Is HALO right solution? Not everyone’s a fan

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As a Formula 1 fan, you sometimes wonder just how much thought has gone in to a concept, regulation or directive in the FIA. Sometimes it seems well deliberated while other times it comes across as a half-baked solution that wasn’t quite vetted and perhaps circumstances and context make them appear so.

With all the talk about the HALO device for F1, I must admit that I have seen the FIA video of tire-shooting against windscreens and other devices and I appreciate what Mercedes have done to create the HALO but the FIA’s bullish position on making it a requirement for 2017 is something I’m not quite sure is the right direction.

It isn’t that I disagree with protecting the driver’s head, it’s all the permutations that come from having this thing on top of the driver in the event of a crash. You can imagine all the scenarios where this device may make things more dangerous and more difficult to extricate the driver in life-threatening situations.

One of the more interesting comments I read a few months ago was that trying to divine all of the possible situation where the HALO might hinder safety is impossible to anticipate and at some level, you just have to do it as surely the benefits outweigh to risks.

I guess I find that logic a bit odd as I would argue the same thing about drivers understanding the risk they are taking in the current non-HALO car design. Felipe Massa was hit in the head by a spring, Jules Bianchi’s accident had little to do with a protective device as the car lodged itself under a massive tractor. What we do point to is Justin Wilson and Henry Surtees but neither of these tragic accidents were in Formula 1.

One could argue that the original safety feature to prevent incidents like Surtees was the wheel tether and it seems to have been a good regulation although I’ve read some dissenting opinions on that as the wheels flap and slam along the monocoque dangerously close to the driver’s head. Regardless, we haven’t seen as many flying wheels as we used to and for fans in the grandstands and marshals, that’s a good thing.

So is the HALO the answer? According to Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Force India’s Bob Fernley, maybe not. Christian said:

“I’d prefer there to be more research time taken to do the job properly, rather than rushing something through that may have other consequences,” he told reporters after Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

“I certainly wouldn’t vote in favour at the moment.”

I agree with Christian in that it isn’t a very elegant solution and even Haas F!’s Guenther Steiner echoed the fact that all the drivers know the risk they are taking. The unfortunate truth is that Jules Bianchi knew the risk he was taking but his parents don’t see it quite that simple. They felt the series were negligent and caused their son’s death.

Still, Force India’s Bob Fernley also agree with Horner:

“I believe that it’s too hasty. We need to do a lot more work to understand that the halo isn’t going to create other problems, which I think it will do,” he said.

“I think we should take our time and get the right solution and then introduce it.”

And this is even more precisely where I land on the issue. It’s not a question of if it would help if a wheel flew through the air toward a driver’s helmet, of course it would help but it is more a question of the possible risks it would present in a host of differing accidents and situations. It just seems to be inviting as much safety concern as it is solving—if not more.

Hat Tip: Reuters

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Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

I think it needs another year of development, elegance isn’t something that is really an issue, we look at the way cockpit sides have developed since the late 90’s, eventually the elegance of some things do improve, not to the same as we had before but to a point that ‘elegance’ is an aspect, but it shouldn’t be the main reason for delaying a safety object. It’s more a question of what else can be developed with further research. Look at the development the HANS device went through before the product became widely used and the amount of safety changes… Read more »

Negative Camber
Guest

Yeah, I’m not sure he is completely suggesting the image or elegance in his statement, I think he’s suggesting that it is not a very elegant solution in its entirety to be honest. The HANS device is a driver wearable solution that is part of the driver. I worry about any attached device and its deformity during a violent incident that would create more safety concern than less.

Peter Riva
Member
Peter Riva

Question: Is it just me or do the drivers helmets look reinforced now at the front after Masa’s incident?

Negative Camber
Guest

It seems like I did read something many moons ago about that, Peter. In particular with Schuberth which is Felipe’s helmet maker. I recall reading something, can’t remember where, about how they used that impact as a way to strengthen the helmets and overall eye protection.

Peter Riva
Member
Peter Riva

Thanks.

MIE
Editor

There is an extra zylon strip across the top of the visor. This has been mandated since 2011, as a mitigation for a repeat of the incident that injured Massa in 2009.

