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INSIGHT: Introducing the Halo

The implementation of the Halo for the 2018 Formula One season has split opinion. But its purpose and objective is clear - to minimise risk and make the sport safer.

Head protection in single-seater racing has been a prominent topic within the motorsport community for some time, with the cockpit being the only area of the car where drivers are exposed.

The FIA - motorsport's governing body - was already several years into researching cockpit protection methods before a number of tragic incidents accelerated development and testing.

The incidents also prompted the Grand Prix Drivers' Association to request some form of cockpit protection be introduced "as swiftly as possible". One month later, the F1 Strategy Group and F1 Commission confirmed its adoption from 2017 onwards.

At this time, the Halo was the preferred choice - a titanium roll cage placed over the cockpit to minimise the risk of drivers being struck by debris.

It underwent various on and off-track tests, including FP1 appearances at race weekends. But mid-way through 2016 it was agreed to postpone its introduction to 2018 in order to conduct further research.

During this time, other methods were also being considered, including what became known as the 'Aeroscreen' and a similar device called the 'Shield' (a curved windscreen in front of the cockpit). Early in 2017, the Shield became the apparent favoured option and made a brief race weekend appearance at Silverstone.

However, following feedback from that initial run, a decision was made to bring the Halo back as the leading option for a cockpit protection device and development continued in order to improve and enhance the design ahead of its arrival.

'Although the Halo has been floating around as an idea for Formula One for some time, the final confirmation it would be part of the 2018 regulation set was quite late - in around July last year - so three or four months later than we would normally finalise the regulations for the new season,' explains Technical Director, James Allison.

'There was a huge amount of work not just for Mercedes but also the whole sport to do in order to be ready for the start of the new season. There was a lot of regulatory detail that needed to be cleared up. But, back here, adopting it has been a significant challenge. The Halo is not a light piece of work. It is several kilograms of titanium that need to be put on the car.

'We had to strengthen the design of the chassis so that it would be able to take roughly the weight of a London double-decker bus sitting on top of the Halo, to make sure it would be strong enough to withstand the type of event it is designed to protect the driver's head against.'

F1 has increased the weight limit by six kilograms for 2018 to accommodate the Halo. But this wasn't the only tough task designers were faced with when creating the new cars, as it also impacts the aerodynamics of the car, too.

"In addition to the challenges posed by the Halo for the mass of the car and the strength of the chassis, there is also a significant aerodynamic challenge. The basic Halo is a standard part - identical for every team.

"This unadorned, round tube is quite bad aerodynamically, so we are all permitted to modify the Halo in a way that will be individual for each team. We are permitted to fit an aerodynamic fairing around it, which gives us a certain amount of scope to mitigate the effect it has on the aerodynamics of the car.

"What we are aiming to do here is to make sure the wake of the Halo does not affect the smooth running and powerful performance of the engine, and to make sure it is designed so that it does not damage the behaviour of the rear wing."

While the Halo's introduction has divided opinion, the aim and target of the device is clear to see and it's an important step forward in driver safety.

"The Halo doesn't remove all risk from Formula One - nothing can. And, in fact, this design in small ways increases certain, specific risks," James says.

'The driver will find it harder to get out of the car as quickly as they did previously. In certain angles, there is bodywork in his line of sight. But, there is no doubt that this design of head protection will stop the driver being subjected to some very rare, but very real risks to their life.

'It is just the latest in a long series of innovations by the sport to try and make sure the driver's head is well protected.

'There's the helmet, the HANS device, the headrest and the cockpit sides. The Halo is the latest and is a result of three years of work between teams and the governing body.

'We regard this as the first generation of the Halo - the first device that is over and around the head of the driver - but it won't be the last. Nothing in F1 stands still and we will all be taking this first go and trying to improve it. Trying to make sure the safety gets better - but also the aesthetics

'It's a bit of an acquired taste and we're still busy acquiring it - I'm sure everyone else is too. But I think there are things we can do in coming seasons to make it also look nicer on the car.

'There's no doubt that the imperative to look after the driver's safety and our clear desire to give us cars that set the pulse racing aesthetically will see us continue to develop this concept in seasons to come.'