Insight: Halo is ready – but is the safety device right for F1?
Innovation
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  13 Jan 2017   |  6:30 pm GMT  |  154 comments

FIA safety director Laurent Mekies says the controversial halo cockpit protection device is now ready and it is up to Formula 1’s stakeholders to decide if the device is right for the championship.

The halo structure was extensively tested at F1 events throughout the 2016 season and was originally slated to be included in the 2017 regulations before the F1 Strategy Group voted to postpone its introduction by a year.

There is an intense debate about F1, an open-cockpit series, introducing such a large structure that would further enclose the driver, but the FIA’s research has shown that it significantly reduces the risk of a driver getting hurt.

Sebastian Vettel

Many people feel it is not aesthetically pleasing and puts the drivers even further away from spectators, while others feel the safety benefits outweigh any problems with image. After the device’s introduction was delayed by a year, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel said that he didn’t “think there’s anything really that justifies death.”

Mekies, who is also the general manager for research at the Global Institute for Motor Sport Safety and is the deputy race director for F1, confirmed that the scientific research into the benefits and potential risks of halo had been completed. He explained that it was now up to the various parties at the top level of the championship to decide if it will be formally adopted for 2018 or if another, better looking solution, was preferred.

Speaking at the Motorsport Safety Fund’s Watkins Lecture at the Autosport International Show, which was attended by JA on F1, Mekies said: “The engineering work is done, somebody needs to decide if its right for F1 or not, if it is compatible with the DNA [of the sport].

Laurent Mekies

“Its net safety benefit is established. After that we accept that F1 is not a closed car [so] is it right for F1? It’s for somebody [else] to answer your questions, which is very much the stakeholders that have to look at these aspects because if the sport is about [entertainment and aesthetics], then why move it away from that? That is what these guys are discussing quite intensely right now.

“So as far as the engineering and safety side of things, we have done all of the work with the medical [teams], the extrication [process]. So now there is I think more philosophical discussions happening between the stakeholders of the sport – the drivers, the FIA, the teams – to understand is that right for F1 and single seaters or do we need something slightly different?”

When asked about the current status of the halo device, Mekies explained that the FIA had received feedback from all of the drivers and teams that tried the structure last season and confirmed that it was still “on-track” to be introduced in 2018.

Jolyon Palmer

He said: “All the drivers tried it, all the teams tried it [and] we had reasonably good feedback for such a big change for the drivers.

“It’s still on-track for 2018 deployment, but I’m sure you will hear a lot more philosophical discussions coming. As far as the engineering work is concerned, for the aero, for the safety, the work is completed.”

If F1 does decide to use the halo at all times from the 2018 season, Mekies confirmed that the other FIA single seater series would incorporate the structure when they introduce their next new generation of cars.

Lewis Hamilton

He said: “If F1 presses the button of deploying halo, every FIA single seater will get it at the next new car introduction because you need such a strong chassis and cockpit to support the halo. For the Formula 4 case, the next Formula 4 is planned for 2020.”

Mekies was also asked if the alternatives to halo, such as a canopy or Red Bull’s aeroscreen, were no longer being considered for F1, but he explained that while those options still needed more research, they had not been abandoned.

He said: “[The canopy idea] is not dead. Technically it’s possible [and] it’s maybe six or nine months away, if we wanted to do that. We are waiting for the final word from our bosses to know if they want the halo, if they want the canopy, if they want something in between, [or] if they want something more aesthetically pleasing. So everything is on the table [and] there is nothing we consider impossible right now.”

Daniel Ricciardo

With the safety benefit of halo established by the FIA – the research has shown it is 17 per cent better at stopping smaller objects hitting a driver’s helmet – the sport’s stakeholders, including the governing body, FOM, the teams and drivers, now have to decide if it is in the best interest of F1 to adopt the device.

If the structure is not confirmed once F1’s rules for 2018 have been firmly established, its introduction would have to be voted through, although the FIA can force its place in the regulations on safety grounds.

Alonso-like escape not hindered by halo

Mekies also used his talk to present the Global Institute’s other research projects – which include a solution to stop barriers bouncing back onto cars, as was the case with Carlos Sainz’s accident in Russia in 2015 – and he explained how it analyses accidents.

Fernando Alonso

During that discussion he revealed that after analysing Fernando Alonso’s accident at the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, the FIA believes that in such a scenario – where a car comes to rest on its side or upside down – the halo device actually makes it easier for drivers to climb out of the car. But he also stressed that the preferred method of extrication in such accidents was for marshals to right a car before the driver gets out or is helped out.

“We look at the potential risk with halo [and] we took pretty much every single accident that somebody could remember from the last ten years and we played the ‘what if’ scenario with the halo,” he said.

“We did it with that one and the main question with that one is that you can see how the car landed and [also] ‘what’s happening if the guy wants to come out?’ The answer is in two parts.

