Weekend Debate: Has the FIA done the right thing with the halo in F1?
Innovation
F1 halo
Posted By: James Allen  |  23 Jul 2017   |  8:25 am GMT  |  300 comments

The subject of cockpit protection has been hotly debated since it was first mooted over five years ago. When we ran a post about the tests the FIA Institute had been carrying out on the halo, the canopy and other devices it was one of the most read posts of that year.

But now that the federation, in conjunction with the new commercial rights holders, has made the halo a reality from 2018 onwards, the discussion has been raging about whether this is the right thing for F1.

So much so, in fact, that the FIA has issued a statement with its justification for the decision. Essentially their point is that there is a demonstrable need for better protection for the driver’s head; that various options have been tested and that the halo is the most effective, while also providing the least constraint on the drivers.

F1 halo

And so with such a system ready to go and the only argument against it being that it is ugly, it is the federation’s duty to bring it in so that no F1 driver henceforth will suffer the kind of accident that killed Henry Surtees in F2 or Justin Wilson in IndyCar.

Looked at purely like that, it is hard to argue against.

So is the visual argument alone, the negative impact on the aesthetics of an F1 car, strong enough to outweigh it?

Clearly the federation thinks not. The FIA has become part of the family of sports federations that examines what it does and how it does it, in light of corruption and critical governance errors in football, cycling that athletics, the responsibility of a sporting federation has been reinforced.

In that vein, the motorsports federation would not be doing its job if it made decisions solely on grounds of aesthetics. The regulators believe that people will get used to the halo with time, as they did with the HANS device on the driver’s neck, or with high cockpit sides and a host of other things.

F1 halo

Although it has no impact on safety, the sound of the hybrid turbo F1 engines is another thing that fans were supposed to get used to when they were introduced in 2014. But they haven’t. And four years after their introduction, the FIA, F1 Management and F1 teams are still working hard on a better solution for the 2021 power unit, because F1 cars experienced for the first time, just don’t have that wow factor.

At Silverstone there was a parade of old F1 cars, including Nigel Mansell’s V10 engined 1992 Williams, making a splendid noise and then we also have the two seater F1 car (based on the old Minardi with Cosworth V10 engines) from F1 Experiences going around. Some teams, like Red Bull, sent V8 cars to the Live London F1 street event. What all of this achieved was to showcase a sound that modern F1 no longer offers to its fans.

Liberty Media needs an F1 product that they can promote to fulfil the brief of making the sport bigger, earning more revenues and reaching new audiences. The engine sound is critical to that and what we have at present just isn’t exciting enough.

This site has the view that the halo will serve to cut the fans off from the driver even further, reducing the feeling of engagement with him. When you watch a Le Mans car you support the team, not the driver and you can’t tell which of the three drivers is in the car without help from a commentator.

F1 halo

F1 will have to rethink the individual branding of a car to make it distinctively the “Lewis Hamilton car” or the “Sebastian Vettel car”, otherwise it will be harder for fans to feel a connection to their driver. Work will have to be done on camera angles, shortening them to create an engagement as well as to enhance the sense of speed. Greater use of driver facing on board cameras will be needed; the list goes on.

So how will they sell the halo?

Liberty’s key player in F1 management, Chase Carey, has got off to a good start in his relationship with FIA president Jean Todt and had made it clear in interviews that he has no desire to interfere in the business of F1 governance, as Bernie Ecclestone liked to do.

The dynamic between Carey and Todt, helped by Todt’s long collaboration with Ross Brawn, F1 motorsports managing director, means that those two bodies can get a lot done together.

While the F1 Strategy Group was under Bernie Ecclestone’s management, his relationship with the leading teams was sometimes stronger than it was with Todt, with whom he frequently had tension.

Chase Carey Jean Todt

Liberty have supported the halo, not seeing it as a grounds for a battle.

There are some major battles with teams coming up, however, over the distribution of F1’s revenues after 2020. The dynamic between the FIA and F1 Management and their solidarity will have a significant effect on the outcome.

