Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Written by Tessa Lee Edited by Harshi Vashee
The recent collision between Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in Monza highlighted the crucial role that Halos play in a sport as dangerous and thrilling as Formula One.
How It Works
The Halo is made of titanium metal and is fitted on the car’s cockpit. It circles the driver’s head and protects the driver from head injuries on the track caused by flying debris from car collisions or crashes into large barriers. With its ability to deflect and stop large debris from contacting the driver’s head, it is one of the most essential safety installations the FIA has introduced into the sport. Heralded as the ‘strongest part of the car’, the Halo can absorb 12 tonnes (12000 kilograms) in weight and has been quoted by Mercedes to withstand “the weight of a London bus”.
When and Why it was introduced
Between 1950 to 1994, 37 fatalities were spanning across 29 Formula One circuits. Late F2 driver Henry Surtees was killed in 2009 when he was struck on the head by the wheel and tyre of a neighbouring car at the Brands Hatch Circuit in England. At the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, late F2 driver Jules Bianchi perished after sustaining a head injury after a fatal crash. In 2015, late IndyCar driver Justin Wilson was declared dead after a piece of debris from another car struck his helmet at the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. The three fatal incidents were catalysts for the officials’ decision to first introduce the Halo to F1 in 2018. The FIA subsequently added it to F2, F3, F4 and other open-wheel racing series like IndyCar and Formula E.
The Initial Controversy Surrounding the Halo
When the FIA first introduced the Halo cockpit protection system, the mandate was met with strong protest from F1 drivers and fans alike. F1 fans were especially robust in their opposition, with some arguing that it would ruin the overall aesthetic aspect of the car. Others believed that it would interfere with the drivers’ on-track visibility. With how it would interfere with the onboard pole lap videos, fans would also have trouble seeing the drivers in the cockpit. To most, the fans perceived that the Halo would rob the sport of its traditionally risky open-cockpit racing concept.
While current Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen so aptly described halo visibility as “OK” when it was mandated in 2018, other drivers criticised the newly introduced frontal protection device. Similar to the fans, former Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was scathing on the aesthetics factor of the halo and supported his claim by stating that “It takes away some of the passion that F1 is talking about” and referred to how “[the halo] looks shit, it is shit.” Additionally, current Red Bull driver Max Verstappen thought the car needed to retain its “certain element of risk” and stated that “It’s not just the looks, I don’t think it is necessary.”
While the device did indeed encounter a fair amount of criticism, it also faced exceptional support. Current Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel and Alpine driver Fernando Alonso had spoken out in favour of the Halo after the FIA’s statistics had been presented to the drivers. Current Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who had initially objected to the physical appearance of the Halo, supported the decision after FIA studies demonstrated that, with the Halo, the chances of surviving an accident would increase by 17%.
Significant Events in F1 Since the Introduction of the Halo
Despite the initial criticisms and condemnation of the Halo, recent events in F1 have been a blatant testament to its vital role in ensuring the safety of the drivers and protecting them from fatal accidents.
1. Romain Grojean’s Crash in Bahrain 2020
An unexpected situation in modern-day F1, former Haas driver Romain Grosjean’s fiery crash into the Bahrain barriers and the medical car’s quick response made the frontlines on all race coverages. Despite the vehicle being split in half and engulfed in flames, the FIA’s safety precautions – Halo included – prevented Grojean from sustaining severe and potentially fatal injuries, allowing him to escape virtually unscathed from the incident.
Alongside the other drivers, Grosjean had opposed the proposition of a Halo when it was first suggested, stating that “[he still didn’t] think it [had] a place for it in Formula One.” Had the crash occurred before the compulsory installation of the Halo, it is likely that Grosjean would not have survived the crash. “I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but [now] I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve had in Formula One and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today”, said Grosjean.
2. Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton’s Crash in Monza 2021
The collision between championship rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton is one for the history books. Despite the criticism towards the Halo, its usefulness has been emphasised repeatedly, and none more so than now. The crash had Verstappen’s Red Bull lift off a sausage curb and its rear wheel land on seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton’s helmet through the protective halo, resulting in the Red Bull landing on top of the Mercedes in the gravel.
While the wheel did indeed hit his head, the Halo had prevented a major impact. “I feel very, very fortunate today. Thank God for the halo. That did ultimately save me, you know, and saved my neck,” said Lewis Hamilton to reporters. Afterwards, Hamilton stated that he would have to meet a specialist to receive a routine medical check-up for the blow to his head.