SOCHI (RUSSIA) • The jury was out even before Daniel Ricciardo left the Red Bull garage yesterday morning for practice for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. It was history, of sorts, as his car sported a windscreen.
Traditionalists already hate it, but the drivers want protection - and this so-called aeroscreen could be it next year, once the bulky device is refined.
Red Bull wanted to discover whether there would be any vision issues - reflections or distortions, for example - for Ricciardo under the cloudy skies of Sochi, tucked behind his wrap-around windscreen.
They also have to solve the problem of stray oil and rubber sticking to the aerospace-grade polycarbonate screen, the same as you might find on a fighter jet.
That will come in time, and the first tests have been encouraging.
Ricciardo lapped the Sochi circuit with the aeroscreen before pitting to continue regular practice without it.
VOICE OF DISSENT
Looks like a riot shield.
'' LEWIS HAMILTON, Mercedes' three-time defending champion, disapproving of the aeroscreen.
"The first impression seems okay," the Australian said.
"It doesn't really block any more vision than what we do have already."
If it saves even one life over the next 20 years then you're going to take it.
DANIEL RICCIARDO, Red Bull driver, on the importance of having a protective screen.
The reaction on social media was generally positive, with even champions Mercedes commenting on their Twitter feed that "it doesn't look half bad".
Red Bull earlier released a film of a wheel being fired at the screen at about 225kmh in a static test. The wheel simply bounced off.
Then they fired a metal component - much like the one that disastrously hit Felipe Massa in the head at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix and put him in a coma - at 225kmh. The aeroscreen came through that test, too.
So, now the FIA (International Automobile Federation) and Formula One know that the aeroscreen can do the job.
But Formula One fans may have more trouble coming to terms with a fundamental change in car design, which will, for the first time, hide the driver from full view.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was vociferous in his view: "Looks like a riot shield," he scoffed.
The world champion is a lone voice among the drivers on this subject, refusing to accept that the drivers should be hidden behind a protective screen.
The history of the sport in its modern incarnation dates back to 1950 when Giuseppe Farina won the first world championship in an Alfa Romeo. His head was open to the elements and drivers have been exposed ever since.
But the death of Jules Bianchi last year, after a horrifying accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix, has accelerated the race to protect the heads of drivers.
There have been too many accidents and incidents in recent years for the governing body, the FIA, to ignore and executives have vowed to fit some form of head protection from next season.
Ferrari tested the so-called "Halo" system, an even more visually intrusive system of carbon fibre struts, but it seems that F1's authorities are leaning towards Red Bull's aircraft-style cockpit canopy.
Ricciardo said he was a firm believer in the need for a device like the aeroscreen.
"If it saves even one life over the next 20 years then you're going to take it," he said.
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