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How F1 Car Halo Saved Romain Grosjean’s Life In Horrendous Bahrain Crash

by : Hannah Smith on : 30 Nov 2020 14:08
How F1 Car Halo Saved Romain Grosjean's Life In Horrendous Bahrain CrashHow F1 Car Halo Saved Romain Grosjean's Life In Horrendous Bahrain CrashPA Images/grosjeanromain

As footage of Romain Grosjean’s horrific accident at the F1 Bahrain Grand Prix circulated online yesterday, November 29, many questioned how the driver was able to escape relatively unscathed.

F1 safety has come a long way over the decades. And while a whole range of changes, including robust survival cells, safer fuel storage and head and neck support (HANS) devices have come into force in the last 30 years, it’s quickly become apparent that one more recent safety innovation most likely saved the French driver’s life.

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When Grosjean’s Haas hit the barriers on the opening lap, the car split in two, with the front half – including the cockpit – becoming embedded in the metal crash rail. Images of the wreckage later showed that the barrier had been separated by the Halo device surrounding the driver’s cockpit, likely preventing Grosjean’s head from a direct impact at 137mph, and also creating the space which allowed him to escape the burning vehicle with only minor burns to his hands and feet.

PA Images

F1 managing director Ross Brawn told Sky Sports F1 there was ‘absolutely no doubt’ that without the Halo device Grosjean would not have survived. Yet it might surprise some to learn that this crucial safety feature is actually one of the most controversial changes ever made to the sport.

The Halo is a protection system above the cockpit that is designed to protect drivers from direct head impacts in crashes. It was developed in the years following the most recent fatal accident in Formula One, which saw Jules Bianchi suffer catastrophic head injuries after colliding with a recovery vehicle during the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

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After a few years of testing, the FIA – motorsport’s governing body – made the Halo device mandatory on all cars from the 2018 season. It was a controversial decision, with many high profile figures in the sport arguing that it was ugly, ineffective and risked fundamentally altering the concept of ‘open-wheel racing.’

Some drivers on the grid, including Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, accepted the device as a necessary safety improvement, but others resisted the change. Three time world-champion Niki Lauda, who himself suffered serious burns when his car caught fire in 1976, said at the time that the Halo ‘destroys the DNA of an F1 car’, while Grosjean’s current teammate Kevin Magnussen called it ‘awkward and annoying’.

Thankfully, the FIA went ahead despite the backlash. Yesterday’s incident is not the first time the Halo has been credited with saving a driver from severe head injuries, or worse. During its first season in action, Charles Leclerc praised the device after walking away from an incident in which Alonso’s McLaren landed on top of then-Sauber driver’s car in an opening lap accident in Belgium.

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Leclerc tweeted after his experience:

I have never been a fan of the halo but I have to say that I was very happy to have it over my head today

Since then, most in the sport have accepted that the Halo is here to stay, and following yesterday’s incident, the debate over the device has now ended once and for all.

In a video posted from his hospital bed last night, Grosjean, who himself was a vocal critic of the Halo when it was first introduced, said ‘I think it is the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula One, and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today.’

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