Halo in Formula 1: Everything you need to know about cockpit protection!
Who developed the Halo cockpit protection, how it came to Formula 1 and in which accidents the Halo system has already proven to be a lifesaver
A roll bar protects Formula 1 drivers in their cockpits: halo. But what does the term actually mean and what does it stand for? How long has Halo been around in Formula 1 and who developed it in the first place? Which serious motorsport accidents were the impetus for it and has Halo actually prevented anything worse? These and other questions we clarify in this article on the cockpit protection system of Formula 1!
What does the term Halo stand for?
Halo” is an English term. The word can be rendered as “halo” in German. And that describes quite aptly how Halo as cockpit protection in Formula 1 surrounds the driver and his head in the vehicle, namely like a halo that hovers over a person in pictorial representations.
The cockpit protection halo is considered a so-called secondary rollover structure at the level of the cockpit, as a supplement to the roll bar behind the cockpit and as an attachment to the so-called monocoque, the survival cell of the vehicle.
What is the task of Halo?
The cockpit protection Halo has the task to protect the pilot in the cockpit from injuries. Specifically, Halo is designed to keep larger debris away from the driver’s helmet in the event of an accident. At the same time, however, the roll bar is intended to impede the race driver in the car as little as possible and also to enable him to get out of the vehicle quickly within a few seconds in an emergency – even in particularly critical situations such as a fire.
How is the cockpit protection halo constructed?
In Formula 1, the Halo cockpit protection consists of a roll bar and three anchoring points on the vehicle. The Automobile World Association (FIA) lists the Halo system under FIA Standard 8869-2018.
How is Halo cockpit protection attached to the vehicle?
Halo attaches to the chassis of a Formula One car at three points: centrally in front of the driver in his field of vision, and to the left and right behind the driver on each of the cockpit walls. The cockpit protection must be symmetrically attached to the monocoque and is positioned 975 millimeters in front of the rear edge of the cockpit.
The Formula 1 rules also stipulate: At the front, Halo must be attached 640 millimeters above the reference plane of the vehicle, at the rear it is 675 millimeters. With an imaginary line between the roll bar and the front attachment point of the halo, the driver’s helmet and steering wheel must lie below it.
What material is the cockpit protection Halo made of?
The Formula 1 cockpit protection Halo is made of titanium, a light metal. The material is considered to be ductile, corrosion and temperature resistant.
How heavy is the Halo cockpit protector?
The Formula 1 halo system weighs nine kilograms.
What forces can the Halo system withstand in Formula 1?
Halo is designed to withstand a load of 125 kilonewtons, or twelve tons of pressure. That means Formula 1’s halo system could support the weight of two African elephants or withstand impact with a packed suitcase at 225 mph.
Does each team build its own halo system?
No. In Formula 1, teams are prohibited from producing their own halo systems. Instead, they must use external suppliers that have been previously designated by the FIA as official halo suppliers.
Who developed the Halo cockpit protection system?
Mercedes did the basic research on the Halo cockpit protection. Former Formula 1 driver Anthony Davidson, for example, tested Halo virtually in a simulator even before the first test drives were undertaken on real race tracks. Later, the FIA adopted the concept and developed it to production readiness for formula cars of all kinds.
When did the cockpit protection Halo come into existence?
In 2015, the Automobile World Federation introduced three different systems to protect open cockpits, including Halo. In 2016, Halo underwent its first track tests in Formula 1.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel in 2017 testing with the Halo cockpit protection
When was the cockpit protection Halo introduced in Formula 1?
Since the 2018 season, every Formula 1 car has been mandatorily equipped with the Halo system, for test drives and for races. In other words, whenever a Grand Prix car is on the track. FIA President Jean Todt, in particular, has been a strong advocate for the introduction of Halo in motorsport.
Why was the Halo cockpit protection introduced to Formula 1?
The Halo system is designed to increase the safety of Formula One drivers in race cars and prevent head injuries from flying parts. A number of recent accidents in which drivers suffered serious or even fatal head injuries prompted corresponding research. Halo proved to be the most promising solution in the FIA investigations.
What serious accidents prompted the development of Halo?
Numerous. For example: Felipe Massa, who was hit by a metal spring on his helmet during the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest and suffered a skull fracture. Or the fatal accidents of Henry Surtees at Brands Hatch in 2009 in what was then Formula 2 (flying wheel) and Justin Wilson at Pocono in 2015 in an IndyCars race (debris).
