F1’s halo cockpit protection device: six key myths and rumours busted

The FIA's decision to insist Formula 1 adopts the halo as cockpit protection for 2018, despite team opposition, prompted a widespread backlash among fans and even drivers

F1’s halo cockpit protection device: six key myths and rumours busted

During the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, FIA safety director Laurent Mekies - whose research team put years of work into the halo - addressed some of the key questions raised by the device's opponents.

1. It's not enough to make a difference with safety

Accidents involving flying wheels were the main impetus for work on cockpit protection and the key focus when testing both the halo and alternatives such as the shield.

Mekies explained that a wheel assembly hitting the cockpit at 225km/h (140mph) - "a speed we felt was a larger possibility" - was the key test that had to be passed.

But the FIA analysed three different crash scenarios: car to car collisions, car to environment contact, and external factors, such as wheels and debris.

It looked at past accidents, mainly from F1 but also other categories, to see what difference the halo would have made.

Romain Grosjean's Lotus landing on Fernando Alonso's Ferrari in the 2012 Belgian GP startline crash was among the car-to-car incidents examined.

It also considered shunts where cars went under tyre barriers - such as Luciano Burti's 2001 Belgian GP crash and Heikki Kovalainen's '08 Spanish GP accident - or rolled along barriers, as EJ Viso did in GP2 at Magny-Cours in '07.

The study even included Pascal Wehrlein's Monaco GP incident this year as new pictures from the FIA's cockpit camera revealed how close his helmet was to the barrier was his Sauber was upturned.

"We played the 'what if?' scenario," says Mekies.

"We fitted the halo onto the car, and we simulated these accidents, and tried not only to simulate that very single accident scenario, but also around that scenario.

"We tried to look at 5cms above, 10cms above, 5cms to the right, 10cms to the right, and so on.

"At the end of that for each of these cases we then looked at if it was very positive, neutral, or negative.

"The number of scenarios in which the halo would have helped is overwhelming compared with the number of scenarios where it could have be neutral or negative."

All the cases detailed in the FIA presentation to the drivers and media were either positive, positive on balance, or neutral - with Jules Bianchi's Suzuka 2014 crash among the few categorised as neutral. None came out as negative, although Mekies acknowledges that the FIA can never rule out such an outcome.

It also determined that the halo would have had a positive outcome in the cases of Henry Surtees and Justin Wilson's fatal incidents.

The FIA also acknowledges that it can't provide complete protection against smaller items of debris, such as the suspension spring that struck Felipe Massa in Hungarian GP qualifying in 2009.

But tests have shown that its presence significantly improves a driver's chances even in these situations.

"We looked at mathematical studies whereby we played the game of throwing millions of small objects to the halo from all different angles, and all different positions," Mekies explains.

"Statistically when you put the structure in front of the driver you are going to increase his protection against small debris coming to hit him, compared to not having the halo."

2. Visibility will be worse because it's an obstruction

Though some drivers expressed concerns about visibility after the brief halo tests last year, the FIA is confident the view ahead is sufficient.

It has compared an F1 car equipped with a halo with an LMP1 windscreen, which is considered very restricted - even though the governing body has mandated a minimum field of vision.

"A very large majority of drivers were satisfied with visibility," says Mekies of the 2016 halo running.

"We did have an issue with feedback from one or two drivers that had a bit of a claustrophobic feeling the first time they ran, with that shape ahead of them.

"But we were comfortable that we can deal with all that.

"With an LMP1 we had the opposite problem. The FIA imposed a minimum field of vision to the manufacturers, otherwise they would design cars that basically would barely allow the drivers to see through.

"We are very comfortable with the fact that we are offering much better visibility than in other categories."

The FIA is also working to shrink the width of the halo's central pillar for 2018, going from the current 20mm "as low as 16mm, and see how much we can push it" in tests.

3. It will be harder for drivers to get out of the car

Some drivers found getting out of the cockpit wasn't easy with the halo last year, but mainly because they couldn't use it to push themselves out as the dummy halos employed at the time were not intended to deal with their bodyweight.

The real halo can be used for that purpose. As Mercedes junior George Russell explained after trialling the device in Hungary this week: "It just takes a bit of experience, finding the right techniques, where to put your arms and stuff.

"I struggled initially but towards the end, after a few trial runs, I was fine getting in and out. You can hold on to the Halo as you pull yourself up.

"The only thing is getting your leg into the car, it's quite high. But I think most people would just have a step to stand on to get in and out of the car."

Tests have shown that a standard extraction by marshals, with the driver lifted out still attached to their seat, is actually straightforward as the halo opening mirrors the opening of the cockpit template beneath it.

4. Drivers could get trapped if the car overturns

Alonso's accident in the 2016 Australian GP is cited as one where a driver could have been trapped by the halo.

Mekies points out that marshals are trained to right any upside down car but says the FIA still tested the halo in upside-down scenarios.

It conducted a simple test with a dummy chassis, with its own safety expert Andy Mellor strapped in.

