Kimi Raikkonen became the first F1 driver to try the halo safety cockpit system, on his Ferrari, during the third day of the second Barcelona test. The device looks to have been designed with sponsorship in mind (in the finest F1 traditions), but it is less intrusive to look at than many people felt, although it is hardly aesthetically pleasing. It seems that the designers believe that the depth of focus used by the drivers will render the central column invisible, while the side bars are above the necessary field of vision. In terms of protection, it may still not protect the driver from all flying parts, depending on the angles involved, but it will certainly reduce the risks.
Having said that, it may complicate the extraction of a driver in the case of an accident, a process in which speed can be important. Safety engineers affiliated with the FIA have been looking at ways to protect the drivers from flying parts since 2009 when Felipe Massa was lucky to survive being hit by a spring that had fallen off Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn-Mercedes. Various different solutions have been discussed and even tested and the goal is to have a system, probably the halo, on the cars in 2017. The sport itself seems to be split on whether or not it is a good idea because they fear that it will make the drivers even more remote to the viewers.
I am not sure that is the case, looking at the pictures from Spain as it is not really any different to the kind of protection seen in sprint cars and midgets, although in those cases one can see more of the driver, although they do get obscured with vast wings. The key therefore is to market the drivers better, perhaps even learning a little from the way things are done in the US, while also developing the car numbers more. It seem crazy that most of the cars now feature almost no sponsorship and yet the numbers remain tiny. It makes sense to fill the space with mandated larger numbers, the arguments about sponsorship now being somewhat negated.