The tendency is to reduce the disparity in importance (and therefore value) between the top teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull and the smaller ones.

The top teams have other ideas about that and the next couple of years will see many skirmishes as they battle to show who’s more important to F1. The skirmishes have already begun in some areas.

Safety is not an area that one fights political battles over.

F1 halo

Can you be wrong about making a car safer?

Surtees was killed in an F2 car, not an F1, so the halo, once introduced, will surely have to be fitted to all cars in the FIA’s single seater pathway; F4, F3, F2 and F1 and that is just what a single seater racing car will look like from now on.

It will be safer, but will it have the ‘wow factor’ that attracts people to watch drivers racing cars against each other at high speeds?

Can you ever get the balance wrong between danger and entertainment?

Can you be wrong about making a race car safer?

What do you think? Has the FIA done the right thing or can the look of an F1 car outweigh safety concerns? Leave your comments below


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1

Moto Gp guys go just as fast as the F1 guys, if not faster.
Is their body encased in a protective shell?
No
Do they have seat belts or other retsraining gear?
No
Is their head protected by anything other than a crash helmet?
No
I rest my case

2

I can see the marketing and advertising people having a field day; another surface to add logos to!

3

A solution to a problem that did not exist! Over that last few years more an more “innovations” have been turning me off from F1; this may be the final straw.

4

I don’t know of any quantative risk assessment to determine the true benefits and acceptabilty of risk for halos. This seems to be driven fear of not doing something, and risk of litigation.
Indy Cars are faster for each full lap, there’s more of them on the track, there are concrete walls, which reflect cars, wheels, bits into the high speed pack and there often no wat of avoidance. Indy Cars are not talking halos and the level of risk must be much higher. Open Cockpit MEANS open cockpit.

5

The FIA have been panicked into introducing the ‘Halo’ head protection system not as a result of the disastrous accident involving Jules Bianchi but because of the imminent court case and the precedent that it is likely to set.

The accident would still have been fatal if Jules had the benefit of a Halo protection system.

THE problem which still remains and which the courts should concentrate on are the recovery vehicles. These vehicles have ground clearances that allow a F1 car to submarine under them resulting in massive head injuries. They are effectively using construction industry machinery with massive ground clearance to pick up a light vehicle.

This is the major threat to life at all circuits.

The FIA needs to mandate the use of the JCB Teletruck. This vehicle has the capacity to lift any F1 car and has a minimal ground clearance that would not allow a F1 car to slide under it.

6

Forget the aesthetic – if the solution is to protect the driver, then it fails. As Max Verstappen has correctly said, the virtual safety car has made safe that entire process of marshalls or a digger on track, preventing a Jules type incident. The wheel tethers now work really well, preventing large debris. And this device does not stop small debris, which is much more likely than a large piece – the chances of a small piece of debris (Massa, HUngary, a spring) getting through are still large.
The device fails in its own design brief, and seems completely unnecessary.

7

I personally think the best solution is for closed cockpits. The cars would still look badass, and I wouldn’t feel less of a connection with the drivers. I’m really not fussed by the spectacle of open cockpit racing, just so I can see the drivers’ helmets bobbing around. An F1 car will still look like an F1 car without an open cockpit, so long as they don’t start covering the wheels too, etc etc. I’d rather see an F1 car look like a spaceship than a flip flop.

8

Hideous and unnecessary.

9

Codemasters will be dreading this…….

10

Given the wheels aren’t supposed to be able to come off, what is the purpose of the halo? To help in situations when one car comes over the top of the other?

11
franco petrella

I can see things getting stuck in that gap. It is definitely worth a try though.

12

I’m against the Halo simply because it’s a rubbish version of head protection, that could have implications for visibility and could impede escape from the cockpit!

The fact that it won’t stop a Massa type accident from happening is proof enough that it’s rubbish at protecting the driver’s head.

If Luciano Burti had his Spa 2001 crash with a halo, who knows but perhaps a tyre could have went under the halo and trapped him in the cockpit???

The shield should have been pursued and developed, the Halo is a rush job and a feeble attempt at head protection.