FryDaddy
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FryDaddy

A solution in search of a problem?

MIE
Editor

The Virtual Safety Car is the mitigation for incidents like Bianchi’s. No amount of car structure at driver’s head level would safely deccelarate the car to mitigate that incident.
As you said the Halo is designed to stop sizable pieces of car (wheels, wings etc) from hitting the drivers head. In that respect, the device trialled by Ferrari looks wanting, as from the side, Vettel’s helmet was above the sides of the Halo structure. So an incident like Henry Surtees (where the wheel bounced high and came down at a high angle) May not be mitigated.

Peter Riva
Member
Peter Riva

Good point – at least as a stopgap.

GenGlenn
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GenGlenn

As a rule, most if not all previous safety improvement devices in F1 have lead to improved safety and have not caused a worse accident or injury by their implementation. There may have been a lot of concerns initially about the HANS device and height of the cockpit sides as they affect the drivers field of vision but I’m not aware of any incidents where a driver felt that a crash resulted from poor field of vision related to one of these devices. I’m not sure the same can be claimed for the Halo at this point; it does not… Read more »

Peter Riva
Member
Peter Riva

Valid points NC, less haste more speed may be the motto here. Or perhaps less protection more safety? There is a funny story that goes with this (and the films you saw…) When Amtrak bought the license for the Swedish tilt trains, they got all the specs and design criteria, including testing the windshield material. Amtrak set up the pneumatic canon according to specs, the driver’s compartment was positioned with a dummy in the seat. Fire one, projectile at 150mph! The chicken (used to simulate a bird strike at speed) passed through the windscreen and impaled the driver. Second test?… Read more »

Negative Camber
Guest

LOL…I’ve heard that story before. Funny.

runnah
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runnah

Don’t mess with the Swede(s).

Member
Mike

I just say it, the HALO bar design looks awkward, forced and like a brutish knee-jerk design. Working in graphic design for my day-job, I can say that 99.99999% of the time if something ‘looks’ that way, its because it was forced and slapped by reg’s or deadlines. At least the RedBull design of more a windscreen looked better, this bar deign will have drivers trying to look around a pillar 24/7. Haven’t we already heard drivers objecting to the distraction? There has to be a better idea/concept/prototype than a flat black carbon flip/flop thong triangle. For cryin out loud,… Read more »

Roger Flerity
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Roger Flerity

I wonder what the statistics are to rationalize this effort? I would venture that the drivers have a far higher risk of injury or death from transportation incidents traveling during the race season, physical training, riding bikes or motorcycles, participating in other race venues, skiing, and or even taking a shower at home, than they face from impact to the helmet during a race. The halo just does not seem a rational expense of resources, whether its ugly or beautiful. The aero screen adds the risk of visibility loss from debris and in the rain, as well as fogging. That… Read more »

Andreas
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Andreas

I fear the HALO may end up causing more risk than it mitigates. Aside from the vision impairment (which may or may not be a problem, depending on who you ask) and the possible problems with driver extraction, my main fear is that the HALO might end up peeling bits off a car that climbs up on top of another. Take a look at the onboard shots from the Kimi/Alonso incident at Austria 2015, think about what the HALO might have done to the sharp front edge of the floor of Alonso’s car, and where the peeled off bits might… Read more »

jakobusvdl
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jakobusvdl

I think you’re asking the right question Andreas. If the answer us Halo, then those are probably not the questions the FIA started from. Personally I’m wondering if there is any point in maintaining the ‘open cockpit’ part of open wheel racing. The era when spectators could see enough of the driver to recognise them or appreciate the work they are doing has long since past, so what’s the point. It adds a safety hazard, screws up air flow and aerodynamics. I saw coverage of some DTM racing recently, closed cars with just about F1 levels of technology and driver… Read more »

Zachary Noepe
Guest
Zachary Noepe

These are all really good questions and I don’t know the answers to them but I’ll say this – if the halo comes in I’ll stop watching formula 1 forever. Call it what it is it’s a rollcage and there’s just no point watching a series that bases so much of its identity and design on being open cockpit but actually isn’t. MotoGP is open cockpit, LeMans is not. Formula One doesn’t seem to know WHAT it is.