It sounds a bit like a money-grab movie by Marvel, but there are going to be a lot of people in motorsport, both fan and industry professionals, paying very close attention to Formula 1 and IndyCar this 2018 season. Of course, there will be interest in all of the regular drama and racing action, but this year people will be evaluating the two different cockpit protection systems that Formula 1 and IndyCar have deployed to shield drivers from potentially hazardous debris.
Formula 1 has chosen to go with a halo system, whereas IndyCar has chosen an enhanced and enlarged windscreen. While Formula 1 is deploying its cockpit protection system this season, IndyCar is still in the evaluation phase of its windscreen-based system. Before we launch into an analysis of the two systems, we need to keep in mind that these are systems, not singular tacked-on elements. On a race car, everything is connected to everything else, therefore everything affects everything else.
Formula 1 Halo
Readers of The Parc Fermé are already familiar with the decision-making process behind the FIA’s choosing of the Halo system. If you’re not familiar with the background, check out our article, Why Halo is the right decision. The Halo system is incredibly strong, the strongest element on the car in fact, capable of bearing forces up to fifteen times the weight of the car itself. This strength enables it to handle large impactors such as a wheel, large body panel, or wing with ease, and provides additional rollover protection.
The Halo system’s ability to guard against large impactors adequately addresses the incidents that claimed the lives of Henry Surtees and Justin Wilson. However, it doesn’t address the small-object events such as Massa’s being struck by Barrichello’s spring. Light debris such as bits of klag or carbon can be safely deflected by the driver’s helmet, but larger, more massive objects such as a spring, a wheel nut, or a suspension member carry energies capable of overwhelming even modern helmet systems.
The IndyCar solution is really nothing more than a thick wind shield placed on the leading edge of the cockpit opening. It’s also not something brand new to open wheel racing in general and IndyCar racing specifically. Wind shields, in one form or other, have been around since the birth of racing machines. It’s been only since the mid-1990’s that there’s been no transparent shield on the cockpit of IndyCar or CART/CCWS machines.
Of course, the current windscreen deployment is higher-tech and differently motivated from its 20th Century counterparts. PPG’s Opticor ploycarbonate laminate material (here’s the datasheet for the technically minded) is a major improvement in protective transparent materials. While not providing as much structural strength as Formula 1’s Halo system, its strength is significant and capable of shrugging off bird strikes at 400 mph.
In pre-season testing at Phoenix, Chip Ganassi Racing driver, Scott Dixon, evaluated visibility through the proposed windscreen in varying lighting conditions. One downside of using a windscreen is that debris will inevitably collect on it necessitating full shield tear-offs much like what are used in prototype sportscar racing.
- Very strong
- Rollover protection
- No tearoffs
- Minimal protection from small impactors
- Opaque structure directly in front of the driver
- Open to aerodynamic exploitation by teams
- Cannot be retrofitted onto existing chassis (important for junior formula series)
- Transparent so there’s no obstruction of driver’s field of view
- Identical system for all teams
- Can be retrofitted onto existing chassis
- Although strong, it’s not as strong as the Halo
- No rollover protection
- Klag, rain, and other detritus can impair visibility
Aesthetically, the Shield solution beats the Halo solution by a mile. The impetus for the creation of these cockpit protection systems, though, is not to be pretty, but to protect drivers. Both systems appear to do exactly that, even if they do have their respective strengths and weaknesses.
I like the strength of the Halo system, and I wonder if such a system would have saved the life of Dan Wheldon. Perhaps it would have, perhaps not, but the Halo would have stood a better chance of survivability. The Halo would have been minimally effective at preventing the spring that struck Massa from intruding on the cockpit. This is an area where the Shield system is substantially more effective.
The real unknown for both of these systems is what are the unintended consequences? What negative outcomes are there that have not been considered in development and have not been encountered in testing? This, I think, will be the final part of calculus of driver protection that will tip the scales one way or the other. It will be interesting to see how the Halo and Shield systems perform in actual race conditions and additional testing, respectively.
What’s your take on this? Which system do you feel is the better path forward?
I fear both systems may have life-threatening consequences in the event of a roll-over event. The aero screen in particular scares me in a roll-over: will this screen break and stab (or worse, decapitate) a driver? I have similar concerns about Halo: what if this does break? (I know, strong enough to hold a London Bus, blah, blah – but stuff happens at 60G’s!) I pray these both work out.
Keep up the great work! Thanks!
I found a laden London bus has a weight of just about 28,000 lbs. If an F1 car is a max of 1,616 lbs and impacts only the halo at 60 g’s -> a force of 96,960 lbs is applied. Now Murphy would need to come into play for this to occur. The shield works good as a primary protection system against debris. While most of the arguments I’ve seen for the Halo are around wheels impacting the driver and rollovers (and for some reason errant London buses). First, seeing that wheels are still coming off it may be better… Read more »
I’m hoping your tongue is firmly in your cheek SubC. I’m sure you’re well aware that the London Bus mass is a very crude comparison to the dynamic load that would occur from a wheel or other impact. Also I think you’ve watched the FIA video, so you’ll be aware that the design parameters for the halo include impacts with other cars, track barriers, based on actual events. The wheel impact is one other parameter, and not the major one. But still, while the cars have wheel tethers that are generally effective, but as McLaren demonstrated last week, the wheels… Read more »
Yes, firmly in my cheek! It was James Allison that mentioned the bus… like it was so strong it could hold the weight of. My point was that the forces these cars can be subjected to, even that is not enough to be 100% in that one scenario.