Fernando Alonso

“The first part is [that] the standard procedure is that the marshals get the car back on its wheels. We accept that if the guy feels good, he will never wait for that, he will try to go out. It’s not a great idea because of the cars with the electrical system in it so we prefer them to wait but we understand [if they don’t want to wait].

“So what we did is that we put one of our chassis’ upside down with the halo [fitted]. We put [Global Institute research consultant] Andy Mellor into it and we asked him to come out exactly [like Alonso], and he did. So we feel that in that case the halo actually creates breathing space for the driver.

“It’s not obvious, but because the car would normally rest on its rollhoop, the halo actually creates space. It stands out [and] creates space to come out. So if anything it was not any worse.”

Fernando Alonso

Mekies also explained that after seeing Mellor’s attempts to escape an upside-down chassis with the halo attached, the F1 drivers had asked to practice such a scenario for themselves.

“When we showed that to the F1 drivers, while they were not impressed by Andy’s speed to get out, besides that, they actually asked to try it,” he said. “They said ‘can we all try before the halo is introduced because one day [when] we are in that situation we actually get that training.’ So it is something we will do.”

What do you make of the great halo debate? Do you think F1’s stakeholders should approve its introduction for 2018 or vote against it? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1

Go for it, put the thing on all the cars, don’t muck around! I find the halo quite acceptable! And a good idea! More so than the new-for-2017tyre and aero changes! I personally reckon the changes will have an adverse effect on the racing and passing, but we’ll see!
PK.

2

This is what we need

3

It is an abomination of arguably limited effectiveness. I would send it straight back to the drawing board and insist on further research for at least the next 10 years so we never have to look at anything like it again. Great looking cars are set to return and then they undo all the hard work.

4

I do not want to see deaths in F1, therefore Halo scares me when I think of crashes like Alonso Raikkonen or most worryingly Liuzzi/Schumacher at Abu Dhabi in 2010, cars lifting over cockpit could feasibly have parts directed toward driver by the structure, worse case the nose structure in a head on like Liuzzi/Schuey, or Raikkonen at Brazil this year would have been at risk? Is the aero screen not better for stopping this sort of impact? How tragic would it be if a piece of car that would of deflected over the driver without Halo then caused harm? Sure they are looking at this, with evidence and testing, not opinion like me, but makes me nervous!

5

If halo is introduced then I think I’d be done with F1. The product has been in decline since ’09 with poorly defined tech regs, V6 engines, sanatised tracks & PPV TV. I don’t want to see anyone get hurt but I can’t ignore the fact that the danger aspect of the sport IS a big attraction. Halo is a step too far which would fundamentally change what I consider to be F1. tbh I still haven’t got over the raised cockpits sides they introduced in ’96

6

I don’t think they’ll have a choice but to bring it in. Aesthetically and traditionally, it probably isn’t what F1 is about, but if anyone is ever seriously hurt or dies from an accident that a halo could have prevented, who wants to say ‘but, it didn’t look pretty’?

I prefer the canopy myself out of these 2 options.

7

@ michael evans….. there is no canopy as an option!…yet. There is only a ‘halo’thong’ and an ‘aeroscreen’ on offer and even the aeroscreen is not, as yet, considered as viable. The only canopies i have seen were on fantasy renderings of futuristic ideas.

8

F1 will only have freak accidents. The halo is not necessary. It would not have saved Henry Surtees or Jules Bianchi. I cannot believe that this is being taken seriously. Motor racing is nowhere near the top of a list of dangerous sports. Most sport deaths are in those activities that no one ever sees.

9

Please no….

10

Introduce halo and you can kiss goodbye to an american audience.

I like vettel’s words but he grew up watching formula 1, his hero Schumacher and learning about the other champions before him.

They feared nothing.

11

I’m possibly showing my ignorance here but why wouldn’t this have saved Jules Bianchi? Considering his head was injured when his car went under a recovery vehicle this looks like exactly the sort of thing that might have saved him.

12

Because he didn’t die from blunt impact. He died because the g-force in the deceleration of the car from 120 mph (or more, I’m not sure how fast he was going) to zero in such a short distance was too great to survive. Consider Alonso’s crash in testing at Barcelona that caused him to black out and multiply that impact tenfold. Halo wouldn’t have helped in either instance.

13

The forces involved with that accident would have ripped the halo away from its anchoring points. However, the device is not designed to help in that sort of accident. The prevention for that repeating itself with operational changes like the VSC reducing speeds significantly if there are additional hazards on the circuit.

14

No, it’s not!
If they would be really so concerned about the safety, we wouldn’t be getting faster cars this year.
Whoever came up with this idiotic Halo thing should be put in prison.)

15

F1 shoots itself comprehensively in both feet once again.
The bike racers must be hysterical at the continuing mamby-pamby shenanigans of the four wheel pram racers.

16

Here’s an idea!
Why not fill in the gap between the halo and the bodywork with toughened glass/Perspex?
It could be called a ‘windscreen’!
A movable rubber blade could be fitted to clear rain, and some little water jets could be used to clean it.
They could even fit a mirror on the inside.

