Five years since the FIA was pilloried for introducing halo, it keeps saving lives

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Five years ago, the FIA announced Formula 1 cars would be fitted with a new head protection structure known as the halo. The move was welcomed by some, but support was far from total.

Max Verstappen called the design “ugly” and that it would “take away some of the passion that F1 is talking about”. Three-times world champion Niki Lauda added it was the wrong decision to have the contraption on the cockpit, and believed there was “100 per cent” better solutions available.

But the FIA, led by then-president Jean Todt, persevered. The sport’s governing body was determined to improve head protection not only at the top of the sport, but throughout it.

Development of the halo had been prompted in part by Henry Surtees’ death in a Formula 2 crash at Brands Hatch in 2009 when he was struct by a wheel. The death of former Formula 1 driver Justin Wilson when he was struck by a car’s nose in an IndyCar race at Pocono in 2015 underlined the need for action.

When halo was introduced, FIA safety delegate Charlie Whiting highlighted the purpose it served. “The halo is there principally to look into the way drivers have been hit by wheels,” he said, “but also where we’ve seen cars in contact with the environment, so to speak: walls, for example. [Marco] Campos in Magny-Cours, Greg Moore in Fontana. Those sorts of things as well.

“It will stop a wheel, It will stop large objects and it will protect the driver against incursion from another car, walls, interaction with tyre barriers, all those things.”

Resistance still followed, but the FIA pushed ahead with their plans and after extensive testing, all cars in F1 carried the halo into the 2018 season. Fast-forward five years to the month, and many near-misses later, acceptance of the halo is universal.

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The year it was introduced, Charles Leclerc praised on the halo after Fernando Alonso’s McLaren went over the top of his car at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix.

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018
Alonso went over Leclerc’s car at Spa in 2018
At the time Leclerc admitted it “probably helped” save his life. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who a few months earlier said he wanted to “take a chainsaw” to the halo, said the crash “could have been very nasty” and was “happy that we have the halo.”

Acceptance was not immediate. Verstappen was among those who questioned whether the halo had done anything for Leclerc.

“The car never really virtually drops on top of someone else,” he pointed out. “It would always skid over the top. But because Halo was sticking out so much, of course, it gets hit.

“The more you build in front of a driver, the more chance it can get hit. I think even if the halo hadn’t been there he wouldn’t have been hit anyway so I think they made it too dramatic.”

One key concern many had raised over the halo was whether the structure would make it harder for a driver to escape an inverted car, which might place them in more danger in certain circumstances. At the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Nico Hulkenberg was launched into a roll by Romain Grosjean on the opening lap of the race and ended up upside down on top of a barrier.

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Some questioned whether Hulkenberg’s escape from the car had been delayed due to the placement of the halo. Whiting (in what turned out to be his final event as race director before his sudden death a few months later) pointed out the halo was designed to give drivers extra room to escape from a car if it has flipped over.

Grosjean’s halo saved his life in Bahrain
As time passed, more drivers had cause to be thankful for the halo. At the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix Antonio Giovinazzi hit a barrier, stripping a wheel from his Alfa Romeo. It flew towards George Russell, who had no option other than to plough into it.

“I was doomed if I went right as I’d have crashed to him and I was doomed if I went left because I hit his wheels,” said Russell. “So for a very split second, it was pretty scary seeing that massive rear tyre flying across the circuit with no idea where it was going to go.

“So I’m thankful for the halo, because obviously, I know in hindsight, even if that was headed towards me, I would have been safe. So we’re all very lucky just to have that system.”

Three months later a crash occured which swayed any remaining halo sceptics. Grosjean – one of the most vocal halo critics – walked away from an enormous crash at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix. He suffered a 67G impact as his car burst into flames after hitting the barrier on the opening lap.

“I wasn’t for the Halo some years ago but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1,” he admitted afterwards. “Without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today.”

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Verstappen was persuaded too. “I think the Halo today saved his life,” he said. “In the beginning when it came onto the cars I was quite critical about it, that it looked ugly. But you can’t say anything about the safety because today it definitely saved Romain, so I’m very happy about that.”

