There has been much debate over the Halo since its introduction. Nearly three years on, that debate has finally been ended once and for all.
Prior to Romain Grosjean’s crash, the device was already gaining more and more support as people got used to it and saw the positive impact it was having on driver safety.
Now, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a lifesaver, and one of the sport’s greatest innovations.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) July 21, 2017
Way back in 2017, with the FIA keen to make the Halo mandatory from the 2018 season onwards, it’s fair to say support for the device wasn’t particularly widespread.
Niki Lauda, one of Formula 1’s most influential figures, was also one of the most outspoken in his criticism of the device, stating that it was “absolutely a mistake” and “destroyed the DNA of the Formula 1 car.”
Many agreed with him, with Lewis Hamilton dubbing it “the worst looking mod in F1 history” and Max Verstappen was even more damning.
“There needs to be a certain element of risk. You can improve the car but we don’t need this thing on top of it. It’s not just the looks, I don’t think it is necessary,” the Dutchman said.
All in all, the majority of the grid, both in terms of drivers and teams, weren’t in favour of the introduction, with Ferrari the only constructor to fully support it. It was a similar case amongst the fans, who generally opposed the idea of moving away from fully-open cockpit racing.
There were various reasons as to why the Halo was so unpopular. Many felt that it looked bad, drivers had concerns regarding visibility and there was a consensus that it just wasn’t what the sport was about, whatever that means.
Nevertheless, the powers that be were not going to be swayed, making it mandatory from 2018 onwards, and it didn’t take long for them to be proved right.
By the time the Belgian Grand Prix came around the following year, the Halo had gained more support, with drivers, in particular, changing their minds as they got used to it, but it was still divisive, to say the least.
There had yet to be an incident that had clearly proved the benefits of having such a device on the car when it came to safety. However, that was about to change.
When Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point at the first corner at Spa in 2018, he rammed into the back of Fernando Alonso, sending the Spaniard’s Mclaren up into the air.
It landed on top of Charles Leclerc’s Sauber, bouncing off the Halo. It so easily could have been the Monegasque’s head instead.
Afterwards, Alonso stated that it was clear proof that the device was a good thing for the sport, while Leclerc, who had initially been against, had been convinced too.
“If today it has been useful or not, I don’t know. I don’t know what would have happened without it but in some cases, it is definitely helpful,” he said.
“I’ve never been a fan of the halo but I have to say that I was very happy to have it over my head today.”
A few months earlier, a similar incident took place in F2, with Tadasuke Makino in the role of Leclerc, and he went as far as saying that the Halo saved his life.
“I think so, yeah,” he said when asked by Autosport if that was the case.
“The first time I tested this car I didn’t think the halo was good, because it’s difficult to see anything, but today the halo helped me.
“I don’t know what happened, but without the halo, I think the tyre would have hit my helmet.”
After those two incidents, the majority of those within the sport had changed their minds and stated their support for the innovation, but as with most things in F1, there were still haters who had somehow not been swayed.
Over two years on, that is surely no longer the case.
Given the relatively low-speed nature of the two aforementioned incidents, the argument could be made that the driver’s helmet would have provided sufficient protection. No such claims could be made after Grosjean’s crash.
Hurtling in at 140mph, the Frenchman’s car split the barriers open and ended up in two pieces, with the rear half of the VF20 remaining trackside.
The front half, with Grosjean in it, pierced through the Armco to the other side, and if it wasn’t for the Halo protecting him, it’s near impossible that he would have survived at all, let alone walked away from the incident with nothing but minor burns.
The images from after the crash showed that the titanium ring around his head absorbed a huge amount of the impact from the metal barriers. In a similar incident in 1974, it was Helmuth Koinigg’s head that took the impact. He was decapitated.
The same or something similar would have surely happened to Grosjean without the Halo. Even with modern-day helmets, a head hitting a barrier at those speeds would have been fatal.
What’s more, another criticism of the device, that it makes it too difficult for drivers to climb out of their cars, was proved emphatically wrong, as the Haas driver managed to escape what was left of his car in time before succumbing to the flames.
In case all of the above hasn’t convinced you of its importance in the incident, maybe the man himself can.
“I wasn’t for the Halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1, and without it, I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today,” he said from his hospital bed.
As he said, there is no doubt whatsoever that it saved his life, and, while we can’t know for sure, it may have well saved two more back in 2018.
Given this, those who fought so hard, including the late Charlie Whiting in particular, for it to be designed and introduced in 2018 in the face of widespread criticism from all directions should be applauded for the quite literally lifesaving work they carried out.
If they caved under pressure and listened to the many complaints, Sacha, Simon and Camile Grosjean would no longer have a father.
So, here’s a message to anyone who still opposes the Halo because it looks bad or isn’t in the “spirit” of Formula 1: think again.