What would have happened in the Senna accident if the halo, F1’s most crucial innovation, had existed

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“It’s an awful piece and I’d like to remove it.” “If it looks like shit, it’s shit. I’m against it.” “I think it was a sad day for Formula 1 when it was announced. They are statements of toto wolffCEO of Mercedes, Kevin Magnussen Y Romain Grosjean, both Formula 1 drivers. All of them are from 2017. And they all refer to the halo. Five years later, no one doubts that this piece is one of the best things that has happened to Formula 1.


Hunting. It is not a question of making blood. If you have the words of Wolff, Magnussen and Grosjean above, it is mere coincidence because the voices against the installation of the Halo in Formula 1 cars was the majority in 2017, when it was confirmed that the single-seaters would have to wear it in the coming seasons. Almost no one liked it. I sing the mea culpa. Now, nobody doubts the halo. But what is the halo? It is, plain and simple, a piece that has saved two lives this weekend. And they are not the only ones.

What is the halo? The Halo is the part used in Formula 1 single-seaters to protect the drivers’ heads, the only area that was completely unprotected before 2018. It consists of a semicircle attached to the chimney at its ends and to the nose of the single-seater at a pillar through its central zone. And Formula 1 is not the only competition that implements them. By order of the FIA, from F4 to the long-awaited F1, the Halo is present in all single-seaters.

In short, the halo are three titanium bars that are anchored to the car and whose installation increases the weight of the vehicle by 20 kg. It may not seem like much, but this system supports loads of up to 12 tons, so it is really effective if, for example, a tire is thrown against a driver’s head.

There was no miracle. The effectiveness of the system has shown that this weekend there was no miracle. Although the journalistic chronicle encourages us to use this hyperbole, the truth is that if Guanyu Zhou, Alfa Romeo driver in F1, and Roy Nissany, Williams driver in F2, have not suffered serious damage this weekend, it has been due to this piece of titanium that was so criticized in 2017. Inside and outside of Formula 1.

At the start of the F1 Silverstone Grand Prix, a chain crash he overturned Zhou’s car. After traveling hundreds of meters overturned, the gravel of the escape route caused the car to fly out and avoid the protections of the curve, crashing into the fence that protects the spectators.

For its part, in Formula 2, Nissany was involved in an ugly dispute with Dennis Hauger, who he himself kicked off the track. Losing control, and after flying through one of the “bananas” that prevent the pilots from cutting the apex of the curves, Hauger’s car collided violently with Nissany’s Halo. It should not be ruled out that in either of the two cases, one of the pilots would have lost his life.

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lives saved. Although, as some critics pointed out in 2017, a nut can still hit a driver’s head, as it did to Felipe Massa at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, the halo has not seen a break since its installation in 2018.

At the end of 2020, Romain Grosjean suffered a very hard accident at the Bahrain Grand Prix. As he himself acknowledged, it is likely that, without the halo, the Frenchman could not have counted the brutal impact of him against the guardrail. Less than a year ago, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen collided at one of the Monza chicanes, one of the Dutchman’s wheels hitting the Briton’s halo. Fortunately, Hamilton’s head was saved from the impact. This weekend, the Halo has returned to be the protagonist, once again.

one more example. The good results of the halo are just one more example of the incredible technological evolution of F1 in terms of safety in the last 30 years. Since the death of Ayrton Senna on May 1, 1994, there has not been another death as a result of an accident in a single-seater top-class race until July 17, 2015. Nine months earlier, jules bianchi had crashed into a crane at the Suzuka circuit.

Ayrton senna

Due to the importance of the figure of Ayrton Senna himself, many unaware of what surrounds the world of Formula 1 do not know that during the classification of that San Marino Grand Prix he also died Roland Ratzenberger, after crashing at 314 km/h against one of the walls of the circuit. The day before, during some training, Rubens Barrichello He was close to suffering the same fate, after his car went flying and hit the protective fences at more than 200 km / h.

The indestructible cabin. As if it were the search for the Holy Grail, since then the FIA’s decisions on safety have sought to turn the cockpit of an F1 single-seater into an almost indestructible cell. The walls and crash bars have been upgraded to the point that they saved Robert Kubica’s life at the Canadian Grand Prix.

The wheels have been tied to the chassis (doubly in recent years) to prevent them from flying off in an impact or, at least, to reduce their speed, which, unfortunately, did not prevent the death of a firefighter in a cumbersome accident in which Pedro De la Rosa was involved at the Italian Grand Prix in 2000.

Garments and other accessories. Well into the 21st century, the use of the Hans has become mandatory, a collar that, by means of straps attached to the helmet, prevents the pilot’s head from colliding with the walls of the passenger compartment in the event of an accident. To this must be added the use of better materials, replacing, in some parts, the use of carbon fiber in favor of Kevlar to avoid the splintering that the first of these materials suffers when it is destroyed.

Also the intensive use of Zylon, considered the strongest fiber created by man, which lines the driver’s compartment and has also been added to the visors. And of course the fire retardant overallsboots and gloves, which must resist the flame of a fire at a temperature of 700 degrees for 12 seconds.

the senna case. Contrary to what Romain Grosjean, Lewis Hamilton, Guanyu Zhou and Roy Nissany have experienced, in Ayrton Senna’s accident the piece that hit the Brazilian’s helmet was ejected from the lower area from the lower right. In all the previous cases, the hit saved by the Halo came from the upper area.

It is difficult to know if the Halo would have saved the pilot’s life on May 1, 1994, since the trajectory of the impact piece would have to be studied. What is much more likely is that, with a current single-seater with a much more resistant interior, Ayrton Senna would have saved his life in 2022. It is true that, sadly, the vast majority of these technological innovations were developed with greater interest to avoid tragedies like that of the Brazilian magician.

Photo | Frank Augstein/AP

“It’s an awful piece and I’d like to remove it.” “If it looks like shit, it’s shit. I’m against it.”…

“It’s an awful piece and I’d like to remove it.” “If it looks like shit, it’s shit. I’m against it.”…

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