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By John Floyd

Motorsport columnist

FLOYD ON F1: Explaining the halo that helped Zhou Guanyu cheat death

Despite not initially accepted by all motorsport enthusiasts, the halo has become a crucial life-saver.

Anyone watching the British Grand Prix at Silverstone would have witnessed the miraculous escape of young Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu.

His Alfa Romeo was launched into the air, before dropping to the ground and barrel rolling numerous times towards the barrier, which the car cleared and was ultimately brought to rest by the catch fence.

The multiple car collision occurred just after the start as the field funnelled into Abbey, the fast right hand sweep. Chaos ensued in the mid-field, requiring a red flag situation, due to the severity of accident and possible injury to Zhou after multiple rolls.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Horror crash involving F1 rookie Zhou Guanyu forces restart of British Grand Prix

Unbelievably, he was declared fit and later said he owes his life to his car’s halo.

Hardly more than 24 hours before Zhou’s escape, the halo also helped Williams reserve driver Roy Nissany cheat death during a Formula 2 race at Silverstone.

Safety a priority

Following a spate of accidents due to cockpit intrusion, the concept of cockpit protection became a priority. These accidents included the death of Henry Surtees in a 2009 F2 race, Felipe Massa’s serious injury in the same year at the Hungarian Grand Prix and in 2015 Justin Wilson died after being hit by flying debris in an Indycar event.

The FIA requested solutions from the teams. Red Bull went for a cockpit canopy and Mercedes a tubular framework.

Both were tested extensively including shooting an F1 wheel and tyre at the cockpit, and as a result the Mercedes design was accepted.

Halo development

The new system, to become known as the “halo”, required considerable modification to the existing cars, including the strength of the cockpit rim and the strength and height of the side protection.

The standard roll hoop, mounted above the rear of the driver’s head and attached to the car’s safety cell, also had to be strengthened considerably.

Increased loading was considerable in all directions, vertical, lateral and longitudinally in a rearward direction.

Such tests also demanded strict maximum deformation levels. All tests had to be undertaken within three minutes of each other and forces maintained for a minimum of five seconds, without any component failure.

Withstanding the weight of a bus

I think the best description of such loads came from James Allison of Mercedes.

“We had to strengthen the design of the chassis so it would be able to take roughly the weight of a London double decker bus on top of the halo,” said Allison.

Finally accepted, the halo was introduced in 2018. It was not a popular innovation, due to its aesthetics and moving the sport away from the single seat open cockpit heritage. I have to admit I agreed with that attitude at the time.

All hail the halo

But watching last Sunday’s race and Zhou Guanyu’s crash proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the halo is an incredibly valuable asset. Without it, the chances of the Alfa Romeo driver surviving, let alone being cleared for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, would be almost impossible.

The list of those who have lived to race another day grows. Before Zhou it was Charles Leclerc at Spa in 2018, Romain Grosjean’s fireball of a Haas in 2020 and Valtteri Bottas at Imola this year.

Perhaps I can say the halo on your car helps to prevent you receiving a celestial version too soon.

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