Halo protected Hamilton in Verstappen crash last year
Lewis Hamilton, who praised the halo after Grosjean’s crash, had a near-miss of his own when Verstappen landed on top of him during last year’s Italian Grand Prix. The Red Bull’s wheel grazing the top of the seven-time world champions helmet before the halo took the brunt of the impact.

At the time his boss Wolff stated it saved his life, adding, “It would have been a horrible accident that I don’t want to even think about if we wouldn’t have had the halo.”

Sunday at Silverstone gave as many as three examples of the value of the halo. Leclerc’s was struck by a piece of debris from Sergio Perez’s car, but two more serious crashes inevitably captured more attention.

When Dennis Hauger landed on top of Roy Nissany’s Formula 2 car in the morning Sunday race, halo had clearly done its job again. But another more graphic demonstration was just hours away.

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Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu walked away from a horrifying crash at the start of the race. Thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers watched in horror as his car flipped over and skidded for hundreds of metres along asphalt and gravel, then catapulted into the barriers.

Could the halo withstand such an impact and protect the driver in the way it is designed to do? Once again the answer was, thankfully, yes. “Halo saved me today,” said Zhou on social media afterwards.

Safety in motorsport is constantly monitored and reviewed by the FIA. The process is never-ending: Several drivers have suggested the sport now needs to look at the role played by the high ‘sausage’ kerbs in Sunday’s F1 crash.

But the halo has proved its worth time and time again. Five years since its contentious introduction, it’s hard to find anyone who’ll say a word against it.

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Author information

Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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30 comments on “Five years since the FIA was pilloried for introducing halo, it keeps saving lives”

  1. It’s always the same. With every step to increase safety, you have a bunch of manly-manchildren crying about this or that, but mainly to signal their supposed testicular fortitude.

    But no one complains about not having to go to funerals for their colleagues a couple of times a year.

    So onward and upward, time to bring the aeroscreen to Formula 1!

    1. @proesterchen Imho no way you are going to see aeroscreens in F1. If they wanted them they would have been regulated to design these new cars for them. They didn’t. They’re not now going to add a screen that would totally change the aero and that would turn the cockpits into ovens. Just because Indycar has them does not mean F1 needs them, and as I say it is moot anyway because their chance to bring them in if they wanted was when they were totally revamping the cars.

      1. Yeah the aeroscreen brings other issues and would mess up the aerodynamics while potentially offering little extra protection anyway.

      2. It’s important to remember that the Aeroscreen only began being used in Indycars in the 2020 season when the new Formula 1 regulations were still slated for 2021.

        Now that we’re in year 3 of its use and the system has been well-understood, it’s time for the FIA to look at the lessons learned and then use them to further improve safety in Formula 1. (and 2, and 3)

        Most F1 teams were violently opposed to the Halo, too. Yet here we are, everyone figured it out and everyone is safer for it. The same will be true in season 2 of the Aeroscreen at the latest.

        1. @proesterchen Of course they had already been studying other options hand in hand with the halo, including the aeroscreen, as tested by some teams/drivers, and it was rejected, well before 2020. So no I disagree that they didn’t have time to react before seeing the screens in use in Indycar. They had plenty of time to R&D further and implement aeroscreens well in advance of the current regs being set, and yet they didn’t. That ship has sailed. F1 has already shown us that they are not interested in aeroscreens and are happy with the halo.

      3. @robbie I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of aeroscreen style screen make it’s way to F1 at some point in the next 10-20 years.

        What I can see happening is that some incident occurs in F1 that a screen would have prevented which then ramps up the pressure to look at introducing one. And a difference to a few years ago is that as Indycar continue to run the aeroscreen & work out all the issues that pop up (Cockpit airflow/temperatures & viability in the wet for example) which takes away the argument that there isn’t a viable screen like solution ready for F1 to adopt.

        1. @stefmeister Sure perhaps that far down the line when they are doing a major regs overhaul or what have you, because the aero effect would be massive for F1 cars. For now I’m not sure Indycar has worked out all the issues, but sure, over time, who knows.

