Halo protection system to be introduced for 2018
During the 2017 season, the FIA along with the Formula One Strategy Group announced that the Halo protection system will be made mandatory on all F1 cars from 2018.
This was the announcement made by the FIA: “Following the unanimous agreement of the Strategy Group, in July 2016, to introduce additional frontal protection for Formula One and the repeated support from the drivers, the FIA confirms the introduction of the Halo for 2018. With the support of the teams, certain features of its design will be further enhanced. Having developed and evaluated a large number of devices over the past five years, it had become clear that the Halo presents the best overall safety performance.”
A complete look at the Halo protection system for 2018
Why the Halo protection system?
The incident that killed the late John Surtees’ young son Henry Surtees back in 2009 first triggered the debate about better head protection systems for drivers in open cockpit racing. Young Henry was killed when a loose tyre hit his head in a Formula 2 race. The serious head injury suffered by Felipe Massa when a stray spring penetrated his helmet that year further intensified the search for a frontal protection system.
In 2015, the unfortunate deaths through head injuries of Jules Bianchi (after an accident in Suzuka in 2014) and former F1 driver Justin Wilson in the IndyCar series forced the FIA to design and test different protection systems. The legal ramifications of any further fatalities suffered due to head injuries to drivers forced the governing body’s hand.
The Halo (Mercedes), Shield (Ferrari) and the Aeroscreen (Red Bull Racing) systems were tested by drivers of different teams during practice sessions from 2016 onwards. The systems were evaluated in terms of visibility and cockpit access. Based on the drivers feedback, the Halo protection system was chosen as the only viable option.
What is the Halo protection system?
The Halo will be manufactured by three manufacturers in the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany approved by the FIA. The teams can procure the Halo from one of these manufacturers of their choice. The halo will weigh 14-15 Kg (including the mountings) and will cost 15,000 Euros approximately. The Halo has undergone several tweaks in the last two years to make it lighter and wider to improve visibility.
The semi-circular shape of the device resembles an Angel’s Halo, hence the name. There is a move to change this name before the 2018 season starts and have a more aggressive name to suit a gladiatorial sport like F1.
The teams will have to pass stringent new static and dynamic load tests involving the Halo during crash testing that has been specified by the FIA for 2018. The teams are allowed 20mm devices around the Halo. Teams will use this to reduce the drag around the Halo.
FIA Safety Director Laurent Mekies said:“The halo will become the strongest part of the car, a secondary wall structure [along with the helmet] and can take about 15 times the car’s weight.”
Issues related to the Halo protection system
Affects the DNA of Formula 1
Formula 1 has always been the premier open-cockpit racing series. The sport has introduced many safety features over the years which have reduced injuries and deaths significantly. There is still an element of risk involved in F1 racing which people feel is essential to preserve the DNA of the sport.
Niki Lauda, a triple world champion and Non-Executive Chairman of the Mercedes F1 team, says the Halo destroyed the “DNA of a Formula One car”. According to Lauda:”The FIA has made Formula One as safe as it gets. Also the danger of flying wheels is largely eliminated, because the wheels are always more firmly attached. The risk to the drivers has become minimal. We are just trying hard to get new fans for the sport with fast cars and getting closer to the spectators, and now this is destroyed by an overreaction.”
The Halo looks bulky and changes the look of an F1 car. Many people including Adrian Newey, Chief Technical Officer of Red Bull and one of F1’s lead designers, thinks the Halo is a hasty, clumsy and ugly solution. Newey has said:“If it helps to make the car safer that has to be applauded. The engineer in me says that it just seems to be such a clumsy and ugly solution, it just feels as if we ought to be able to do something better than that.”
Drivers are required to pass a test where they unbuckle their seat belts and remove the steering wheel and jump out of the car within five seconds. The problems associated with a driver extricating himself from a car quickly, especially a rolled car, with the Halo protection system installed was an early concern. But the FIA has performed many extraction tests with the Halo and pronounced that it is happy with the results. The benefits in terms of safety outweigh the negatives in this regard according to the FIA.
Another main concern in installing the Halo was the impact on a driver’s vision, especially on circuits with a lot of elevation changes like Spa. But the drivers who tested at these circuits reported that they did not experience any difficulties. The Shield, designed by Ferrari, was considered more aesthetically acceptable. But when Sebastian Vettel tested it he reported distorted vision and feeling dizzy. The new improved wider design of the Halo has reduced concerns about visibility.
The 2017 cars were already heavier at 728 Kgs. The weight limit has been increased by 6 Kgs to 734 Kgs for 2018. But the weight of the Halo, the mountings and the strengthening of the chassis will increase the weight by 15 Kgs.
The designers will be forced to reduce the weight of other components and ballast to accommodate the excess weight of the Halo (9 Kgs approx). The teams which design and manufacture lighter Halo mountings which can pass the load tests will have a weight advantage. The heavier drivers like Nico Hulkenberg and Marcus Ericsson will again be put under pressure because of the weight limits.
According to Paddy Lowe, Williams Chief Technical Officer, the extra weight offers a significant challenge to the designers of the 2018 car. Lowe said:”Performance-wise it’ll be the weight which will be more significant than the aerodynamic impact which is negligible.”
The non-structural fairings around the upper part, which can be no more than 20mm from the main structure, will be used to reduce the drag around the Halo structure. Some of the teams with innovative designs will actually use these devices to improve aerodynamic performance.
McLaren during the post-season tests in Abu Dhabi tested the Halo with a small winglet mounted to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the new system.
Teams and Drivers objections
Teams have only reluctantly agreed to the mandated introduction of the Halo system. It increases costs and is a big challenge to integrate the protection system into the design of the 2018 car. Teams that successfully design around the system could be rewarded with significant performance gains next season.
Many of the drivers have expressed their negative feelings about the introduction of the Halo in 2018. But they have reluctantly agreed to it as it improves safety. Even if the Halo saves one life, the device is worth the major change its introduction will cause in Formula 1.
All change in F1 is met with resistance at the beginning. The impact of the change is then absorbed by the teams and in time turned into an advantage which aids improved performance.
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