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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Explained: How the titanium halo saved Hamilton’s life after crash with Verstappen

When introduced in 2018, the reception to the halo was lukewarm to say the least. Drivers had many issues with the protective device, including reasons such as the device impairing visibility and taking away from the allure of open cockpits in an F1 car.

Written by Shashank Nair | New Delhi |
Updated: September 16, 2021 7:25:40 am
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain leaves his car after crashing with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix, at Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy, Sunday, Sept.12, 2021. (AP Photo: Luca Bruno)

An accident between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at the Monza GP once again brought to light what an important invention the halo cockpit protection device has been for the sport of motor racing, especially Formula One.

When introduced in 2018, the reception to the halo was lukewarm to say the least. Drivers had many issues with the protective device, including reasons such as the device impairing visibility and taking away from the allure of open cockpits in an F1 car. But its usefulness has been highlighted repeatedly and none more so than now.

What happened?

The incident took place in the Rettifilo chicane between Hamilton and Verstappen. Hamilton had just made a pitstop and was opening up his Mercedes on the opposite side of the racing line. On that end, Verstappen was quickly attempting to overtake Hamilton.

The pair entered the two corners together and Verstappen’s car bounced off Hamilton’s wheel, then off the curb and then launched itself at the 6-time World Champion. The impact of the kerb on Verstappen’s car forced it to climb on top of Hamilton’s Mercedes, where the halo took the impact of the Red Bull.

Was Hamilton hurt?

After both cars entered the gravel, the right-sided wheel of Verstappen crashed onto the halo – which took the majority of the brute force of the accident. The wheel also hit Hamilton’s head but because the force of impact had already been reduced, the blow to the defending champion’s head was not severe.

Afterwards, Hamilton said that he would have to meet a specialist since blows to the head require a customary check-up for the medical all-clear.

Verstappen and Hamilton crash during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix, at Monza racetrack, in Monza, Italy, Sunday, Sept.12, 2021. (AP Photo: Luca Bruno)

What did Hamilton say?

After his race ended, the Brit said, “I feel very, very fortunate today.”

He then added, “Thank God for the halo. That ultimately saved me. And saved my neck. I don’t think I have ever been hit on the head by a car before and it is quite a shock for me. If you see the image, my head is quite far forward. I have been racing for a long, long time and I am so, so grateful I am still here and feel incredibly blessed that someone was watching over me today.”

Hamilton also said that after the crash, Verstappen simply walked away from the wreckage without enquiring on his health. Usually after a crash, drivers tend to make sure that the other driver is safe as well, according to Hamilton.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff also credited the halo for saving Hamilton’s life and said, “The halo definitely saved Lewis’s life today.” He then said, “It would have been a horrible accident that I don’t even want to think about if we didn’t have the halo.”

Halo proved useful again in F1

In 2017, French driver Romain Grosjean was the president of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association. He called the introduction of the halo as a ‘sad day for Formula One’.

In 2020, Grosjean was competing at the Bahrain Grand Prix. A collision with Danii Kvyat out of turn 3 saw the Frenchman crash into the barriers. His car split in two and caught fire. Grosjean somehow managed to escape the fatal crash with only second-degree burns on his hands.

Later an investigation showed that Grosjean had hit the barrier at 140 miles an hour while his car’s force of impact was 53G’s, splitting it in two. The investigation also showed that the halo took the brunt of the crash and protected Grosjean from lasting damage to the head or his body.

At the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix, Charles LeClerc was handed a reprieve as well. Fernando Alonso’s McLaren was hit from behind and launched into the air. The car landed on LeClerc’s Sauber – where the halo protected the now-Ferrari driver.

What is the halo made of?

The halo is made of titanium and is joined to the cockpit of the car at three different places. It initially weighed 7 kilos but that was increased to 9 in 2017. It is manufactured by three approved external companies that all provide the same cockpit safety specifications.

Research by the FIA showed that the halo increased the survival rate of a driver by 17%. The tests were conducted using simulations of 40 real life incidents.

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