Alexander Rossi 2018 and 2017

Will F1’s Halo disappear like IndyCar’s wheel pods have?

2018 F1 season

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There is no doubt the FIA has put driver safety before aesthetics by introducing the Halo to Formula One this year.

It may be incredibly strong but it’s also an eyesore which has prompted criticism from fans and even drivers and team principals.

But Halo’s critics should pay attention to a significant change on the new-look IndyCar which will race for the first time this weekend. In 2012 the championship also introduced a safety innovation which was widely panned for being ‘ugly’: Rear wheel pods. Six years later, the unpopular pods are gone.

Simon Pagenaud, Penske, IndyCar, 2018
IndyCar’s unsightly rear wheel pods…
Spencer Pigot, Carpenter, Phoenix, IndyCar, 2018
…have been deleted from the new-look car

Why are IndyCar’s rear wheel pods now considered unnecessary? And if IndyCar has scrapped these, might F1 one day do the same with Halo?

IndyCar’s unsightly rear bumpers were introduced on safety grounds following a series of terrifying incidents where cars were launched into the air. The pods were already slated for introduction before the terrible multi-car crash which claimed the life of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas in 2011.

Spencer Pigot, Penske, IndyCar, 2018
2018 IndyCar season preview
The very next race was the opening round of the 2012 season and the first with the new DW12 chassis which featured the rear wheel pods. There have been fewer aerials crashes since, but it’s doubtful the rear wheel pods deserve much credit.

While it’s easy to understand the logic of placing guards around the rear wheels to reduce the chance wheel-to-wheel contact would cause an aerial crash, it turns out there was a better way to prevent this from happening. The tendency towards ‘pack racing’ particularly on banked on ovals when IndyCar raced the DW12’s predecessor was what created the circumstances for these crashes in the first place.

When cars were able to run flat-out on in close proximity for extended periods, crashes like these were virtually inevitable. Since the DW12 replaced the IR4 we have seen much less pack racing and fewer opportunities for the kinds of accidents the wheel guards were designed to prevent. It’s a reminder that preventing the cause of crashes can be more effective than trying to mitigate the consequences of a collision.

Other aerial crashes since then have largely been either one-car incidents in which the wheel guards would have made no difference, such as Helio Castroneves’ at Indianapolis in 2015, or happened in spite of the guards, as in the case of Scott Dixon’s crash with Jay Howard at the Brickyard last year:

Given IndyCar’s experience with the wheel pods, it’s interesting to note how they’ve approached the same problem F1 is trying to solve with Halo: cockpit intrusion by large pieces of debris or interaction with cars and walls.

The death of Justin Wilson in an IndyCar race three years ago when he was struck by a front nose box shows this is arguably an even more pressing issue in IndyCar racing. It’s not hard to imagine why as its cars race at higher speeds and higher average speeds. They do so on oval circuits where the close proximity of barriers is both a danger of its own and serves to increase the chance of debris remaining within the confines of the track where a driver can hit it.

IndyCar, however, has an advantage over F1 in that it runs a single specification chassis. That makes it easier to develop new solutions, which it is doing with the considerably more aesthetically pleasing windscreen.

It also means it can approach the problem in other ways. While both series have used tethers on wheels for years, in IndyCar the use of tethers was extended to include front and rear wing assemblies following Wilson’s crash. As with the circumstances which led to the wheel pods no longer being necessary, it’s partly a case of prevention being better than cure.

This could all point a way forward for Formula One, which plans to significantly overhaul its chassis rules in 2021. With the best will in the world, the hope that Halo would look better once it had been integrated into the 2018 chassis has not been realised: it still looks like a cheap after-market add-on and few drivers are pretending otherwise.

But it also raises the question of how much risk each championship can tolerate exposing its drivers to: By its very nature IndyCar racing is open to a greater degree of danger to begin with.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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38 comments on “Will F1’s Halo disappear like IndyCar’s wheel pods have?”

  1. Its nothing new here but yes, we all know the halo isn’t aesthetically the best thing to hit F1. Its quite possibly the worst. As always in Indy and circuit racing, after an accident debris will come back on to the track, making it more dangerous. But if we were the family of Surtees or Wilson we would be outraged that some would question an ugly device that could have saved their loved one.

