Cranfield University has discussed its work in the development of the F1 halo cockpit protection device after Romain Grosjean credited it with helping him survive a major crash.
The university on the outskirts of Milton Keynes saw the halo device tested extensively at the campus’ Cranfield Impact Centre during its development by world motorsport’s governing body the FIA prior to its adoption in Formula 1 in 2018, while the issue of head protection in motorsport has been investigated in a number of MSc projects at Cranfield over the years.
The university’s discussion came after a major crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday, when Haas F1 driver Grosjean escaped with his life following a high-speed impact with a crash barrier.
Grosjean’s car crashed into the barrier on the first lap at a speed of over 135mph, with the car splitting in half, catching fire and being partially forced through the barrier as a result of the impact. But Grosjean was able to escape from the wreckage with just minor burns.
A significant factor in what helped Grosjean survive was the halo head protection device, which is now mandatory in F1 and lower motor racing series. The French-Swiss driver credited the halo in a message on social media with helping to save his life.
He said, “I wasn’t for the Halo some years ago but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1. Without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today.”
The halo was also praised for its effectiveness in the situation by other F1 figures, including drivers Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, F1 managing director Ross Brawn and multiple pundits.
Dr James Watson, Manager of the Cranfield Impact Centre – one of just two FIA-approved test centres in the world, used for crash-testing Formula One cars – talked about how the halo works to preserve a crucial survival space around a driver and the forces used when testing the device.
He said, “The halo device, along with other safety features on the latest F1 vehicles, has made a tremendous difference in protecting drivers in accidents. In the event of an accident, it is imperative to preserve the survival space around the driver and the halo device forms part of that critical zone.
“Prior to the introduction of the halo in 2018, we conducted compression tests on the device from various scenarios to establish its suitability. Static tests on the halo were taken to a load level that would be the approximate equivalent mass of five large typical SUV vehicles resting on the device. As with all safety devices in F1 vehicles, the halo is designed to reduce the risk of injury in as many accident types as possible.”
Clive Temple, Motorsport MSc Programme Director and Senior Lecturer at the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre, Cranfield University, said, “All of the ‘systems’ in the safety cell of a modern F1 car came into play in this one accident, from the driver’s fireproof clothing and head protection, head and neck support device, to the safety cell structure, impact structures, and, of course, the halo which was critical to Romain Grosjean’s survival.
“On our Motorsport Master’s courses we provide our students with an appreciation of the criticality of these systems through our taught modules and group design projects. Students can go even further by choosing to investigate structures, structural integrity and materials for their individual research projects.”
Professor James Brighton, Head of the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre and Professor of Automotive Engineering, said, “Safety has been at the heart of our performance vehicle engineering for the last 50 years. When things go wrong at these high speeds, the consequences would be severe in the absence of the engineered solutions we have today. Many of our modern test standards began development decades ago in our Automobile Engineering department, now the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre.”