13

I’ve thought about this over the last few days and I’ve decided that for UK fans at least, none of this matters. When FTA ends at the end of next season, the majority of us will disconnect for good any way, so they could put inflatable bumpers on the cars and limit them to 30 mph for all it matters. Silverstone no more? So what. Ugly cars? Won’t be able to watch so who cares. F1? Something I used to watch when I was able to. My son is already bored with it and is far more into MotoGP because of the passing and last lap tension. Why do we care about the halo? Bring it on. Sorry for being down on F1, I do love it, but I’ve essentially been told by the commercial rights holder that I’m no longer welcome because I don’t have the money. Tough.

14

The way the FIA has gone about head protection is bad for competition. Ferrari developed the halo (I think). Could there not be a competitive advantage as they may have taken into account how the device would influence their chassis and their competitors chassis as well. FIA tech regs require chassis crash tests but do they design the chassis for all the teams? No. Each team designs a chassis which will pass the test. Why isn’t this same process used for head protection?

15

I don’t understand why they don’t just raise and lengthen the cockpit sides, it would probably reduce visibility and require mirror tweaks (larger, mounted more forward etc) but it would achieve the same result and look more in step with the existing lines of the car.

16

As alluded to, these sort of decisions *always* end up having unintended consequences that call into question the original judgement. Time alone will tell.

That said, while the purist in me wants to see sleek and beautiful F1 cars, I’ve accepted the decision and am kinda over it already. Hopefully when they are fully integrated into the design they won’t look so hideous, and we will get used to them.

17

Will someone please explain to me how the halo would have saved Henry Surtees. Look at the Red Bull photo above – a falling tire is still able to hit you on the head. How about extending the intake port over the driver’s head ? Daft looking but more effective. The FIA oversees the IoM TT ! Why the safety disparity ? Oh dear, what shall be done ?

18

I voted NO.
Just like FIA with Halo, I stand steadfast in my decision that this will be my last season watching and following F1, unless they withdraw it. Goodbye, it was great while it lasted.

19

First they screwed the sound of the cars and now they are going to screw the looks too. F1 cars are getting less inspirational all the time. I pay about 30 euros in a month to see F1 from TV and first time in the time I’ve been following F1, I’m starting to think that should I spend that money on something else. And should I stop dreaming about attending an F1 race someday.

20

Aesthetics aside, the halo is a device that does very little to protect the driver and in fact likely adds to the danger. Newsflash, RACING IS DANGEROUS. Maybe the halo stops Massa from eating a spring and Justin Wilson a nose cone… but had that been a wheel, like the sort that flew off JV’s crash at Melbourne and Monza 2000, the Halo would have folded and just became something to impale the driver. There are just events that you can’t predict nor protect from. The attempt to further sanitize the sport is a waste.

21

Whether the FIA did the right thing or not is a bit of a mute point in my opinion, as they did what they HAD to do.
I think the thing looks dreadful but it is by far and away the most mature solution, credit to the FIA for pushing through with this.

If left to the teams and drivers this would drago on forever.
THIS is one of the main reasons why the FIA exists people !
Tyre tethers
HANS (I remember the resistance to that one too, by the way !)
Higher sides
More stingent nose tests
Spine supporting extraction seats . . ..
.
.

All of those things were forced upon the teams.

Sure the FIA gets it wrong sometimes an certainly the super complex Hybris PUs may be one such example, but to have tested a SAFETY feature for five years and then not introduce it ?
It is a no brainer that it has to be introduced and hopefully, in fact most likely, it will be replaced by an open canopy style solution in a couple of years time and everyone, incl. me, will be happy again.

My point:
– It looks awful, truly
– It nevertheless has to come, they stalled as much as they could

22

Having read James’s site for almost 10 years now; I have a feeling that this site serves as a medium of feedback for the FIA and F1 in some or other capacity. Hence I think it is wrong for this site to offer up and opinion on this subject and bias it’s readers.

Personally, I think that one simply cannot put a price on safety and if I have to live with Halo for a year in order for more time to be put into development of a more elegant solution, then I would gladly do so.

