F1 halo is built to survive crashes bigger than Grosjean's

F1
Overhead shot of Romain Grosjean in the Haas underneath the halo

Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

The halo which saved Romain Grosjean’s life on Sunday is designed to withstand impacts with “even greater” forces than the Bahrain crash, says one of the figures who helped to develop the system.

The device is only going to get stronger too, with a new ‘halo 4’ version being developed for the 2022 season.

Images of the wrecked Haas clearly showed how the car’s halo protected Grosjean’s head from impact with the trackside barrier, despite the front end becoming lodged in the metalwork.

It was hailed as a lifesaver by many, including Grosjean who had initially been sceptical about the concept.

“I wasn’t for the halo some years ago but I think it’s the greatest thing we brought to Formula 1 and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today,” said the Haas driver from his hospital bed.

The front part of Romain Grosjean's wrecked Haas on fire and embedded in the barrier

The front part of Romain Grosjean’s car pierced the barrier

DPPI

Mandatory in F1 since 2018, the halo underwent all of its testing at Cranfield Impact Centre, Bedfordshire, it being the only research laboratory designated by the FIA to do so.

James Watson, the Centre’s manager, oversaw the trials crucial to the halo’s design and evolution and described the huge forces it withstood in testing.

“We tested it to over 100 Kilonewtons,” he said (roughly the equivalent of 10.2 tonnes or two African elephants). “It’s difficult at this moment to work out what the exact force [of Grosjean’s accident] was, but the fact that it remained intact would imply that it was less than what was actually tested.”

Watson added that in spite of the horrifying nature of the Frenchman’s crash, images of the aftermath show just how strong all aspects of the halo are.

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“What’s also as important is the connection between the halo and the rest of the car,” he commented, “So in terms of surviving, if you look at that [post-crash] picture where the car is at an angle, although it looks horrific, the crucial thing is that the whole part where the driver is, from the roll-hoop to the front bulkhead, is still intact. It was very important in testing that the connection car and the vehicle were robust.”

The Impact Centre manager also highlighted how the crumple zones designed to absorb impact also did their job: “The nose cone at the front bulkhead has been crushed, but that’s a good thing.”

Similar to other in figures motor sport safety research, Watson emphasised the difficulty of testing for these kind of accidents, due to the fact that they are by definition unpredictable.

“Every single accident is unique and any designer of regulations are hoping to reduce the risk of injury in all accidents,” he said. “Ideally you’d be able to test everything, every single angle of impact, but you can’t do that.

“You can’t predict every single crash that’s going to happen. So you have to pick an angle which ensure that you cover as many different accidents.”

Watson is in no doubt of the halo’s crucial role in saving Grosjean.

“It was very important. If the same incident happened a few years ago, it would have been a different result,” he said.

Fernando Alonso's McLaren flies over the Alfa Romeo of Charles Leclerc at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix

Halo kept Leclerc protected at the 2018 Belgian GP

John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

He also rejects the idea that this accident has provided confirmation that the halo is essential, as other accidents have already shown this. Charles Leclerc avoided being hit in the head by Fernando Alonso’s flying McLaren at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. He walked away unhurt, the halo scarred with rubber from Alonso’s right front wheel.

“I think it’s been vindicated before,” said Watson. “It’s not just Grosjean’s accident….”

Watson, Cranfield and the FIA are already looking ahead to a new, even stronger ‘halo 4’ to be introduced in 2022, but details have not yet been released.

Watson did reveal improvements to be made to the front-end of the new generation F1 cars. “In 2022 certainly there’s an increase in energy required for nose cones to absorb a tremendous amount more energy. At the moment, it’s at 90 kilojoules, but [for 2022] it’s expected to go up to about 130 kilojoules. So there was an expected increase anyway, which was planned before the [Grosjean] accident happened.”