When the HALO was introduced, I voiced several concerns about its overall safety with respect to structure deformation during an accident as well as driver extraction in the case of an overturned car. I felt that the system was not a very elegant solution and that it could present dangers that might otherwise not be present in those two scenarios.
The FIA moved forward with the HALO and added 5s to the required time restriction for a driver to extricate themselves under their own power. Two incidents earlier this season were credited to the HALO as, depending on who you speak to, either saved lives or potentially saved lives when cars lifted over the top of another car.
These two incidents were used by fans and F1 pundits alike to claim that the debate for HALO was over and that regardless of what you thought about them, it was patently clear they saved lives and are here to stay. In some cases, those comments were made with bravado to the point of being ham-fisted and I was confused as to how they could make such a definitive claim given that we had not see enough HALO impact to draw those conclusions.
Abu Dhabi GP
Today in Abu Dhabi, the HALO was put to the test when Nico Hulkenberg’s car was overturned and rested on its top and, as it was, on the top of the HALO, which blocked Nico from exiting out of the top of the HALO device. The time it took from when the car came to rest until Nico stepped out of the car was 2:30s. The situation was compounded by the fact that there was a small fire at the back of the car and it was, thankfully, extinguished presenting no further risk.
FIA’s Charlie Whiting was quick to be quoted in the press as saying the HALO did not compromise Nico’s extraction saying:
“Quite clearly that’s one of the sort of accidents the halo was designed to help with,” Whiting said.
“It provides more space for the driver once the car is upside down.
“That was one of the things we wanted to make sure was still possible [during the prove-out phase for the halo].
“When you have an accident like that the radio from the car is automatically routed to race control so we get immediate information.
“Drivers normally say ‘I’m OK’ or ‘I’m fine,’ and we relay that to the doctors on their way to the scene.
“Then they can take their time to get the car righted and let him get out.”
When asked about any criticism of the situation on Sunday Whiting added: “We knew he was OK and there was nothing to worry about there.
“So the routine under those circumstances is to put the car back on its wheels, which has to be done carefully of course.
“Once back on its wheels he was able to get out by himself.
“It was very controlled from what I could see, and our medical delegate was more than happy with the way it was done. It all worked exactly as it should.”
It’s an interesting take on the HALO as if this situation was tailor made for the device and yet Nico didn’t exit the car and seemingly the FIA said they knew he was ok so there was no rush. I’m curious what might have happened if the fire was not extinguished or was larger and created very toxic fumes and scalding heat? Would the marshals have pushed the car over with risk of them being burned? What about other cars hitting Nico while upside down despite the safety car? We’ve seen stranger situations before.
These may all be hypothetical “what if’s” but they are no different than the hypotheticals that were used to justify the HALO in the two incidents earlier this year or when justifying its introduction to the series. What if the HALO wasn’t there, the wheel would have hit Alonso’s helmet etc.
I do find it interesting that the social media timeline isn’t ripe with discussion over the HALO and Nico’s incident. Not like it was earlier this year when it was being lauded and people were sending me emails scolding me for ever doubting it and being against safety. I tried to remind them that it is quite the opposite, I am all for safety and I feel the HALO could be unsafe and today was a good example of how that may have happened but thankfully didn’t.
I’m not trying to prove a fruitless point or deny that having something in front of the driver could protect them, I am not even concerned whether I am right or wrong, what I am concerned with is the inelegant solution the HALO represents and how it could be a negative impact and actually cause harm.
Since Nico couldn’t exit through the top of the HALO, he wasn’t keen to try and slide through the side of the HALO as that opening is very small and that’s a concern for me. If you block the top of the HALO, the driver cannot exit quickly.
The HALO covers one aspect of driver protection which is protecting them whilst in the car but the other side of safety is the ability for the driver to exit the car and I believe the HALO hampers that process and in some situations may make it impossible or too long waiting on assistance. I do not see any dialog in the press, the FIA’s communication or even fans on social media discussing that. I think today was a stark example of how dangerous HALO could be and no one seems that concerned if I’m honest.
I’ve been around Formula 1 long enough to know that while they admit HALO isn’t perfect, I am concerned that they’ll leave it there and not work on a more elegant solution. They knew the grooved tires were a bit of a damp squib and yet continued on. They know the hybrid turbo is an issue and yet continue on with it. They know the HALO is an issue and I would imagine they’ll stop design evolution there and just continue on.
Sometimes it seems more effort is being put in to setting the press narrative over HALO than to designing a better solution. Sure, it’s only be a year since it was introduced but with the two earlier incidents this season, the press were parroting the incredible job HALO did in saving lives and yet the one time it seems to create a concern, crickets…
I’m no engineer, I do not work for the FIA or F1 and have no skin in this game but as a fan, I am concerned and today exposed that concern even more from me. I did see some fans say that Nico was overreacting when he radioed to the team to get him out of the car but I wonder what you might have said if you were stuck upside down in a car on fire. Those two and a half minutes may have felt like an eternity.
Hat Tip: Autosport