Who says that the Halo cannot be used to enhance and accentuate the colours identifying the drivers? Hell, use the Halo to mount a camera that faces back on the driver so that you can look him in the eyeball as he races.

I personally prefer the screen that Vettel tested recently but it clearly does need work. I am sure that the company that produced it is working on different refraction properties of the material and an aero shape to counter the issues that were experienced. F1 is the arguably the most technical sport on earth, surely someone can find a solution. There must be more PHD’s walking around the paddock at any one time than there are at MIT!

I say it is a question of priorities and surely safety is exactly that. Had halo been part of open cockpit motorsport, not only would Surtees and Wilson still be with us today, but so would Jules and de Villota.

23

On safety ground YES the FIA has done the right thing… imagine if they went back on the decision later this year and then the unthinkable happens next year & a driver gets seriously hurt or even killed after being struck in the head… there would be hell to pay!!!
However as you say as it is being introduced in F1 next year then it MUST be brought into all other single seater FIA categories within a 12 month period or else what is the point in it especially when the only incidents of drivers being killed by head injuries is in other formulas!

On the looks side I agree with most other people, it looks hideous!!! However we should remember the HALO we have all seen so far is obviously only a test / mock up version which has been produced for teams to test & evaluate, I very much doubt that the version we will see on cars next year will look the same. The teams will be given a set of specifications which it must confirm to & then they will go about designing their own versions to fit in with the rest of the car, I also suspect they will also start experimenting with them to see if any aero gains can be made from them?

On a side note about driver identifications, having been at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago even though the cars now have the drivers numbers on & their 3 letter initial some are still as hard to identify as before.
Then you watch F2 & GP3 and all those cars have the driver number on the rear wing end plate and are as clear as day to see so I really think the FIA should make the teams in F1 do the same, a black end plate with a white square showing the drivers number & initial. Yes the teams might complain about loosing some sponsorship space but surely the fans being able to spot their favourite driver should be more important?

24

although I did post this as a reply to the comments where they fit, it seems it was to late for them to be read. Even I did not have the patience to read all 240+. But I read more than half from top and about a quarter from bottom and I did not see anything about my concerns so Y repost as a comment:
1st. @JNH
“In the longer term, once the halo is well refined, the technology will start appearing in other classes of racing just as high cockpit sides, the HANS device and so on have trickled down into junior formula.”
This is exactly where their safety claim has shown its hollowness !
If FIA were REALLY concerned about safety and not only showing off in the F1 muscle contest as they are, they would have quietly introduced it in the very junior formula 4 and then each year one step up.
Anyone that REALLY loves motorsport, not just motorshow, keeps an eye on the lower classes, where the havoc is present every race for the first couple of turns, and where the head fatal injury which triggered all this happened.
And BTW, if Liberty Media wants to attract youth in the hardcore fan corps, should invest in sponsoring more live transmissions of their races ( I mean the target age group) in the junior formulas.
and 2nd:
I cannot shake off the image of Alonso ploughing through the gravel upside down… Would the thingy hold the weight of the cat or would have been shattered into sharp dagers pushed through his visor ??
We see upside down cars more often than wheels flying.

I expect some reaction to the above, albeit negative

25

Driving a sportscar entails an element of risk, which is something most drivers embrace. The principle of ‘safety at all costs’ which James argues the FIA have a duty to follow doesn’t apply, otherwise the arguments for an entirely closed cockpit would be irrefutable. I agree that aesthetics alone are a poor line of argument when set against the terrible accidents that befell Surtees and others, but no-one can say for certain that the Halo would prevent all such accidents in the future – it is just the “most effective” solution that doesn’t involve a closed cockpit. I guess we will get used to this, but there is no doubt that it takes F1 further away from its roots. I honestly think that the combination of over-safety and the inevitable obsolescence of the internal combustion engine spell the end of F1 as a cutting-edge sport within the next 20 years. There will still be an F1 ‘heritage series’, where older cars are driven competitively, but it will not attract serious manufacturer sponsorship.

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