KNUTSON: The Halo Isn’t Ugly Anymore

Dan Knutson

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — One of the most mesmerizing and terrifying images of the Formula One season was that of Romain Grosjean emerging from the flames after a terrifying accident on the first lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Halo and other significant developments in safety combined to save his life.

It was the Halo and not his head and helmet that absorbed the vicious force of the steel barriers as his Haas machine sliced through them. The car split into two and the front half, with Grosjean still inside, burst into flames.

“Barriers splitting was a classic problem many years ago,” said Ross Brawn, Formula One’s managing director of motorsports. “Normally, it resulted in a fatality. There is absolutely no doubt the Halo was a factor that saved the day. As you will recall there was quite a lot of controversy about introducing it. I don’t think anyone now, especially after this can doubt the validity of that and the value of it. So hats off to everyone involved because it was a lifesaver.”

The Halo created a lot of controversy in F-1 when it became mandatory in 2018. But the F-1 drivers and many others were singing its praises after Grosjean walked away from his horrific accident.

“When I saw the flames, that was pretty scary to watch,” Max Verstappen said after finishing second. “But luckily, of course, he jumped out of the car himself and that was  most important. You can really see the safety, how much it has improved. I think also that the Halo saved his life.

“In the beginning, when it came onto the cars, I was quite critical about it, that it looked ugly, but you can’t say anything about the safety because today it definitely saved Romain, so very happy about that.”

Francois Cevert died when his Tyrrell split through the barriers during a crash in practice for the 1973 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Guardrail technology has come a long way since then, as have safety improvements overall in  F-1. The Halo is just one of those improvements.

“I’m really grateful that he is safe and was able to get out,” Bahrain Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton said of Grosjean. “But it is a real stark reminder just how dangerous this sport can be — the speeds that we are traveling, the energy that we are carrying when we are traveling at those speeds.

“The FIA has done an amazing job, but we can’t stop where we are, we’ve got to keep on trying to improve. That’s what also makes this sport great. We are constantly evolving.

“It is still a dangerous sport. I’m sure there are people who tuned in who have never seen something like that and it just shows that those things can happen. I think we are aware of that as racing drivers, the risks we take. Now everyone else is.”

The ferociousness of the accident stunned many of the drivers.

“It was one of the biggest and scariest crashes I’ve seen,” Lando Norris said. “I saw it afterward on TV, not live. But it shows the safety that we have in the cars nowadays. Everyone saw the car afterward. It is one of the worst cars I’ve ever seen, so for him to jump out as quickly as he did shows the capability of what F-1 safety can do now. So it is good to see how far that has come.”

Haas team principal Guenther Steiner said an angel saved Grosjean’s life — an angel and lots of work on the safety aspects.

“The angel alone cannot do it,” he said. “The angel needs to be there, but there has been a lot of research and hard work to make the cars as safe as they are. You still need to be lucky, but for sure there was a great amount of work put into everything. Look at the Halo. A lot of us were against it when it was proposed a few years ago. Now, I think it has already saved a few lives.

“We should be thankful for the people who push these things along. I actually spoke with (FIA president) Jean Todt after the accident and thanked him for keeping on pushing for safety. Without all that hard work this accident would have had a different ending.”

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