THE END OF this month will see Formula One return to start winter testing, building up to next month’s start of the 2018 season in Melbourne, Australia. While there will be few changes to the stars and locations of the show, a lot of the change that will be witnessed by those who follow Formula One will concern the racing itself and changes to the image of the Formula One brand.
This is the first full offseason that new owners Liberty Media have had to implement the changes to the sport that they want to see, all part of their attempt to broaden the support of Formula One and to move it into the ‘modern era’. One of the more notable changes is also the most controversial move seen during this offseason. Two weeks ago, F1 announced that they would be removing the ‘Grid Girls’, seen at the start of the race holding placards up in front of each driver’s car.
F1 Managing Director of Communications Sean Bratches has stated that the use of grid girls “does not resonate with our brand values and is clearly at odds with modern day societal norms”.
That hasn’t stopped over 8000 people signing a petition online asking for the ‘grid girls’ to come back. Formula One is replacing the girls with ‘Grid Kids,’ in the hope of making the sport feel like a more achievable ambition to children. The kids that will be used will be ones who are already competing in some form of junior motorsport at a competitive level. Formula One has suggested two ways in which these children could be selected, promoting selection through lottery or specific selection from national motorsport authorities.
FIA President Jean Todt said that he is “delighted” about the change, stating that “Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport and the dream of every young racer”, with the hope of bringing the dream closer.
In addition, there have been some changes made to the safety regulations on which teams have to design their cars around this season including the removal of ‘t-wings’ and ‘shark fins’ that were both commonplace during the 2017 season. However, the change that will be most obvious to fans in this regard is the introduction of the ‘halo’, a cockpit protection system. The halo will be compulsory on all cars in the 2018 season and must be able to withstand 87kN of force.
The reason for the introduction of the halo is to prevent flying debris from entering the cockpit. The push for the halo has been around for a long time, since the Hungarian Grand Prix in July 2009 when flying debris hit then Ferrari driver Felipe Massa in the head while he was travelling at 162mph. This knocked him unconscious with his car hitting a barrier. This would cause Massa to miss the race the next day and the rest of the season. Many still blame the incident for the dip in form seen afterwards.
The proposed solution would significantly reduce the area that debris could enter the cockpit from, however it would not entirely eliminate it. Reaction in the paddock has been mixed: Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso have come forward in support of the new regulations, while Max Verstappen and Nico Hülkenberg have declared their opposition to both the removal of the ‘Grid Girls’ and the introduction of the halo system.
Reaction online has likewise been mixed with those in favour emphasising the driver safety aspect of the halo, and those against focusing on the aesthetics and the potential to block driver vision. It seems that, regardless of views, the debate over the halo could last past the first race.
The final notable change for the upcoming season is the replacement of the iconic logo with a new logo. The design’s aim is to look like a Formula One car while providing a ‘modern-retro’ feel. Reaction towards this change was at first at the negative end with both Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel hitting out at the new logo, both saying that the old logo, implemented in 1994 by Bernie Ecclestone, was more iconic and better looking. However, since its release, anger towards the logo has died down.
Formula One returns with the Melbourne Grand Prix, with practice starting om Friday 23rd March. Before then winter testing starts on 26 February.