    If you look at how exposed drivers were back in the day (look at 1988 McLaren) to now, when they are deep inside the cockpit I think they are safe enough. As times goes on maybe Halo may be faded out of F1- I hope so.

    1. But there were measures done already to prevent such events a post Surtees crash which was better wheel tethers rather than the simplistic designs prior. @garns

      As for Justin Wilson, the accident was very bizarre and tragic that it was so unpredictable and probably impossible to stop, short of a full canopy. If the trajectory is right, the halo wont stop such events, nor other events in the past 10 years where small debris has injured a driver. So in these regards the HALO seems like a system put in place to say “we’ve done something to try and protect drivers as well as ourselves (FIA), from potential backlash had we not done anything. I feel just like many things currently within the FIA in some sense it was introduced because the world is more reactionary and vocal when nothing gets done.

      With that said, I do think the HALO does have more protective benefits to it, than the Indycar pods. Simply, they’re a simple structure, you take the wait of a car at speed against something that isn’t designed to withstand those forces or loading unlike the HALO which is, and of course it wont work and be phased out. Couple it with the fact that there were things to limit these disaster catch fence wrecks in American Open Wheel racing…, you soon get the image of those pods being a weak over kill.

      F1 could be looked at in the same way, after certain massive wrecks, things like the VSC were done. The death of a Surtees brought about safer and more stricter levels on wheel tethers, crash structure design in general has been improved to keep drivers safe. In fact the cars have been massively improved as well as procedures, to circumvent the worst. So while the HALO is more of a safety device than the pods, it was brought in tail end of many other safety features making people wonder, why bother?

      1. take the weight of the car*

    2. I’m not sure it is the worst. The finger noses were worse. The halo blends into the cars quite well but the finger noses were just plain offending sight.

  2. Very insightful article! Keep it up with the great Indycar content!

  3. I guess the short answer is that if the halo disappears like the Indycar wheel pods, then we’ll have halos for 5 years.

    For now we have halos, presumably for the whole season. Let’s see if, and to what degree, we get used to them.

  4. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
    8th March 2018, 13:22

    I never minded the rear wheel guards too much, after a couple of races I got used to the old indycar aero-kits, kind of like how I got used to the skinny 2009 reg F1 cars fairly quickly. Even on the Formula E cars I don’t feel they look too out of place.
    The halo on the other hand really sticks out like a sore thumb, like an aftermarket part as K says.
    I don’t think F1 will be able to back-track and bin it now though, they have come too far, and have forced their own hand.
    Best hope now is that the much more attractive Indycar Windscreen solution becomes the norm for both series, I read that FIA have been closely involved in its production also, so there shouldn’t be any ‘they did X, so we must do Y’ inter-series rivalry holding back it’s F1 introduction.
    The YT video shows it doesn’t suffer the same distortion that plagued Vettel with the Aeroscreen test, on account of being curved on only one axis like the inside of a cylinder, rather than both axis like the inside of a bubble. Scott Dixon reckons drivers would get used to it fairly quickly, and it could even make the cars looks better if fully integrated IMO.

    1. The FIA are “watching” what’s going on with the Aeroscreen. They are not involved with production which is all developed by Indycar and their partners.

  5. I have numerous problems with the halo, many of which I’ve debated on here at length. My main point of loathing with the device is the way we can now no longer instantly recognise which driver is behind the wheel, which is a big problem for me. I love cars and have a reasonable understanding of them, but my main love of the sport has always been the people, mainly the drivers, in the sport. I love being able to see their helmets, watch their hands work the wheel, see the way the head turns when alongside a competitor or lulls through a long bend towards the end of a hard race. The halo, for me, completely shrouds the human aspect of the competition. We may as well have closed cockpits.

