Fernando Alonso said Formula One’s new halo device saved Charles Leclerc from serious injury following their terrifying crash at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Sebastian Vettel finished 11 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton to win on the sport’s return to action at Spa-Francorchamps and reduce the championship deficit to 17 points.
But the Ferrari driver’s commanding victory was overshadowed by Alonso’s opening-corner smash in which the Spaniard was sent airborne and within inches of Sauber driver Leclerc’s head.
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.
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, however, 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.”
Team principal Toto Wolff, who revealed at Mercedes’ car launch in February that he wanted to take a chainsaw to the halo, said: “As you know, I am not a fan of it because I think the aesthetics are terrible.
“But having saved Charles from harm and injury it makes it all worth it. It could have been very nasty.”
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 drivers’ 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.”
The halo was controversially introduced following a series of high-profile accidents in the past decade.
Leclerc, the highly-rated 20-year-old who has impressed in his rookie season and is set to race for Ferrari in the future, revealed his mother, Pascale, called him several times after the incident.
“Everyone was quite worried,” the Monegasque said. “My physio sent a picture to my mum so she knew I was fine.
“She was then calm when I later spoke to her on the phone. She asked: ‘Are you OK?’ Like any mother, I guess.”
Regarding the incident, he added: “It all went very quickly and in the moment you don’t realise what is happening.
“I felt the impact and looking at the image of my car it is quite spectacular. I was lucky.”
There was nothing fortunate about Vettel’s win. Following back-to-back victories for Hamilton before the summer break, the German needed to stop the rot in the first race after the summer break.
On Saturday, Hamilton took advantage of a rain shower in qualifying to secure the front slot on the grid, but Vettel won the race by moving past his rival on the first lap.
Hamilton held off Vettel at La Source but then he was unable to stop the Ferrari car from sailing past him on the ensuing Kemmel Straight.
Vettel came under pressure from Hamilton at the right-handed Les Combes but the Ferrari man held the racing line to retain the lead. He held off Hamilton again when the race resumed following the safety car, and then cruised to the chequered flag.
“After the safety car, I had a good restart, and then it was a very smooth race,” Vettel said. “It’s been a great weekend.”