FORMULA ONE is a hotbed of technology and innovation in the pursuit of fast laps and reliability. In the past, safety tended to take a back seat to these priorities but today the sport’s governing body, the FIA, lays down rules that ensure cars are designed with safety at their forefront.
All F1 cars have to undergo crash tests before they are approved for use and the rulebook is designed to reduce the risk of injury to drivers and spectators alike.
One recent and very visible addition to improve car safety is the Halo, a tubular frame that surrounds the car’s cockpit, credited with saving Lewis Hamilton’s life at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, after a collision with championship rival Max Verstappen (see below).
Here we explain the engineering behind the Halo, its history and the benefits that it brings.
What is the Halo in F1?
The Halo is a protective barrier that helps to prevent large objects and debris from entering the cockpit of a single-seat racing car. There are specific rules for its construction, and the device is manufactured by three approved companies for the F1 teams to then add to their racing cars.
The F1-spec Halo is made from strong, lightweight titanium tubing, which is then attached to the car’s carbon fibre chassis at three points for maximum rigidity. The system adds around 9kg to the car’s weight.
When was the Halo introduced in F1?
The Halo was introduced to F1 in 2018, when it also became compulsory in other FIA-sanctioned open-cockpit classes, such as Formula E, F2, F3 and F4. It’s also used by other single-seater series across the globe, such as the US IndyCar series (where they also add a clear Perspex windscreen), the Japanese Super Formula series and S5000 in Australia.
Why was the Halo introduced in F1?
Halo was introduced to improve safety for drivers by preventing large objects entering the car’s cockpit. While crash helmets are effective at preventing head injuries in most incidents, a few high-profile accidents involving larger objects revealed that more could be done to reduce the risk of serious injury in crashes.
Does the F1 Halo obstruct vision?
Titanium construction means that the Halo’s bars are relatively thin. The crossbar is at a height that means it’s outside of the driver’s peripheral vision when wearing a helmet, while the central vertical pillar will ‘disappear’ into the periphery when the driver is looking ahead — much like your nose isn’t visible as you’re reading this.
Why is the Halo controversial?
Some people don’t like the Halo’s appearance, saying it spoils the ‘purity’ of a single-seat, open-cockpit racing car. Others believe that the Halo can get in the way if a driver needs to get out of the car quickly, but in practice this has proved to not be an issue.
When has the Halo cockpit system worked?
A study by the FIA using data from 40 real incidents revealed that a driver’s chance of survival rose by 17% if a Halo was in use. Most recently, the 2021 Italian Grand Prix saw drivers Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collide, and Verstappen’s Red Bull stopped with a rear wheel resting on the Halo of Hamilton’s Mercedes, immediately above his helmet. After the incident, Hamilton stated that the Halo “saved my neck”.
At the end of the 2020 season, Romain Grosjean survived a fiery crash at the Bahrain GP that saw his Haas crash through an Armco barrier. The Halo showed signs of damage from the barrier that would otherwise have been inflicted on Grosjean’s helmet, and is certain to have saved his life.
How do F1 drivers feel about the Halo?
When the Halo first arrived in 2018, there was criticism from drivers about its ugly looks and the potential for it to limit visibility. But that criticism has waned, and those who have been involved in accidents where the Halo has done its job sing its praises.
Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff is one person who has been convinced by its safety benefits, after initially disliking the system.