    2. Sure, but it’s understandable. It’s the same crowd that complained about electronic aids, ERS, KERS, hybrid engine, etc. F1 fans are a whingy crowd.

      That being said, what I’m curious about is how the halo didn’t save and arguable wouldn’t have saved any lives in the last 25 years of the sport. But since the introduction of the halo in 2018 it has clearly saved or prevented serious injury no less than 5 times. How the hell is that possible?

      1. Stevan Vasiljević
        8th July 2022, 10:53

        Objectively, halo has saved 3 racers. Grosjean from getting impailed on guard rails. Nissany from having opponent’s car landing straight on his head. Zhou was saved by halo because roll hoop has failed and without the halo his head would hit the ground with car on top.
        With Leclerc and Hamilton it is harder to call, because possibly only roll hoop was enough to protect their heads.
        Therefore if not 5, halo has certainly saved lives of 3 drivers.

  2. The halo has always been an ugly, but practical solution.

    My main concern is the collapse of the rollover structure on the Alfa at the weekend – it’s far from the only example of this and there was far too little (but thankfully just enough) clearance between drivers head and the ground. Had the rollover structure been intact there would have been more margin – though possibly the path of the car would have been more erratic and violent.

  3. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over next generation of cars and what revisions [if any] they’ll make to the design.

  4. Leclerc’s was struck by a piece of debris from Sergio Perez’s car

    I believe it was the other way around?

  5. The biggest issues with the halo, then, remain today.
    It is still ugly and looks like an afterthought. And it still has massive gaps in it for smaller debris to make it to the driver’s helmet.

    I look at Indycar and their adoption of the aeroscreen (originally developed by Red Bull for F1, let’s not forget) and can’t help but think that’s the way F1 should have gone. It’s still not particularly pretty, but it functions better than an open halo and (at least with the Dallara chassis) looks like it has been designed to be a part of the car right from the initial design phase – mostly because it’s so imposing that it simply has to be well-integrated.

    1. Small debris has not been the main issue, even though yes of course there have been a few incidents, but they bolstered their helmets and visors for that. As I think you are implying, if they wanted aeroscreens they would have regulated them into these new cars but they didn’t. That ship has sailed. They can’t just add them now without it massively affecting the aero of the cars, nor do they likely want to turn the cockpits into ovens.

      1. Small debris has not been the main issue, even though yes of course there have been a few incidents, but they bolstered their helmets and visors for that.

        Massa disagrees with you.
        As unlikely as it is, look what happens when the unlikely happens.

        The thing about F1 regs is that they can change them with pretty short notice if they want to, @robbie. Especially so on safety grounds, which this would be if they wanted it.
        As for the effect on the aero – which is more important, do you think?
        And the heat? Not a serious problem if they really want to solve it. Vents can easily be added through the tub at both ends if necessary.
        Everything’s a big problem until a solution is required by a specific deadline. Suddenly it becomes doable.

        1. S As I say post-Massa they have bolstered their helmets and visors.

          I don’t think anything has happened for F1 to change it’s mind on aeroscreens that they have obviously already rejected. The halo is performing wonderfully. There is no new safety issue or concern that would require that they suddenly revamp the cars already, having just had the opportunity to do so from the drawing board, which they obviously already saw no need to do, to now cause a ton of change and expense and even more added weight to these cars. I don’t even see a need for a knee-jerk reaction such as you’re suggesting, let alone a going back to the drawing board when they have just come off the drawing board.

          1. Nobody thought Imola 1994 would happen either.
            But knees started jerking like crazy – and (mostly) for good reason, as it turned out.

            You may not see the need to change anything today @robbie, but that doesn’t mean that the need isn’t there.

            I’m not suggesting that they change anything this year (or even next) either – but if they did, it wouldn’t be for a bad reason, would it….
            Putting off safety improvements just because a technical rule set was only recently introduced sounds like the most irresponsible idea imaginable.

