Mercedes' Wolff condemns Halo

Mercedes' defending champion Lewis Hamilton (right), Valtteri Bottas and executive director Toto Wolff posing with their new "diva" - the W09 - at Silverstone.
Mercedes' defending champion Lewis Hamilton (right), Valtteri Bottas and executive director Toto Wolff posing with their new "diva" - the W09 - at Silverstone.
Ferrari's SF71H represents a return to their traditional all-red livery, with the new halo also painted in red.
Ferrari's SF71H represents a return to their traditional all-red livery, with the new halo also painted in red.

World champions' boss not impressed by design, weight of driver protection device

LONDON • Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff expressed his disgust with the new halo head-protection device as the double world champions unveiled their latest Formula One car, the W09, for the new season yesterday.

After years of research and development, the International Automobile Federation (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. But Wolff remains an ardent opponent of its design.

"I'm not impressed and if you give me a chainsaw, I would take it off," said the Austrian, who also griped about the weight of the new device.

"We need to look after the drivers' safety, but what we have 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, but warned the extra weight, designed to be able to resist the weight of a double-decker bus, could lead to less exciting racing.

"Honestly, the team have done a great job to make it look as nice as it can look," said the Briton.

"There are parts of the lighter cars I miss. It was easier to overtake. The heavier they are, they will always continue to get slower."

He is expecting a closer fight in his quest to match Argentinian great Juan Manuel Fangio as the second-most successful F1 driver of all time. Last year, Mercedes won 12 of the 20 races, with Ferrari triumphant five times and Red Bull three.

"Coming to the end of the year, Ferrari, Red Bull and us are very, very close. I anticipate this year will be probably quite similar in that sense," Hamilton said.

With the competition in mind, Mercedes have sounded an ominous warning to the chasing pack after revealing that the 33-year-old is close to extending his six-year stay, with a possible agreement in "the next couple of weeks" ahead of the Australian GP on March 25.

"Toto knows that I know there is no one better... and he knows that I know there's no one else better, so I'm not looking anywhere else," said Hamilton, who cruised to the title with two races to spare last season.

Wolff added: "The next couple of weeks would be a realistic target."

He was more effusive in his praise of the W09's performance despite his reservations over the halo.

"We all like divas but, sometimes, she was a bit difficult to understand, and this is the area where we worked the most," he said. "The most visible change is aerodynamic and how tight the packaging is and how closed up the bodywork is."

Championship rivals Ferrari also launched their new car, the SF71H yesterday.

The car represents a return to their traditional all-red livery, with the new halo also painted in red.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 23, 2018, with the headline 'Mercedes' Wolff condemns Halo'. Print Edition | Subscribe