17

It would be great to see an analysis on how many F1 drivers have lost their lives since the passing of the great Senna, which was not related to a head injury. Furthermore, with the sad passing away of Jules, I am not sure if the Halo would have saved his life.

With the above in mind, yes I am one who does not want to see another driver lose his life in a sport that we love so much, however when a driver sets his mind on racing in an open cockpit, he/she knows the risks that come with it and this should not be an issue to discuss further.

IMHO, the whole Halo issue seems more like a marketing gimmick then anything else, with emphasis on safety to make it attractive to the sport. I’m not sure what’s gonna come next, Halo’s for Rugby players to prevent head injuries? Get real F1

18

As long as F1 doesn’t have Hawaianas as main sponsor, HALO just doesn’t make any sense.
It’s not enough protection for the ugliness it provides. I’d favor a smaller wind shield (a bit smaller than Red Bull’s one) to deflect most parts.

About as wide as the one of the McLaren M23, supported by an angled carbon/titanium arch around the top:
http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2012/01/12/ayrton-senna-f1-cars-autosport-international-2012/mclaren_m23_asi_2012-2/

19

It’s just plain ugly. Why not just enclose the cars and be done with it. At least that would look better. Halo almost looks like a sort of training wheel to keep new drivers from hurting themselves.

20

I prefer the screen proposed by Red Bull, it looks better and If they find a solution that passes all the safety tests (including the ones mentioned above by other posters), I will accept it.
I am fully aware that in time the speeds and forces generated by the F1 cars will increase, so in order to permit the technical advancement leading to higher speeds, some changes will be needed to keep the risks under control.
No sane person wants to see another driver loose his life on the track.

21

If they’re going to use this is it possible to make a clear version, the driver can see through and is hard to see for the spectator. Just a thought. I don’t know what it could be made of but it would serve the purpose of safety and not be easily seen by spectators who hate the look of it.

22

I’m not against the idea of the halo, but it doesn’t add to the aesthetics of the car Thats for sure
I would like to see more of the driver “driving”. When you look at races in the Senna days the dock pits where lower so you could see them working. I know its all about aero and safety but if the skelaton look of the halo was incorporated around the driver as well as over him we would have the safety and a better view of the driver
Or they would look like they were sitting in a cage😉

23

While anything that improves safety for the drivers is to be applauded, a reduction of risk by only 17% seems too small a gain. I don’t have any major problems with the Halo, I can’ help but think that alternatives have not received sufficient attention or thought. So far only three devices have been suggested/trialled.

24

I don’t like the look of the halo. I think the Red Bull aeroscreen is more aesthetically pleasing if additional protection is deemed necessary. At the end of the day, it’s really up to the drivers since they are the ones at risk. If the halo’s adoption drives the spectators and viewers away, the authorities will have to analyze the situation and act accordingly. We should ask whether the halo would have saved the lives of the likes of Roger Williamson, Tom Pryce, Dan Wheldon, or Justin Wilson.

25

There’ll hardly be any viewers left anyway when it goes pay-to-view in 2019

26

It’s a tricky one, such a device may have saved Henry Surtees but on the flip side with Massa that same year it could have deflected the spring down and hit his visor or completely unprotected chest. It wouldn’t have saved Jules, it may have actually been worse a broken halo becomes flying debris very close to the driver and is almost guaranteed to hit him. As for trapping the driver, I don’t know how big an issue that is, the risk of fire will never be completely eradicated but its pretty minimal. Otherwise there are plenty of marshalls and medical staff on hand to extract the driver. Them saying that the prefered method of extraction is for the marshalls to flip the car makes me wince, watch footage of Barrichello’s accident at Imola for reasons why flipping a car back over is dangerous, fair enough for a conscious and obviously uninjured driver but with even potential head injuries it is prudent to be very gentle.

Agree with Vettel saying nothing justifies someone being killed but at the end of the day IMO F1 is an open wheeled open cockpit sport by definition, that is inherently going to carry the risk of exposed drivers and errant wheels. I just don’t know, that’s not even getting in to how hideous they look. Ideally it would be up to the driver but there will obviously be an aero disadvantage to using one so if it’s optional they won’t.

27

The halo concept is the typical kneejerk reaction to Bianchi death,but really the best thing to do is not to have heavy machinery on the track while they are racing which has been rectified so the halo concept is redundant.If the halo is adopted it will not be F1 anymore it will be sportscar racing especially with these politically correct power units.And anyone that believes in climate change or global warming or whatever they call it now to scam millions for carbon credits have you heard of the ice age,wake up to government bs.

28

Sorry old age, you can all laugh as I’m already laughing. That is 54 years following F1 not 44

29

@graham13k…we share the same F1 lineage then?

30

I would just like to say that I have made those comments about the fans having input into changes for F1 as a fan that has followed F1 for 44 years. That was after receiving a signed 8 x4 black and white photo of Jack Brabham and his car at the Hume Weir Circuit when he and I think it was Silvertri some demonstrated their Cooper Climax F1 cars.

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