    I still am not entirely sure what problem it’s trying to solve. Before I get responses saying “it protects the head”… I know… but so does the helmet. We have tethered wheels, huge run off zones, endless tyre barriers and numerous other safety precautions. Looking at accidents in the same series that could have been prevented in the last 10 years, we have Bianchi (2014) and Massa (2009) (any more I’m missing?). Bianchi would not have been saved by the halo, as has been proved by multiple studies. Massa may have had the spring deflected from his helmet; but could it then have been deflected down into the cockpit to his lower throat/sternum? Could that have been worse? Speculation… going back further to Senna is an irrelevancy, given how different the entire sport was back then.

    I feel we’ve removed the spirit of Formula One to fix a problem that does not exist.

    1. @ben-n
      Could not have said it better mate!!
      Jules is a hard one to swallow as we haven’t have a death since Ayrton (most here would be too young and seen Ayrton Senna’s death live on TV- I wasn’t) so too easy to talk about an era of F1 when all is safe.

      1. The death of Jules Bianchi was a tragic combination of circumstances. Measures have now been put in place to prevent anything similar happening. Indeed, hard to swallow when everything seems so safe, but if freak accidents are something we want to stop, then we shouldn’t be racing at all. You simply cannot cover every eventuality.

        1. And people often forget or refuse to acknowledge that Jules had significant responsibility in what happened because he didn’t slow down as much as he should have.

          1. Gotta disagree with you on that one. Martin Brundle during commentary of the race warned that he didn’t like the crane on the track minutes before Jules went off. In fact, he had the exact same accident, in the same spot, when he was driving, injuring a marshal.
            Charlie and Jean Totd are far more responsible for Jules then he was. Even if he was going too fast for double yellows he shouldn’t or couldnt foresee that a friggin crane would be just off the circuit.
            JT should have resigned, instead he forced Halo upon us ruining the sport.
            This is the same man who said “humanity wouldn’t accept” F1 returning to non
            -hybrids because they use a bit more fuel, again ruining the experience for the fans by eliminating the sound. The absurd part is he the amount of fuel his private jet uses far out weighs whatever fuel is saved on track. Hate this man.

    2. @ben-n I can’t agree entirely, but that said if it is the way you feel then that is just the way it is and it is about your personal feelings and preferences, so who’s to argue. Nothing in F1 is ever going to please everyone.

      They didn’t look at F1 accidents and play woulda, coulda, shoulda, so much as they saw actual fatalities occur in recent years in other open cockpit series where there was a wheel in one incident, and a nose cone in another.

      I think that once we see the cars in live action, as seems to be the case in the short clips we’ve seen, and as opposed to many of the still pics we’ve been shown, we will see the car moving across the camera views and will have an infinite number of angles to see the drivers’ helmets and their hands working their steering wheels, and so I don’t see whatsoever your comment that it is like they’re completely shrouded and might as well be entirely enclosed. I envision that by the time a car has entered a camera shot at a given corner, and gets followed by the camera as it passes through the range of said camera, we will have no trouble whatsoever knowing who the driver is, and just as the halo is said to become invisible to the drivers after just a few laps, so too will the halo look invisible if we focus on the drivers helmet as it passes through the camera’s view and to our homes.

      I very much disagree that this removes the spirit of Formula 1.

      1. @robbie – have you ever agreed entirely with something I’ve said? :-)

        I totally appreciate that different series have also seen tragic accidents, with Surtees and Wilson and I conveniently omitted them from my arguments above… I don’t think this was unreasonable, given that specs, speeds, safety standards etc. differ so much from series to series. The halo, of course, would have saved both of them. If the halo is proven to save a life or two in the next few years then it will be absolutely worth my “discomfort” while watching.

        I’m also sure you’re right that once the cars are in race action and jostling, I won’t be looking at the halo and will probably forget about it.

        My concern is that this is yet more sanitising of an already sanitised sport and this time I don’t think it’s necessary. As I mentioned, we have endless run off zones, the strongest helmets in history, the HANS device, Safety Cars, Virtual Safety Cars, limited gravel traps. I don’t wish injury or fear on any of the drivers and I’m glad we’re in such a relatively safe era, but there simply isn’t the same thrill as there used to be. It used to be that mistakes were punished by a trip to the gravel and a likely retirement, now we’re treated to two weeks of discussion about whether said driver should have a 5-second penalty. Yawn. I feel that the halo is in the same vein of sanitisation for the sake of it.

