How the halo design has changed the safety of Formula one.
The Halo concept was first brought forward by Mercedes in 2015 as when racing the drivers head was fully exposed and has no protection when in a crash or from debris on the track. The first prototype model was made from steel and endured vigorous testing however, the main flaw was the weight. To follow on the next prototype was steel shrouded in carbon fibre and was test drove by Ferrari in 2016. The very first release of the halo in a formula one race came in 2018, although the material had changed yet again to titanium. Titanium offers the same properties but weighs significantly less.
The halo comprises of 3 main elements: the front section at the centre which is called the ‘V transition’, the tube around the cockpit and rear mounts. The middle vertical pylon was deemed a worry due to its direct positioning in front of the driver, however, very few drivers have actually complained of visibility issues.
The purpose of the halo is preventing any large debris hitting the driver while racing. Unfortunately, there have been incidents in the past where fatalities have occurred due to fragmented components from crashes flying up off the track and hitting the driver.
The halo design is consistent across all cars, although each team has a small degree of freedom to add fairings to the outer halo to aid with aerodynamic air flow. A lot of people didn’t like the halo when it was first introduced because it was unattractive, affected the dynamics of the cars and people were unsure of how much it would actually help.
The halo adds 7kg of weight to the car and affects the airflow around and into the car. Teams had to minimise the aerodynamic losses of the turbulent wake flowing into the engine air intake and onto the rear wing and additionally, redesign the monocoques (chassis).
This was a lot of changes to make, and expensive ones, however since 2018 it has saved drivers lives through potentially fatal crashes. In the second to last race of the 2020 season, in Bahrain, Romain Grosjean endured one of the most terrifying formula 1 crashes.
He experienced 67G and 27 seconds within a blazing fire. Grosjean’s car struck the race barrier at a speed of 192kph, tearing the car in half with the front of the car wedged within the barrier. The halo protected Grosjean’s head as the barrier consumed the car. He was so incredibly lucky to walk away from the crash with only burns on his hand.
The extensive design, prototyping and testing has saved this driver’s life. If this design had not been introduced, we may have been telling a different story today. Safety is always the biggest priority over the winning of a race. We only have one life to live, let’s not waste it on the ignorance of winning.
10th March 2021.