Sir Jackie Stewart has vehemently defended the controversial Halo safety feature in Formula 1, with the number of fatalities he witnessed in his time racing giving him a vastly different view to many of the current fans.
Stewart raced in the 1960s and 70s – a period when there were twenty-four deaths in Formula 1 alone. Jochen Rindt, Piers Courage, Francois Cevert and Jo Siffert were among the fatalities in the decades when Stewart raced, and their deaths are at the forefront of his mind when it comes to safety.
“My view is: if you can save a life and if some of these people – if they had been to as many funerals as I’ve been to and wept as much as I have and seen close friends die [they wouldn’t object],” said Sir Jackie to Motorsport.com.
Sir Jackie has long been a pioneer of improved safety measures, even dating back to when he was racing.
“I’m afraid I don’t have a negative of the Halo. I read correspondent’s columns that [say] ‘this is the end of Formula 1 for me, I’m out of it, I can’t stick with this.’ Well that was like people saying ‘Jackie Stewart’s going to kill motorsport’ because of track safety.
“I think that you have to have as much safety as you can find and to think that you are destroying motorsport and Formula 1 – I mean, the full-face helmet was criticised because you couldn’t see the driver’s face so much.”
The Halo concept was introduced following the death of Jules Bianchi, who died nine months after colliding with a crane at Suzuka in 2014. His was the most recent death since the terrible weekend at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994, when both Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna were killed.
Looking at what can be improved only after an incident is something Stewart disagrees with, saying that preventing an injury is far better than treating one.
“Preventive medicine is considerably more important than corrective medicine. Corrective medicine is [also] considerably more expensive than preventive medicine.
“The Halo, in my opinion, [is necessary] because Henry Surtees got killed – not by his wheel but by somebody else’s – well, that can happen any time. That was just bad luck – but why depend on luck?”
Whilst Stewart acknowledges that the measures need to be implemented before crashes happen, he also notes that the responsibility lies with the drivers to ensure that fatalities are prevented.
“There’s no point in me saying [previous eras were] ‘just dangerous and then you had to be careful and cautious and when men were men’ – bullshit. A racing driver hasn’t changed from [Tazio] Nuvolari and [Rudolf] Caracciola and before them.
“However, if you start taking liberties because you can have huge accidents that you know the fellow is going to survive, you might be a little bit more liberal with your driving behaviours.
“You can’t overdrive – you’ve got to drive in a manner which doesn’t create a situation where life is going to be taken.”