HOCKENHEIM (Germany) • Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One's chief executive, and the senior drivers' representative, Sebastian Vettel, found themselves in conflict on Thursday as the sport rejected the introduction of the halo head protection device next season.
Vettel, at Hockenheim for the German Grand Prix, supported the idea, claiming nothing "justifies death" and said 95 per cent of drivers were in favour of it. But in Geneva, the sport's Strategy Group, consisting of Ecclestone, FIA president Jean Todt, and six team chiefs, met to turn it down.
Ecclestone denied drivers would be upset. "I don't think so," he said. "Most of them didn't want it anyway. Everybody agreed. It was unanimously against."
The Strategy Group argued for most of the day, eventually deciding to reject implementation next year. This followed months of testing of the head protection device as well as a presentation to the drivers at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
It had become a heated subject of debate among the drivers in the Hockenheim paddock. The Renault driver Jolyon Palmer came under fire from two world champions, Vettel and Jenson Button, both directors of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association, for claiming there was a consensus among drivers against the new device.
Palmer said: "Most people I speak to are against it but don't really voice it in the press, so I think there's a bit of a divide. Some of the older guys prefer it and the younger guys don't."
This drew an indignant response from Button, 36, who said: "He's incorrect and it's very unfair for him to speak for other drivers as well, because each individual should speak for themselves on a safety issue. We sat down for an hour with the guys from the FIA who developed the halo with Ferrari. It's a great solution."
There was a further rebuke from Vettel, who said: "I'm a bit surprised about these comments because we had a vote among the drivers and I think 90 to 95 per cent voted for it. We don't like the looks of it but I don't think there's anything really that justifies death."
But Vettel was wrong to suggest there was such a strong vote in favour of the halo, which was designed to prevent head injuries caused by flying debris.
At least five of the 22 drivers - Palmer, Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean and Daniil Kvyat - have come out against it, and others are wavering.
Grosjean said: "Racing drivers make a choice to come to a dangerous sport, and I'm not at all in favour of halo. We don't know what it is going to be like when it's raining, we don't know what it's going to be like on a track like Spa, that is up and down, we don't know what it is going to be like in Singapore with the lights. Halo's heavy and we already have issues with the weight, and it's ugly."
In another development, red flags will replace waved double yellows in the event of hazardous incidents in qualifying, Formula One's race director Charlie Whiting said yesterday.
Mercedes' Nico Rosberg topped the opening German Grand Prix practice session yesterday by lapping the 4.5km Hockenheim circuit in one minute 15.517 seconds to beat championship leader and team-mate Lewis Hamilton by 0.326 seconds.
GERMAN GRAND PRIX
Practice 3 and qualifying Singtel Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 4.55pm & 7.30pm