F1 rookie Charles Leclerc thankful for controversial 'halo' after Belgian GP accident
Sebastian Vettel's victory overshadowed by opening-corner collision sending Fernando Alonso airborne and within inches of Sauber driver's head
Charles Leclerc paid tribute to Formula One's controversial safety device, the 'halo', after he avoided a potentially major injury at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Sebastian Vettel finished 11 seconds clear of rival Lewis Hamilton to win at the Spa-Francorchamps Circuit and reduce the championship deficit to 17 points.
But his commanding victory was overshadowed by an opening-corner collision which sent Fernando Alonso airborne and within inches of Sauber driver Leclerc's head.
Rookie Leclerc, who has impressed in his first season, was saved by the sport's new safety design.
Indeed, images of Leclerc's white halo - the three-pronged cockpit protection device which sits above the driver and became mandatory this season - later emerged to reveal the black marks of Alonso's McLaren.
"I have never been a fan of the halo but I have to say that I was very happy to have it over my head today," Leclerc, 20, said. "I felt the impact and looking at the image of my car it is quite spectacular. I was lucky."
Following a series of high-profile motor racing accidents in the past decade, the halo was pushed through by the FIA, F1's governing body, for this year.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said at their car launch in February that he wanted to take a chainsaw to the device.
"As you know, I am not a fan of the halo because I think the aesthetics are terrible," he said. "But having saved Charles from harm and injury it makes it all worth it. It could have been very nasty."
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The dramatic collision was caused by Nico Hulkenberg after the experienced Renault driver missed his braking point at La Source and, in a plume of tyre smoke, careered into the back of Alonso.
The force of the impact launched the double world champion skywards before his McLaren landed on the helpless Leclerc, and then on the tarmac.
Miraculously, all three men walked away completely unscathed.
"I flew over Leclerc's car and the halo was a very good thing to have today," Alonso, 37, said. "Looking at the replay I think it helped him.
"We didn't have any doubts about it before, but this accident shows it offers good protection."
Hulkenberg admitted fault for the incident and was given a 10-place grid penalty for the next race in Italy. He was also hit with three points on his driver's licence.
"Nico totally missed the braking point and he played bowling with us," Alonso added.
"The drivers think it is the last corner of the championship and it has high consequences. You think they would be at a higher level to drive in this series."
Updated: August 27, 2018 10:55 AM