What’s my take? Bah humbug. Hate the Halo. = a rollover bar arranged horizontally with a down leg. Bad engineering and poor integration. The windscreen? = no rollover protection. Solution? Either make sure nothing can fall off a car in front or enclose the cockpit entirely.
Or have the drivers sitting in a trailer somewhere remote controlling their cars like the AF does with drones and UAVs.
As unpopular as the idea may be, I’m not adverse to a closed-cockpit single-seater solution.
Before you launch into analysis of the two systems and before your followers starts firing from the hip reading what Rick Mears had to say on cockpit protection for open wheel racecars is a must read.
For reference: https://www.motorsport.com/indycar/news/rick-mears-on-cockpit-protection-for-open-wheel-racecars-826852/
By and large, I agree with Mr. Mears. The key element in moving forward with either or neither system is what are the unintended consequences of each. I will disagree with him on the vision distortion of a canopy. Yes, it’s a consideration for design, but it’s also a solved problem.
Sliding down the slippery slope…
We should cover all the wheels. Open-wheel racing is significantly more dangerous. Wheel on wheel contact can send a car into the air… remember Mark Webber’s accident not to long ago (never mind that he didn’t get so much as a bruise).
Clearly we need to get rid of this open-wheel thing. Let’s merge WEC and F1. F1 can be a sprint series for LMP1.
What, are you against safety?
as Rick Mears said, the biggest enemy to open wheel racing is aero dawn force.
That’s funny. I thought it was the FIA…
Thats a neat idea S&A. Closed wheel and cockpit cars running the same chassis and p.u’s in both sprint and endurance formats.
Closer racing (due to less turbulent wake and loss of downforce) and a better view of the drivers (under a transparent canopy rather than surrounded by bodywork and roll cages), I reckon it would be great!
I agree that the most important consideration is what unintended consequences each system will present. The halo has expressly been designed to fend off loose wheels (remember that testing video the FIA presented, where they shot a wheel at the thing, at race speeds) and other big/heavy items. They have been fairly clear that it is not designed to protect against smaller objects, such as the spring that hit Massa. That focus allowed them to leave the other spaces (underneath and above the halo itself) open, but it also means the halo may just as well deflect another spring (or… Read more »
Originally, I was going to say that I’m for the shield. How much rollover protection do you really need? (Scott Dixon, Indy 2017) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DGgChjefYc But then looking closer at that accident at the :16 sec mark, Dixon was a few feet away from getting his coconut damaged by the barrier. Seems the HALO would have done a better job in case his car came down in a worse position. Even then, I could see some intrusion onto the head area. Fully enclosed cockpit seems to be the safest, but one can imagine downsides there as well. Pluses and minuses. This… Read more »
I worry that it could act as a hook. Imagine a protrusion, say a metal beam of some kind, or other “long” piece being deflected to the interior of the HALO, thus acting as a guide for a spear to the head.
Absolutely. So what is the answer? This is sport and their are dangers in all sports. Why do we feel that F1 drivers need to be super-coddled? Downhill skiers are not, skiers/boarders getting massive air on a half-pipe are not, NFL players are not, any motorcycle pilot is not, etc. There are no shortage of examples of sport where participants accept the real dangers. Some of us live to experience that rush of staring danger in the face and giving danger the middle finger. Some of us look upon these participants as heroes and marvel at their daring. Honestly, I… Read more »
We’ve actually had far more fatalities on a pro soccer field the past 20 years, than on a racetrack during professional races. Not sure what the end-goal is with the Halo, but all I can see is more possibilities for serious injuries. Motorsport will always be dangerous, and we should make it as safe as possible, but I do feel the Halo is a knee-jerk reaction too a few freak accidents. The solution however does pose for far more options for serious driver injury. The FIA actually has extended the minimum time requirement for a driver to get out of… Read more »
How about, Safer because the driver is more likely to be in a condition to escape the car after an accident, and because they’ve made changes to Marshalling to limit the risk from fire?
The FIA must have no fast twitch fibres, it has taken 7 years (2011 to 2018) for their knee to jerk.
I’m for the shield. How safe is too safe in motor racing? A few weeks ago, I saw John Force’s recent NHRA funny car literally explode around him, collide with the containment wall(no SAFER barrier), narrowly missed his competitor at a speed well over 200mph and he walked away. I’m constantly amazed at these incidents (like Alonso’s big crash in Melbourne) that might had been a fatality a decade ago and now seeing the driver very alive. It’s a dangerous sport and it’s one where its participants may die. If you’re uncomfortable with that, then don’t watch it.
It’s the general trajectory over the long-term that is most concerning to me. How much risk is acceptable in motorsports? It seems to be continually diminishing and only a matter of time before the drivers are separated from the vehicles and left to control them remotely in complete safety. Fine for eSports, but definitely not a satisfactory motorsports experience for fans and participants alike.
Congrats to TPF. First time I have seen my favorite website news page (shield vs halo) listed along with others on GPTODAY.COM (formally TotalF1.com) F1 websites hottest news grouped together which in turn is grouped together on the very convenient all on one page THEBIGPROJECT.Co.UK
Good article thanks Doug. It’s great that you’ve put together a balanced review of the two systems. Though I’m not sure about your ‘pro’ for the shield that it could be fitted to an unmodified chassis. The chassis will need modifications if the shield going to resist significant loads. I think it is key to remember we’re not currently in a situation where its a choice between the two systems. The halo is tested and ready to go, the shield is still undergoing evaluation. I find the information the FIA have put out about the effectiveness of the halo convincing,… Read more »