        1. @ben-n Lol, and that’s fair comment. Not sure what to expect this season in terms of closeness, but I suspect the dirty air effect will still be quite damaging to the racing, but perhaps once they get that sorted, some good enthralling action will take over all the things you have pointed out that sanitize F1.

    3. I agree with everything you’ve said here aside from one thing, what about the accidents when cars slide up over the top of another car. There’s been a few accidents I’ve seen (not sure of the context off the top of my head) where another car has come pretty close to the drivers head when it gets pushed up over the top like a ramp. I think the F1 official YouTube page has a video about the halo that shows some of these accidents. Other than that +1

      1. I presume you’re referring to incidents like Coulthard over Wurz (Australia 2007), Grosjean over Alonso (Belgium 2012) or Alonso over Raikkonen (Austria 2015)? In these incidents the cars came very close to the heads of the other drivers and I agree that the halo would prevent this from happening… I do wonder if the strength and roundness of the helmet itself would be enough anyway though.

        1. With Grosjean over Alonso I dont think the helmet or HANS would have protected Alonso enough and most likely he would have broken his neck, so I can see where the Halo would have protected him. There was another accident around the same time when someone went over Kimi from behind- I think maybe Alonso- and that was a close one as well.

    4. @ben-n, whilst you cite the cases of Bianchi and Massa respectively, in many ways the sport has been rather fortunate that there had not been other serious accidents – people tend to forget that there had been a number of near misses in previous years.

      Only a handful of races earlier in 2014, it was really more of a fluke event that Chilton had not been hit in the head by the wheel coming off Kimi’s car in the British GP – I think there were even a few suggestions that the tyre had just brushed the top of Chilton’s helmet and left a mark on it, and it missed causing a serious head injury by a few centimetres. Equally, there was the clash between Liuzzi and Schumacher in the 2010 Abu Dhabi GP where it was by chance that the front wheel of Liuzzi’s car only narrowly missed Schumacher’s head.

    5. @ben-n – Well said.

      The spirit of Formula 1 has been corporately sanitized for every legal eventuality.

  6. If the question is, will the halo eventually go away, I think the answer is yes. As time goes on I believe that either a better /more elegant solution will be arrived at or the cars will be redesigned to the point where some other device is put in place to avoid cockpit intrusion.
    Personally I think the latter will happen as I believe a point will come in the not too distant future where wholesale rule changes are implemented which will fundamentally change the way the cars look.

  7. Man, that Indy is a nice looking car!

  8. Michal (@michal2009b)
    8th March 2018, 13:47

    Hopefully we get rid of halo asap. Its only purpose is to demonstrate to the outside world that we are doing “something to improve” safety (halo is visible isn’t it?), possibly in response to Bianchi’s lawsuits. It’s doubtful halo will improve safety actually, it has some disadvantages as well. The manner in which it was introduced is shameful, like censoring the press conference and lying about the actual support for this device.

    If we are going to go full-safety then we should start racing in simulators.

  9. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    8th March 2018, 14:01

    I think there’s an argument to be made that F1 should have a minimal amount of risk involved. As Schumacher has proven, recreational skiing is more dangerous than F1. I’m all for safety, although I’d prefer to see it in lower categories or everyday cars, but the Halo is a controversial device whose overall net benefit isn’t even guaranteed or proven unlike runoffs which everyone knows are safer than concrete walls.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      8th March 2018, 14:12

      The die-hard fans may put up with it but we don’t know how the casual or new fans will react. The drivers have always been the focal point of F1 and the Halo comes directly between the driver and the fan. The visibility of the viewer is as impaired or perhaps even more than the driver’s visibility. From the side, you can barely see the driver’s head depending on the car.

      Not such a big deal really. Actually, this might be a good opportunity for gaming to shine. With photorealistic graphics, they could recreate the entire race without the Halos and folks could watch it with the Sky commentary on their TV at a later date (most of us have to wait to watch many of the races anyway so they can improve them visually). Then they can overlay parts of the actual race over the simulated race. Everyone’s a winner!