          2. S perhaps if anything had happened in F1 since the introduction of the halo to suggest they need go so far as an aeroscreen then I would understand them addressing it, but it hasn’t and so they aren’t. Your 1994 reference, well, where does that stop then? Firstly the cars are hugely more safe since measures taken post-Senna, and secondly, why not just wrap them all in bubble wrap then? Huge runoffs, no walls in site l, cars built like tanks etc etc. They have to draw the line somewhere and again they had a chance to implement an aeroscreen with this ground up restoration they’ve just done and they haven’t, and nothing has happened to suggest they now should, unless you want them to go full on with umpteen other safety measures just because they think of it. In no way is that to suggest I’m flippant with driver safety. Just…they have to draw the line somewhere in the sand at certain points in time even when they realize something needs be done in some aspect. That time is not now for aeroscreens. The halo has proved highly successful without them enclosing the drivers in an oven, changing the aero completely, and causing huge amounts of expense and added weight.

          3. Stevan Vasiljević
            8th July 2022, 11:03

            Mentioning 1994 for comparison is wrong. There were concerns about whiplash injury, but only after Sena’s crash did they fast track HANS device.

            Before Ratzenberger’s crash there were concerns that the driver’s tub was not strong enogh. After the crash improvements were promoted and after only a few years this saved Schumacher and Kubica, and many others in the meantime.

  6. Those people indeed have had to take back their words.
    BTW, I didn’t notice Leclerc getting struck by a piece from Perez’s car.

  7. I was one of the few people defending the halo back then, defending from such ridiculous claims as “but it wouldn’t have prevented Massa’s accident” as if that was somehow a valid counter-argument to the Halo. And I’m glad it’s been done.

    The one thing I do regret is that drivers don’t get personalized halo’s to differentiate cars. Why not have Halo’s in helmet-style colors for each driver, that they get to play around with like they do with helmets? This is my one wish, other than that, go halo.

    1. Personalized halo’s are an awesome idea!

    2. Even if they weren’t personalised – at least paint them the same as the T-Cam.

  8. I still don’t like the Halo from an aesthetic point of view. But I do recognise it’s value. I do wonder if the drivers are taking more risks these days tho with safety being so good.

  9. Halo is ugly, but is worth.

    My toughts about these later crashes is… when there was no halo, we didn’t had 3-4 crashes by year that involved helmet damage, and now, it seems like every year you have 3-4 crashes that could have damaged the helmet or the head of the driver. I feel like the number of crashes where the halo is involved/needed is higher than before it existed. I don’t know if this is the real case, or is only a feeling, but if I’m correct, I think they need to study this, and find the reasons.

    1. I am not against the halo, but it seems odd that it is called life saving several times a year. Apparently without the halo Formula 1 would have reverted to the fatality rate of the 1960s after decades of decline.

  10. I have nothing but praise for the halo. But, one thought I always had was that other than Jules B. we had a pretty good run in F1. We now see a lot of examples of how halo saved lives, but I don’t remember many situations we look back at now and say that the halo would’ve prevented that huge mess.

    Especially in Zhou’s case, it wasn’t that the halo saved him, but that the rollover protection system (ROPS) failed spectacularly. I agree that the halo kept him alive, but that was not what the halo was designed for.

  11. The irony is that now we are looking at roll hoops, which were last generation’s development (real ones not those thin aluminum thingies from the 70s). Zhou’s collapsed like a slice of cheesecake. The halo was not designed to be a back up for the roll hoop.

    As for the aero screen, I think they are hideous. But I can see here why that is not a good rationale. However it would say that if we go that way we should consider a more radical redesign providing for a proper enclosed cockpit more like a prototype sports car.

    We should look at on board fire suppression halon-type systems too. Fires were a thing of the past until last year. We got complacent in fires as it seems we have on roll hoop design.

    1. @dmw I suggest you not hold your breath waiting for F1 to make it’s cars no longer F1 cars but rather WEC cars, and much heavier ones at that. They are obviously thrilled with the halo and happy to keep F1 as F1, full stop.

  12. Broccoliface
    7th July 2022, 16:05

    I agree that Leclerc at spa didn’t need the halo, one of the wheels got redirected by the front of the sidepod to slide across the front of the cockpit, but it’s saved a few folks since.

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