When the chassis was tipped upside down, the halo kept the front of the chassis higher off the ground than it would normally be and Mellor had no trouble getting himself out. Drivers have been shown a video of that test.

"It is actually preserving a better space for drivers," says Mekies, "because the car is resting on the front part of the halo, offering more space than they currently have compared to the ground.

"It's basically raising up the car compared to where it would be without it."

5. It's problematic if it deforms upon impact

In its tests the FIA determined that there was no scenario where it felt that the halo might have to be removed after an accident, though it has allowed for that possibility.

"Are we sure that there is not one scenario where the halo is going to be completely deformed over the driver's head, and we would want to remove it?" says Mekies.

"At first, if this is happening, we would probably all be happy that the halo was fitted to the car in the first place, because if something deforms that device, you can only imagine what would have been without it.

"We investigated a lot of tools and equipment in order to cut the halo, and we sourced something that is small enough to fit in our medical car, and would cut the halo in no time.

"So even in a very extreme scenario that we couldn't exactly picture we feel that we can cut the halo in basically no time."

Tests show it would take two seconds to cut the front pillar, and five seconds apiece to cut the two rear supports.

6. The ugly design will not change

FIA race director Charlie Whiting is adamant the final halos used in 2018 will look much better than the prototypes trialled last season.

The regulations allow teams to add their own fairings to combat about aerodynamic problems the halo creates.

"Teams haven't explored the full range of possibility to make them look a little more pleasing to the eye," Whiting explains.

"At the moment we've only seen bare designs.

"Even when Williams ran with a white one, the same colour as the car, it looked a lot better, I think you'll agree.

"I personally think fans will get used to it. I know there's a little bit of push-back at the moment.

"They will come up with some pretty different designs, so I don't think it will be quite as bad as you think."

shares
comments
McLaren: Lando Norris showed star quality in Hungary Formula 1 test

Previous article

McLaren: Lando Norris showed star quality in Hungary Formula 1 test

Next article

Mercedes F1 tester Russell 'extremely surprised' by halo visibility

Mercedes F1 tester Russell 'extremely surprised' by halo visibility
Load comments
The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen Plus

The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen

The 2021 Formula 1 title battle is finely poised with six races remaining, as just six points separate championship leader Max Verstappen from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. In such a closely-fought season, the outcome could hinge on several small factors playing the way of Red Bull or Mercedes

Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed? Plus

Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed?

Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll is determined to make the group a billion-dollar business. MARK GALLAGHER analyses his latest play – bringing former McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh into the fold

Remembering Switzerland’s first F1 winner Plus

Remembering Switzerland’s first F1 winner

Stepping up to F1 in 1962, Jo Siffert shone with Rob Walker Racing Team and BRM before his career was abruptly ended in a fatal crash at Brands Hatch in 1971. Kevin Turner looked back at the life of Switzerland's first F1 winner on the 50th anniversary of his death

Formula 1
Oct 21, 2021
What Verstappen is risking with his current stance on 2021 F1 world title defeat Plus

What Verstappen is risking with his current stance on 2021 F1 world title defeat

OPINION: Max Verstappen is back in the lead of the 2021 Formula 1 drivers’ championship, with the season’s final flyaway events set to get underway in the USA this weekend. But a defensive stance he’s recently adopted could have a lasting impact for the Red Bull driver when it comes to his chances of defeating Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

Formula 1
Oct 21, 2021
The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest Plus

The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest

Despite appearing to adjust to life as a Ferrari driver with relative ease, it was far from straightforward under the surface for Carlos Sainz Jr. But, having made breakthroughs in rather different routes at the Russian and Turkish races, he’s now targeting even greater feats for the rest of the Formula 1 season

Formula 1
Oct 20, 2021
The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team Plus

The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team

Emerson Fittipaldi is better remembered for his Formula 1 world championships and Indianapolis 500 successes than for the spell running his eponymous F1 team. Despite a hugely talented roll call of staff, it was a period of internal strife, limited funding and few results - as remembered by Autosport's technical consultant

Formula 1
Oct 18, 2021
Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence Plus

Why McLaren's expanding agenda will benefit its F1 resurgence

In the 1960s and 1970s, McLaren juggled works entries in F1, sportscars and the Indy 500 while building cars for F3 and F2. Now it’s returning to its roots, expanding 
into IndyCars and Extreme E while continuing its F1 renaissance. There’s talk of Formula E and WEC entries too. But is this all too much, too soon? STUART CODLING talks to the man in charge

Formula 1
Oct 17, 2021
How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential Plus

How Tsunoda plans to achieve his F1 potential

Yuki Tsunoda arrived in grand prix racing amid a whirlwind of hype, which only increased after his first race impressed the biggest wigs in Formula 1. His road since has been rocky and crash-filled, and OLEG KARPOV asks why Red Bull maintains faith in a driver who admits he isn’t really that big a fan of F1?

Formula 1
Oct 15, 2021