If you’ve listened to our podcasts, you’ll know that I’ve been critical of F1 and the FIA to get out ahead of some the past controversies both organizations have faced over the years. It has always been intriguing to me that the PR divisions of these organizations have chosen not to set the narrative rather let others and then be placed in a position to respond to that narrative.
I think of the Hybrid Power Unit and engine sound blowback, the Grid Girl reaction only to be supplanted with Grid Kids and even that has issues, the change in ownership, the change in qualifying, the regulation changes that aren’t easily digestible etc.
The HALO is another nuance in Formula 1 this season that isn’t very nuanced at all due to its visual and design impact on the sleek, elegant lines of an F1 car. The new safety element blocks the view fans have of the driver’s helmet, hands and obstructs a portion of the open-wheel, open-cockpit style of racing that has been creating history for 50+ years.
The HALO was mandated for 2018 and the trump card of safety was really played strongly with this decision thwarting any dissent with the imposition of guilt should anyone be injured or worse if the series did not immediately adopt the HALO. No one wants that guilt on their shoulders, so the series trundled along the path of a kinder, safer Formula 1 regardless if many drivers, teams and fans want it or not.
Update: this just came in and I am adding it here. I wrote this article before I saw this latest comment. Here is a statement from Todt that illustrates what I am talking about:
“I will only tell you for me, I love F1, and I think we all should love F1. I think it is very inappropriate whoever you are, just to publicly deny something which is introduced. For me, constructive criticism is always good because it makes you move forward. But public criticism which is not good for the sport – I don’t see the value.”
Todt added that the FIA would be neglecting its duties if it did not introduce a safety device like the halo, having proven its effectiveness.
“For me, the halo is no problem,” he said. “I am amazed to hear some people say that motor racing has to be dangerous and if it [a fatal accident] happens it happens. But if we can avoid that, why should we not protect the life of whoever?
“Halo is a safety device. It is human attitude to be reluctant to change, but once we know the change, after a lot of experiences and a lot of testing is good, we should implement it.
“Can you imagine how we will all feel if something would happen and if we would have had the halo it would not have happened?”
Back to the original story I posted:
Doesn’t matter what any of them want, it matters that the FIA and formula 1 tick the box of safety and in some ways, that’s understandable as it is their job but perhaps F1 and the FIA need to consider just what measures they are willing to take in order to remove all risk from F1 racing and what the impact of that might have on the actual racing itself.
The FIA did attempt at justifying the HALO with a post on their website several months ago in which they explained the reasoning for mandating the device. I had questions about the methods used to calculate the “no downside” impact assertion they labeled it with and wondered just what measures were taken to seriously prove negative impact.
That may not have resonated with fans and team bosses so now the FIA are in the difficult position of having to promote pro-HALO pieces to warm fans up to the idea of this being just one more outrageously hi-tech element to the series that wears the crown of the most advanced technical racing series in the world.
If safety isn’t appealing, then perhaps understanding just how these HALO’s are made will gin up the fan base and tech wonks among them to garner acceptance and appreciation for the device from an advanced technology spectrum instead of a safety position. I even like the human touch of fabricators being able to tell friends that the HALO device is something they made because normally theirs is a thankless job. Nice touch, Jean. Here is the FIA’s explanation:
FIA HALO Story:
It all starts with titanium. Lots of titanium.
“We had to buy about 10 tonnes of high-strength titanium within one-and-a-half months, and receive it all in time and in perfect quality,” says Steffen Zacharias of Germany’s CP Autosport, one of the three manufacturers chosen by the FIA as official suppliers of the new Halo safety device.
The device is made from Grade 5 titanium, which is extensively used in the aerospace industry and is known for its high strength and stiffness compared to its relatively low weight. Fortunately, CP Autosport is well-versed in dealing with the stuff.
“We have a long history in motor sport, being involved since the 1990s, but we have an even longer background in aerospace materials and fabrication,” says Zacharias.
This experience put CP in pole position when it came to producing the first Halo prototype for FIA testing. Alongside the UK’s SSTT and Italy’s V System, CP was tasked with building a prototype within six-and-a-half weeks to be tested at the Cranfield Technical Centre, in the UK, in October 2017.
It was the first company to pass the test and has been chosen by nine of the 10 F1 teams to supply Halos this season (although some teams have purchased the device from all three companies).
It helps that CP’s manufacturing facility was ideally matched for the task.
“You need state-of-the-art machining parts to do the pre-machining and the post-welding final machining,” explains Zacharias. “You need a welding chamber in a closed atmosphere to do the welding process, and you need the supply chain for the material.”
Before working with the titanium it must be heat-treated to be optimised for the task. The company generally receives forged blocks that have been pre-treated to an individual CP specification to help withstand the loads that the final device will face.
The next step is to pre-machine and gun-drill the tubes that will be welded together. The Halo itself is built from five different parts. The half ring at the top is made from two quarters of the circle. Then there are the two end pieces that attach to the back of the car and the centre pillar in front of the driver.
The welding process is performed in a closed chamber to prevent any foreign objects from interfering with the material. The whole device then undergoes further heat treatment for additional strengthening before it is sent for testing.
Only the reference production device is tested to destruction at Cranfield. Each subsequent device is made from an exact process sheet that is approved by the Global Institute for Motor Sport Safety, the FIA’s safety research partner. But every device is geometry-checked, weight-checked and undergoes non-destructive testing, including x-rays and crack tests.
“We do these tests in-house,” says Zacharias. “Coming from the aerospace industry, we have a very intense testing area, including physical test benches and life-cycle testing. We test all our parts in-house by certified people to an aerospace standard.”
Once complete, the Halo is manually shot-cleaned to create an abrasive surface that makes it easier for teams to attach any aerodynamic parts that are permitted by the FIA.
All of these steps are essential for producing such a high-performance device. The Halo has to withstand 125 kiloNewtons of force (equivalent to 12 tonnes in weight) from above for five seconds without a failure to any part of the survival cell or the mountings. It must also withstand forces of 125 kN from the side. Without question, it is now the strongest element on a Formula One car.
“It has been a task to bring all the production technology together in a part like that,” says Zacharias.
But it helped that the F1 teams were fully supportive at every step of the way.
“I’ve been in this business now for almost 20 years and I have never experienced such an open-door philosophy from the teams,” admits Zacharias. “Whatever question we had, whichever expert we needed to talk to, we have been connected. Every door has been opened.”
CP has already produced and shipped 70 Halos and is expecting to have made 100 by the end of March. Not only is it supplying nine of the 10 F1 teams, it is also supplying the F2 and Formula E championships, which are then distributing to their teams.
So when the F1 teams line up on the grid for the first race of the season it will be a proud moment for the company.
“We have 200 people working here and we usually produce parts that are underneath the car and covered up by carbon fibre,” says Zacharias. “So to be able to show a physical part that’s more visible to the public means our employees can say, ‘this is what we’ve been working on’. So yeah, that really makes us proud.”
Hat Tip: FIA