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.