F1: the miraculous “halo” that saved Grosjean’s life

F1: the miraculous “halo” that saved Grosjean’s life

Two years ago, when Formula 1 introduced its controversial “halo” – a wishboneshaped bar extending around the cockpit – Romain Grosjean was among the many who opposed it, said Giles Richards in The Guardian. Last Sunday, however, the 34-year-old Frenchman acknowledged that the device had almost certainly saved his life. 

On the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Grosjean’s car clipped the left front wheel of Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri and veered off the track into a metal barrier. The 137mph impact sheared his car in half and its detached front section ripped through the barrier, instantly becoming engulfed in flames. In the aftermath of the “visceral, violent” collision, the “entire paddock and viewers around the world held their breath”. But having been in the flames for 18 seconds, Grosjean emerged from the wreckage and leapt over the crumpled barrier as a medical team rushed to assist him. He was missing one of his fireretardant shoes, and had minor burns to his hands and ankles – but was otherwise unscathed. 

Make no mistake, this was the most serious accident in recent Formula 1 history, and certainly the most dangerous since Jules Bianchi’s fatal collision with a recovery vehicle in 2014, said Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph. It brought to mind the kind of “biblical” scenes that were common in F1 in the 1960s and 1970s – cars being sliced in half, “incendiary dramas” – but which in recent times have largely been absent from the sport. And it utterly overshadowed the outcome of the race, which was won, hours later, by Lewis Hamilton. “If ever there was a sight to shatter the misconception that modern F1 drivers know nothing of the terrors that assailed their forefathers, this was it.” Grosjean’s survival was widely proclaimed to be a “miracle”, said Andrew Benson on BBC Sport. 

Yet while luck played a part, it was also a vindication of the relentless “safety crusade” waged by F1 since Ayrton Senna’s death in 1994. A number of improvements helped Grosjean – the enhanced crash absorption properties of modern cars and improved fireproof overalls – but the crucial factor was the halo. When the cockpit head-protection system was first touted, some said it would ruin F1 by negating its essential “opencockpit formula”. Such arguments now seem utterly misplaced, said Rebecca Clancy in The Times. 

The titanium bar, designed to withstand the weight of a double-decker bus, is all that stood between Grosjean’s helmet and the crash barrier; without it, it would have been his head slicing through the metal. Serious questions will be asked in the wake of the crash, not least how fuel escaped from the car’s supposedly bullet-proof engine. But about the value of the halo, there can “be no further debate”.