The F1 halo effect
During Friday morning practice at the 2016 Italian Grand Prix, McLaren-Honda trialled Formula 1’s latest development in cockpit protection – dubbed ‘the F1 halo’ – for the very first time.
The contrast was striking: at nearly 100 years’ old, the Monza track is the eldest and most storied in F1; yet the halo concept is still so new that it’s still more than a year away from making its race debut.
Only in Formula 1, where technology collides so effortlessly with tradition, could such a thing happen.
What is F1’s halo?
The F1 halo, so-called because of its distinctive carbon-fibre roll-hoop, is Formula 1’s collective response to a series of serious accidents and injuries that have highlighted the need for improved protection in open-cockpit single-seaters.
It’s widely viewed as the next stage in Formula 1’s unending quest to improve safety.
McLaren technical director Tim Goss explains:
“We are part of the Frontal Protection Working Group, which comprises a number of teams – including Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Red Bull – and the FIA. The governing body has conducted an extremely thorough risk assessment of the F1 halo: they’ve investigated a number of different accidents – from a variety of formulas – and looked back over the last 10 to 15 years to consider how the F1 halo would have performed in those instances. They’ve done an extremely credible and thorough job.”
Development of the F1 halo
The F1 halo concept was collectively developed by the working group, then first trialled by Ferrari during winter testing. Since then, a number of other teams – including McLaren-Honda – have run it during practice at race weekends. The aim is for every team to gain running experience with the device in order to provide feedback for ongoing development: the F1 halo is not considered a fool-proof solution, so it’s important to assess and understand its shortcomings as well as its benefits.
“Clearly, one of the biggest issues for the driver is visibility,” adds Tim. “There are lots of fairly minor things to consider: can he view the starting lights? Can he see clearly at circuits like Spa and Austin, where there’s some fairly significant gradient?
“But they’re not insurmountable issues – you can always find a solution if you’re open-minded enough. Teams could look at installing start lights in the cockpit, for instance.”
The future is now
His comment is revealing: it hints at the deeper level of development that will likely follow in tandem with the F1 halo’s introduction. Red Bull Racing has already begun testing an alternative concept , dubbed the ‘Aeroscreen’, and McLaren Applied Technologies has showcased where technology could take the sport, with its futuristic take on an F1 canopy car, codenamed the McLaren MP4-X.
Goss continues: “Testing the device through the year with all the teams has already been very instructive. For McLaren, running with Jenson at Monza has allowed us to gain insight into its performance in both tight chicanes and high-speed corners.
“The plan is for Fernando to try it in Singapore, which will offer up a number of different variables: the circuit is lit, with some very tight corners, and with plenty of Armco barriers. His thoughts will be fed back into the working group as the teams progress with the ongoing development of head protection alternatives.”
Jenson’s first impressions of the F1 halo
For his part, Jenson – who has supported its introduction – was broadly supportive of the F1 halo when he tested it at Monza.
“The trial was okay,” he says. “There were no major issues with it. Perhaps it could be a little more difficult to see the lights on the start-line and in the pit-stops, but there are still so many possibilities to move things around. It feels a little strange: at 200mph, instead of focusing on the next corner, you’re focusing on something dead ahead of your eyes – which can make you a little cross-eyed.”
Making the halo work in Formula 1
For the engineers and aerodynamicists, the F1 halo is a significant step, but it’s one that they’re keen to explore.
“Structurally, it’s not a big compromise to accommodate the F1 halo,” says Goss, “But there are additional considerations on car performance – it’s a substantial structure, so it influences the car aerodynamically – both in terms of aero performance, but also engine-intake performance. But that’s been assessed by the TRM, with teams permitted to run fairings and aero devices to mitigate against any side-effects.
“It also affects driver helmet buffeting and lift – but, again, the development programme will enable the FIA and the teams to iron out all those issues. And that’s why it was decided to delay its introduction until 2018 while the teams refined all solutions.”
Looking to the horizon
Whether we’ll all be watching cars in the near future that are fitted with F1 halos, Aeroscreens, or full canopies (a la MP4-X), the future of Formula 1 will be complex, exciting and filled with endless possibility.
“At McLaren, we fully support the FIA’s efforts to investigate and develop future solutions for driver head protection,” concludes Tim. “And we’ll continue to work collaboratively with the FIA and other teams to develop a solution for 2018.”