      Hey, if the weather is bad, they can just run the race in the simulator – for safety reasons!!! Hell, I might fire up my PS4 and team up with Alonso for the Monaco race :-)

  10. I’m sure the Halo would actually look a lot better on an Indycar because it doesn’t have an airbox.
    Hopefully the new F1 regs will remove the airbox and then the rollhoop and halo can be combined into one structure that fits the look of the car better.
    Not sure about the ramifications of doing away with airboxes though.

    1. I think this image demonstrates why the halo could never work on an Indycar. (it is even worse if the car were positioned lower in the corner)

  11. I got so used to the indycar wheel pods, that this is the first time I read they have disappeared, I actually thought they were still there, honestly you get used to something and it then means nothing. people will be the same after 1 f1 race with halo. it is a minor visual change in the scheme of things. when I look back at several f1 season review dvds, I often thing “man there was too much uproar over that change in appearance” ie rear wing change ’09, high noses, pointy noses, thumb press noses, dropstep noses…etc. etc.

  12. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
    8th March 2018, 15:01

    What I really don’t understand about the halo is that its height is big in front, and then it decreases below the highest helmet point. I think of the accident that killed Surtees Jr, and I think that, given the shape of the halo, the outcome would have been the same. Maybe a future version of it addresses that possibility. I agree with @ben-n that, in the case of Massa, it could have actually killed him. I also agree with him when he mentions how the halo somehow reduces the driver to a barely visible thing. I know there are many close-cockpit categories, so I guess this point is just a matter of getting used to it. I saw a photoshopped image of halos being of the color of the helmets, and it definitely looked better.

  13. A couple of wild rides by Castroneves and Dixon! Let’s hope the flying is non existent this year.

    1. Yes, a lot of aero changes have been made to try to prevent that.

  14. When the wheel pods were introduced in Indycar I got used to them very quickly & by the end of the 1st race of 2012 I wasn’t even noticing them anymore.

    It’s been the same with the Halo, I’m used to it already & watching the footage from testing the past week I don’t really notice it anymore so for me it’s now a complete non-issue.

  15. Duncan Snowden
    8th March 2018, 18:23

    “But it also raises the question of how much risk each championship can tolerate exposing its drivers to”

    Yes! Exactly! That’s what some of us have been saying all along. The risk in F1 has been massively reduced over the last fifty years by all the excellent safety measures we already have, to the point where it’s a tiny fraction of what it was in the ’60s. The question is whether the relatively small extra reduction in risk that the halo brings is worth its cost.*

    It’s not a question with a yes/no, right/wrong answer. It depends on many factors, and different people will have different feelings about it, all of which are valid. (That’s one of the difficulties in imposing a blanket mandate on this kind of thing.) Mine is that it’s not worth it. The halo is ugly, inconvenient, heavy, and may even introduce new risks that haven’t been foreseen. But that’s not to say that if something came along which provided the same (or better) reduction in risk for less cost*, I wouldn’t be enthusiastically in favour.

    (I’ve already re-written and cut this comment several times because my explanation was getting way too long, so I’ll just throw this in here for those who know what I’m talking about: diminishing marginal utility.)

    *In terms of aesthetics, inconvenience, and weight, etc., not financially.

  16. Finger up and a Thumb down
    One for keeping it and one for the idea

  17. Prevention better than the cure used to be F1’s motto. Indy’s motto is more, we’ll deal with it when the time comes. Honestly the disappearance of the pods was due to their troublesome existence. In the end the pods were also a big chunk of carbon that could spell death, if they are thinking about safety is that they’ve noticed they must reduce the amount of big sized carbon shrapnel.

  18. It’s a reminder that preventing the cause of crashes can be more effective than trying to mitigate the consequences of a collision.

    The whole article is predicated on the fact that they prevention is better than mitigation, but you don’t seem to explain how they went about preventing the cause of the crashes? Did they purposefully design the cars to run poorly in wake of other cars? Did the make fuel efficiency less of an issue so that they didn’t need to slipstream to save fuel?

    In my view, the cause of crashes, barring mechanical failure, is usually the result of close racing/challenging circuits, if we agree that this is a desirable aspect to produce entertaining races, then mitigation seems more desirable than prevention.

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