Jules Bianchi’s serious accident at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka also caused a stir: he collided with a recovery vehicle in the run-off zone and succumbed to his injuries months later.
The serious start crash involving Alonso (orange car) and Leclerc (white car) at Spa
What serious accidents has the Halo cockpit protection mitigated since its introduction?
In a start crash in the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, the McLaren of former world champion Fernando Alonso rose and touched the Alfa Romeo of Charles Leclerc, whose Halo bar successfully kept the right front wheel and front wing away from the driver’s head. These parts would otherwise have hit Leclerc with full force.
Halo also saved Romain Grosjean from the Haas Formula 1 team from serious injury: at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix in Sachir, his vehicle crashed into the guard rails and even pierced them. Halo withstood the impact and ensured that the guardrails above the cockpit parted, so that Grosjean was able to leave the car under his own power after around 30 seconds in the flames. He therefore suffered only minor burns and probably owes Halo his life.
The accident involving Max Verstappen in the Red Bull RB16B and Lewis Hamilton at Monza
World champion Lewis Hamilton also had a technical guardian angel at his side in the form of Halo when he collided with Max Verstappen in the race at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix in Monza: Verstappen’s Red Bull skidded over Hamilton’s Mercedes, hitting the roll bar with the underbody and the cockpit protection Halo with the right rear wheel – otherwise the wheel would have hit Hamilton in the head with full force in this crash.
Outside of Formula 1: In a collision between Tadasuke Makino and Nirei Fukuzumi in Formula 2 at Barcelona, one car mounted the other, with Halo successfully shielding the driver’s head in the cockpit against the underbody and rear wheel.
In a 2019 Formula 3 race at Monza, Halo also prevented worse: Alex Peroni had been levered out by a curb in the fast Parabolica corner, his race car rose up, rolled over several times and finally crashed into the track barrier. Halo offered Peroni crucial protection in the cockpit.
Was there and is there criticism of the Halo cockpit protection?
Yes. The most common is to hear: Halo contradicts the DNA of a formula car, because with the protection device the cockpit is no longer (completely) open. So what was and is criticized above all is the visual appearance and aesthetics. Former Formula 1 driver Kevin Magnussen, for example, described Halo at the beginning of the test phase as “disturbing, ugly, simply embarrassing and annoying.
Three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda was also critical. He said, “[Halo] is ugly and creates another barrier between the fans and their heroes. We should leave it alone.”
Fears that Halo would impair drivers’ vision too much were not confirmed in motorsport practice. The nine-kilogram increase in the overall weight of Formula One cars due to Halo also initially drew criticism.
Romain Grosjean in the fire: He survived even through Halo
Have Halo critics changed their minds since its introduction?
Yes. One example of this is Romain Grosjean. He had criticized the introduction of Halo in Formula 1. But he changed his mind at the latest after his serious accident in Bahrain. Grosjean then said, “I was against Halo a few years ago, but now I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever brought to Formula 1.” Other halo critics have since changed their minds as well.
Christian Horner, team principal at Red Bull, commends the World Automobile Association for its persistence: “Kudos to the FIA for holding their line and not buckling.”
What alternatives were there in Formula 1 to the cockpit protection halo?
Red Bull, via its subsidiary Red Bull Advanced Technologies, has developed what is known as the Aeroscreen. This is a cockpit hood made of polycarbonates. Daniel Ricciardo tested the Aeroscreen on the track during practice for the 2016 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi, and the world governing body successfully conducted ballistic experiments, but later gave preference to Halo.
The world federation itself brought another variant into play: Shield, an enlarged windshield in front of the cockpit, similar to the Aeroscreen. Sebastian Vettel drove a lap with it in practice for the 2017 British Grand Prix at Silverstone and subsequently complained of poor visibility. As a result, and due to poorer test results, Shield development was discontinued.
IndyCar vehicle of Alex Palou with Aeroscreen and Halo underneath
What other racing series use the Halo cockpit protection?
Halo is now used in most formula series around the world, for example in all of Formula 1’s direct motorsport junior classes such as Formula 2 and Formula 3. Even the cars in the Japanese Super Formula use Halo as cockpit protection.
Interestingly, the U.S. IndyCar series has been using Halo in combination with aeroscreen since 2020. In a sense, Halo represents the substructure of the aeroscreen, which further increases the safety of the structure. The system can withstand a pressure of 17 tons, whereas the Formula 1 halo can withstand “only” twelve tons. What’s more, in the IndyCar version, no debris can get into the cockpit from the side either, because it is repelled by the aeroscreen.