo, the three drivers who have done installation laps with a Halo fitted.
Ecclestone is known to be against the Halo, but it remains to be seen which way he will vote. It’s clear that some team bosses have doubts, and not just about the aesthetics.
The immediate challenge they face is that teams are already well under way with development for next season. The Halo will have a huge impact on aerodynamics, and while they all know that it is coming and have done some preliminary studies, they may use that as an excuse to buy more time.
The FIA’s view is that the Halo has been proven and is ready for use in 2017, and thus suggestions that it should be postponed to allow for more development are discounted as irrelevant.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner, who has been backing the Aeroscreen alternative that has been tested and rejected by the FIA, believes that 2017 is too early.
“We’re really waiting to hear from the FIA and at the next Strategy Group there will be some discussion,” he told Motorsport.com.
“As a team we’re not fans of the Halo system. I think it’s an inelegant solution, and I’m not so sure it is a complete solution. Rather than do half a job, it’s better to take a bit more time and do it properly.
“I think something has to be done, but rushing it through isn’t the right thing. You look at a MotoGP rider, they are far more exposed than an F1 driver, and you look at the steps that have been made in F1, it’s been astronomic over the last couple of decades. I think we’re on the right trajectory.
“I just think this concept needs further investigation and research and development. For us, 2017 is already last minute, because it obviously has an impact on aerodynamic performance, etc.
"We also don’t know what effect it’s going to have at tracks with big undulations.”
McLaren’s Eric Boullier said he had not yet formed an opinion, but hinted that the safety angle may yet ensure its passage.
“We have not been presented with the concept yet,” he told Motorsport.com. “If it’s on safety grounds anyway, we have no choice, we have to do it.
"If it’s good or not, I don’t know. But we need to make sure that it doesn’t make it worse than it is now. I’m not positive, I’m not negative. If it’s a safety issue, it’s a safety issue.”
Toto Wolff believes that safety should trump other considerations, but admits that he will wait and see how the discussion goes.
“I think first of all whatever can be done for the safety of the drivers needs to be done,” said the Mercedes boss.
“And even if it looks disgusting – I don’t think it looks F1, I don’t think it makes the sport and the cars and the drivers appear spectacular – all that doesn’t count because safety goes first.
“We’re going to have a discussion about all the safety aspects of the Halo. Is it the safety tool that we need in order to protect the drivers more?
"My personal opinion is we need to look at all the studies that have been done and then discuss them with the various standpoints, and then come to a decision that can be either it is a good thing, or it is a good thing but it’s not where it should be yet, or we don’t like it for safety reasons.
"I haven’t made up my mind, because I want to hear other opinions as well.”
Regarding the FIA’s evidence, he said: “That is a convincing presentation, but I haven’t seen a car on fire upside down in that presentation.”
The bigger picture in all this is the fact that now the technology exists and has been proven, if it is now rejected or postponed there could be obvious legal repercussions if there’s a serious accident in 2017.
Given that the Jules Bianchi case has shown that such a threat is very real, the FIA will be in a very difficult position – and indeed so will those who voted against it.