What is the Halo for?

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Scuderia Toro Rosso's application of the halo system.
Scuderia Toro Rosso's application of the halo system.

There have been a lot of comments about the new for 2018 Halo that has been introduced to the FIA single seater series.  There have been many complaints about its visual impact.  In my opinion, Formula 1 cars looked best in 1967/68 before the appearance of wings on the cars.  These slim cigar shaped cars were light weight, powerful and allowed close racing.

However they had no roll over protection, a monocoque that would fold around the driver in the event of a collision, and the driver sat surrounded by fuel tanks above his legs, on each side and behind him.  Safety has improved enormously, and much as I would like to return to the quality of racing seen in the 1960s, I don’t think it would be in any way acceptable to return to that level of danger (several drivers being killed in racing cars each year).  Safety improvements are here to stay, but is the halo the right solution?

The following are incidents that have been mentioned in connection with the Halo:

Felipe Massa 2009 Hungaroring – A spring came off of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn and bounced down the track eventually hitting Massa on the head.  The spring would easily fit through the gaps in the Halo, so there is no guarantee that this would mitigate this type of incident.  In actual fact, F1 decided to mitigate this type of incident by mandating a zylon strip to be added to the top of the visor on each driver’s helmet.  This significantly strengthens the area where Massa was hit, and would make it much less likely that a repeat would cause such a serious injury.

Jules Bianchi 2014 Suzuka – Adrian Sutil lost control of his Sauber on a wet track and went off into the barrier, double waved yellow flags were used to slow the cars in the area while a crane went out to recover the stricken car.  Bianchi failed to slow down sufficiently and also lost control on the wet surface, hitting the crane.  Ultimately this impact proved fatal for the driver as his helmet hit the underside of the train with a peak deceleration of 254g.

It is unlikely that any structure above a driver’s head would allow the car to decelerate slowly enough to make a repeat of this incident survivable, there just isn’t enough space for a big enough crumple zone.  F1 has chosen to mitigate this incident by the introduction of the Virtual Safety Car, which can be introduced very quickly, and forces all drivers to slow down to a speed considered safe under all track conditions.  The Halo would not help in this incident.

Maria de Villota 2012 testing – during a straight line test at Duxford Aerodrome, de Villota was driving the car for the first time, she crashed into a stationary truck at the end of the run.  The point of impact was the tail lift of the truck and the driver’s helmet which resulted in the loss of her right eye.  As for the Bianchi incident above, there really isn’t enough space to build a collapseable structure above the driver’s head to mitigate this sort of incident.  F1 has chosen to mitigate this incident by putting tighter restrictions on all testing, and where vehicles can be parked with relation to where the F1 cars will be driven.

Henry Surtees 2009 Brands Hatch – at a Formula 2 race, Surtees was hit on the head by a wheel that had become detached from the car of Jack Clarke after Clarke had spun off into the barrier, breaking the wheel tether.  The impact ultimately proved fatal, with Surtees succumbing to his injuries later that day.  This incident would be mitigated by the Halo, however following the incident F1 increased the strength of the wheel tethers, and required a secondary wheel retention mechanism in the event of the wheel nut failing.  The penalties for driving with a loose wheel are sufficient that teams instruct the drivers to pull over straight away rather than attempting to drive back to the pits (see the Haas drivers in the Australian race).  These actions mean that impacts from loose wheels are mitigated not only for drivers, but marshals, pit crews and members of the public attending the race as well.

Dan Wheldon 2011 Las Vegas – as a result of a fifteen car accident, Wheldon’s car flew 325 feet through the air before hitting the catch-fence, cockpit first.  Wheldon’s helmet hit a pole supporting the fence, with the impact ultimately proving to be fatal.  As for the Bianchi and de Villota incidents, I do not think there is enough room for the Halo to deform enough to make the deceleration survivable.  This incident is also unlikely to happen in quite the same way in F1, as F1 does not race on ovals and the speeds are usually lower or the fences further away.  IndyCar chose to mitigate this incident by redesigning the cars reducing the likelihood of wheel over wheel incidents and cars flying through the air.

Justin Wilson 2015 Ponoco – Sage Karam lost control of his car and crashed, sending debris airborne.  This included the complete nosecone, which hit Wilson on the helmet as he drove through the accident scene.  The impact ultimately proved fatal.  This is the type of incident that the Halo may help mitigate, however most of the debris coming from incidents in F1 is smaller than a complete nosecone, being instead the front wing flaps or bargeboard structures in front of the sidepods.

