What to Know About Formula One’s Unpopular New ‘Halo’ Device
Whether you like it or not—and most do not—the Formula One cars of 2018 will feature a new device called the “Halo.” This article will attempt to detail what it is as well as its purpose, potential shortcomings, and why no one seems to like it.
What is it?
For years, the FIA has been looking into potential ways of improving driver head protection—virtually the last area of vulnerability in modern Formula One cars. Two major devices were eventually tested: the “Shield” and the “Halo,” but the former was less strong and was reported by four-time champion Sebastian Vettel to cause dizziness.
The Halo is a semi-circular structure that sits above the car’s cockpit to protect the driver’s head from flying debris. It is made of titanium and is mandated to withstand forces up to 116 kiloNewtons for at least five seconds. In initial tests, when it was made of steel, it performed well against 20 kg tires bombarded at it at speeds of up to 225 kph.
Does it really improve safety?
Many claims have been made regarding the Halo’s supposed safety benefits. It is meant to prevent large objects, such as wheels, or cars and trackside barriers from entering the cockpit and making contact with the driver. After studying 17 serious accidents, the FIA says the Halo would have improved the outcome in 15 of them. In the other two, the difference would have been neutral.
It would not have helped Jules Bianchi in his collision with a crane at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and would likely not have made a difference when Felipe Massa was struck by a loose spring at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix—though after testing how the Halo fared in deflecting small objects, the FIA says it would have protected Massa 17% of the time.
Concerns have been raised that the Halo might actually decrease safety by making it difficult for drivers to climb out of crashed cars, particularly if these cars are on fire. The FIA, aware that the Halo does make it more difficult, has changed the regulations in this respect: drivers must now be able to climb out of the car in seven seconds, up from five. One wonders whether the fire is also expected to wait.
Some questions have also been asked about visibility. The Halo device features a single vertical pylon placed directly in front of the driver, which seems to obstruct vision. In practice, however, the drivers are unlikely to notice it for the same reasons that we rarely notice our own noses (besides, they also almost never look straight ahead).
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Why does no one like it?
The Halo has been controversial, and not just among fans of the sport but also among drivers and teams, some of which think it detracts from the DNA of the sport. Increasing safety is noble goal, they say, but Formula One is already extremely safe, so a line must be drawn somewhere. An element of risk has also always been part of the sport, and Formula One cars have always been completely open-cockpit.
Engineers aren’t particularly fond of it either, as it poses aerodynamic challenges and adds weight to the car in exactly the last place they want to see it—high up, so as to raise the center of gravity, which compromises handling.
However, the main reason so many people dislike the Halo is its appearance. It is regarded by many to be ugly and as though it is a Band-Aid solution to the cockpit intrusion problem the FIA has been attempting to tackle. But this will change in time. The Halo device is open to evolution and Formula One’s new owners, Liberty Media, are sure its aesthetics can be improved. It already looks better on the new Gen2 Formula E cars that were just unveiled.