When the Halo safety device was first introduced in 2018, it wasn’t exactly met with fervent approval from both fans and drivers alike. Formula 1 fans from all around the world complained of its aesthetic, branding the technology as ugly and many likened the Halo to a giant thong plastered on the helmets of the unfortunate pilots. The drivers also protested, with George Russell (in F2 at the time) suggesting that it made it more difficult to judge the weather conditions and several others in other open-wheel categories agreed on the fact that it made the cars look less sleek overall.
Nevertheless the FIA made the Halo mandatory in a variety of racing series and we have now had to endure them for the last 4 years. However, it must be said that the Halo has made motorsport a whole lot safer than it used to be, so let’s take a gander at a few examples of it potentially saving the lives of the people situated directly behind them.
Just a few months after the introduction of the Halo, the device was called into action at the sprint race of the Formula 2 season at Catalunya. Japanese compatriots Nirei Fukuzumi and Tadasuke Makino were duelling on the Spanish circuit when the former took too much speed on entry into the corner. With Makino on his outside, both drivers had no option but to take to the gravel. Fukuzumi’s car was launched partially on top of Makino’s Russian Time, with Nirei’s rear left wheel and tyre hitting Tadasuke’s airbox and Halo.
After the race, stewards noticed tyre markings and damaged paint on the left side of Makino’s Halo where the tyre made contact. Without the Halo the tyre may have hit the Japanese driver in the head, dealing potentially serious injury.
Initially Makino was sceptical about the Halo as he stated that it limited visibility, but he rescinded his comments after the crash, saying that it may very well have saved his life.
Following the crash, Tadasuke managed a single victory in F2 (Monza feature race) before moving back to his home country to take part in Super Formula and Super GT. He has since won the 2020 Super GT Championship alongside Naoki Yamamoto.
The Formula 2 accident in Spain didn’t garner much internet visibility, but after Charles Leclerc’s near miss at the Belgian Grand Prix, fans were left in no doubt as to the Halo’s importance in improving the sport’s safety.
In the very first corner of the first lap, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg outbroke himself and locked up his front tyres. This caused him to slam into the rear of Fernando Alonso in his McLaren, who in turn collided with Leclerc and his Sauber. All 3 cars suffered catastrophic damage which lead to immediate retirement, but Leclerc in particular was fortunate to escape from his vehicle unscathed.
Alonso’s car had hit Leclerc side-on, going over the top of the Sauber with the McLaren’s underbody scraping over Charles’ halo. Once again tyre marks littered the Halo, which could quite feasibly on the Monegasque pilot’s head were it not for the then-infamous safety device.
Charles Leclerc has gone on to have an illustrious career so far in Formula 1. Having moved to Scuderia Ferrari in 2019 he has achieved 2 victories and 13 podiums over 3 seasons at the Modena outfit, and is likely to add plenty more trophies to his cabinet in the coming years.
Alexander Peroni was competing in his first season in the FIA Formula 3 Championship when a spectacular yet horrific crash threatened to derail his career. At the sprint race of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, the Australian ran wide at the Parabolica corner. A peculiarly-placed sausage kerb on the outside of the turn caused all four wheels to come off the ground. Peroni’s Campos Racing car travelled through the air and vaulted into the tyre barriers, ultimately coming to a stop in some catch fencing.
Initial contact with the barriers was made by the Halo. If this exact crash had occurred just a couple years earlier, it would have been the head which took the brunt of the force instead, which would kill all but the luckiest of souls at such dauntingly high speeds. Furthermore, a second hit was made with the Halo on the catch fence, which may have also prevented serious injury.
Peroni was forced to miss the remainder of the season due to a single broken vertebra sustained in the crash. He only managed 5 points for Campos by the end of the campaign. He recovered in time for the 2020 calendar year and actually improved massively, pulling off three podiums en route to 10th in the drivers’ standings.
In 2021 he transferred to America to race in Indy Lights. He was doing well but ended the season early to focus on landing a spot in a European series come the start of 2022.
At the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix Romain Grosjean in the underperforming Haas got off to an excellent start, gaining 2 positions by the time the pack braked for the first corner. Itching to get past his opponents, the Frenchman darted from one side of the track to the other, hoping for an opening. But in doing so he was clipped by a faultless Daniil Kvyat.
Grosjean subsequently lost control of his vehicle and impacted a metal crash barrier at 119 miles per hour. The G-forces generated by the collision split the car in half, which damaged the fuel tanks and ignited the entire car.
28 gut-wrenching seconds passed before he jumped out of the VF-20, suffering only 2nd degree burns to his hands and ankles which were unprotected from the blazing inferno. Moreover his helmet was successful in stopping Romain from breathing in toxic fumes which could have incapacitated him.
But by far the most important factor ensuring his survival was the Halo. It managed to split open the two lateral sections of the crash barrier, thus allowing Grosjean’s head to fit through the narrow gap that it had created. Without the Halo, Romain’s head would have hit the static barrier and caused a deceleration of around 67G. I believe he was very lucky to not have to go through a similar situation to Jules Bianchi’s eventually deadly crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.
Grosjean ended up missing the rest of the 2020 season, but returned to racing in 2021 in IndyCar. With 3 podiums and a pole position to his credit, he will continue in the American racing series in 2022.
Now we move over to the open-wheel category consisting of all female drivers, called the W Series. At the Spa-Francorchamps round of the 2021 Championship, Sarah Moore in the red Scuderia W car misjudged her grip levels going through the Eau-Rouge/Raidillon complex of corners, spinning into the cushioning tyre barriers.
Despite hitting the barriers at high speed she was completely OK, but no one could expect what was to come next. Perhaps due to the on-off showers that had plagued the qualifying session up to that point, more drivers spun off the track. A six-car pileup ensued, and Abbie Eaton collided almost head-on with Moore.
One of Eaton’s damaged wheels struck Sarah’s Halo with tremendous force, avoiding contact with her helmet apart from a small piece of plastic on the very top being sheared off. Luck was on Moore’s side as she was completely uninjured apart from a few bruises here and there.
She was able to participate in the feature race the day after, and although she didn’t score any points in that round she got 5th overall in the standings by the end of the year.
A fierce Championship battle between rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen came to a head on lap 26 of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 2021. Hamilton exited the pitlane after a relatively slow pitstop. This put him side-by-side with Verstappen’s Red Bull going into the first chicane. Verstappen was forced wide and bounced over multiple sausage kerbs, causing him to lose control. The Red Bull’s right rear tyre was hurled onto Hamilton’s Halo device.
While the tyre did still make contact with Lewis’ head, the rest of the car skidded over the Halo. This stopped other parts of the car from landing on his head and minimised the force pushing down on his neck. Therefore Hamilton escaped his car relatively unharmed, but he said later that his head and neck were in quite some pain for days after the crash.
As I’m sure we can all agree, Lewis Hamilton has had legendary status in F1 for quite some time now, and we are lucky to have him safe and sound after such an accident. On a personal level I’m sure he was gutted to narrowly miss out on the 2021 World Drivers’ Championship, especially after the questionable stewarding decision at the final race in Abu Dhabi. But he will doubtless be giving his all in 2022 to overtake Michael Schumacher for all time WDCs.