While these could cause the driver serious injury, they could also become stuck in the gaps in the Halo, potentially making the incident worse.  As this debris could also injure those working trackside (marshals or pit crews) as well as drivers, I believe a better solution would be to try and prevent such debris from becoming detached from the car in the first place.  The first step would be to mandate dramatically simplified aero (only a single plane front wing, and much simpler bargeboards), these could then be attached to the chassis with tethers as the wheel uprights are currently.  This simpler aero design would have the side effect of being much less efficient in producing downforce, but also much less susceptible to losing downforce when following other cars.  This would help improve the racing.  So we could perhaps remove the requirement for the Halo while improving the ability of the drivers to race in close proximity to other cars.  What do you think? let me know in the comments below.

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Alianora La CantaMIEsunny stivalaPeter Riva Recent comment authors

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Steve
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Steve

As usual, your write-up is well articulated and backed up by strong analysis of the incidents being cited by the FIA as the reason for the HALO device. You’re definitely on to something, but I wonder if the HALO may be a stopgap measure; A “quick response,” as it were, so the FIA politicos can say “Yes, we have done this in the name of safety,” while working on the 2021 regulations and praying the Halo doesn’t cause any additional injury to the drivers. Perhaps the 2021 regulations will include additional safety items, negating the need for the HALO all… Read more »

sunny stivala
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sunny stivala

Nothing to do with this here subject but this early morning McLaren called the local fire serves for help because of a cooking grease fire stated by ZAK when frying up a load of donuts after declaring the Haas car as a Faas.

Nigel
Guest

I still don’t understand this. If safety is “paramount” like the FIA said, then why aren’t they taking the drivers out of the cars? The safest thing to do is just have the drivers pilot the car with a controller from the pit garages. If this is all so dangerous that the drivers need an ugly coward-canopy, sorry I mean HALO, then how can we let them keep racing? Not just the drivers though, what about all of the fireman, flag marshals, and fans that have to drive on the public roads to get to the track?! If we just… Read more »

Member

I think your final comments go too far Nigel. There is an expectation of ‘decorum and civility’ on this site. Disagree with other posters, but don’t try to insult them.

FryDaddy
Guest
FryDaddy

After eliminating the “loose tire” problem… FIA makes survival of that very loose tire problem a key to justifying the HALO.

I tend to agree with MIE’s article, and the analysis straightforward and easy to follow. Unlike the FIA’s press releases. After watching the “HALO” video and reading everything I found, I still have no idea how they evaluated the efficacy of the system.

Member

I think McLaren’s wheel coming off on day 1 of testing illustrates that the ‘loose tyre’ problem hasn’t been eliminated.

Michael H
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Michael H

Agree with all, except the comment on Dan Wheldon’s crash, “IndyCar chose to mitigate this incident by redesigning the cars reducing the likelihood of wheel over wheel incidents and cars flying through the air.” Also, one of the other areas that IndyCar still suffers is the immense amount of flying debris that can be generated in some of these crashes. All illustrated by the Scott Dixon crash at Indy last year: I chose to highlight it there, because look what is loose and rolling down the track uncontrolled (In addition to all the other debris, fire, and Scott in the… Read more »

Member

I don’t think that’s how safety prevention works. Going back in time and saying the halo would not have been effectively in scenario x, y and z is a little too convenient. I also don’t think arguments against the halo from an aesthetic point of view is not very strong. Doing nothing is not an option. Imagine the outrage that will be unleashed when we eventually go closed cockpit. It’s nothing new. We went through it with wings, turbo engines, hybrids, tires, traction control, h pattern to paddle shifting…etc You name it. Either we move with the times or stick… Read more »

sunny stivala
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sunny stivala

Heading:-“What is the Halo for?” That is exactly why I asked myself, why ask this question, what is the point exactly?.

Member

Click bait?

sunny stivala
Guest
sunny stivala

While headline writing is a skill sensationalized headline/s are adverts or simply misleading is/are considered a derivative of yellow journalism with little or no legitimate well-researched news (eye-catching headline).

Peter Riva
Member
Peter Riva

What a clear review. Nice job. Answer? When they allowed visors on helmets instead of goggles, there was a similar discussion. This time the answer is also simple… a windscreen. Material? Really, someone needs to ask? Ask Lockheed’s Skunk Works. The new developments there will do (see AvWeek).

Alianora La Canta
Guest

The Halo is definitely not a “quick response”; it’s been in development since early 2010, in response to the Surtees accident specifically (Mercedes for the first 2 years, then the FIA for the next 5). Back then, none of these solutions was in any way proven (indeed, most of the accidents hadn’t happened yet). If anything, one could argue that it has been too slow a response, since it has been overtaken by lower-tech solutions to events (as the article describes well). Doing nothing may not be an option, but if a risk has already been partially mitigated by low-tech… Read more »