Halo saved Zhou and F1 from disaster at British Grand Prix

Once maligned for its aesthetics, the 2022 British GP reaffirmed the halo is an invaluable part of modern racing after Guanyu Zhou walked away unscathed from a horrific opening lap accident

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Carlos Sainz‘s first career Formula 1 victory came at one of the more exciting and memorable races of the past few years.

Thankfully for the Spaniard and the racing community, it was one that wasn’t marked by tragedy, as Guanyu Zhou‘s Alfa Romeo flipped onto its halo crash structure, cleared the tyre barrier and came to rest upside-down in spectacular fashion on the opening lap.

Perhaps more remarkably, if such a thing is even possible, is that it was the second crash of the day in which the halo proved its worth. Earlier in the day, Dennis Hauger‘s car was launched into the air and landed on top of Roy Nissany‘s halo during the Formula 2 feature race.

Just like Zhou‘s crash, everyone walked away unscathed, showing that the structure, which was introduced four years ago, has proven its worth, and then some, despite some initial opposition.

Wolff, Hamilton and more opposed the structure

“I’m not impressed with the whole thing and if you give me a chainsaw I would take it off,” said Toto Wolff at Mercedes‘ car launch in 2018.

Lewis Hamilton went so far as to call it the the “worst looking modification in Formula One history”, and that he wouldn’t use it if it was enforced.

Alfa Romeo’s Guanyu Zhou crashes out at the start of the race REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Fast forward a few years and not only has all opposition on the grid been cast to the side, but you wonder why it took the FIA so long to introduce something that’s proven so invaluable in the first place.

Charles Leclerc walked away unharmed after a first-corner collision at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix in which Fernando Alonso‘s car was launched into the air before landing on the Monegasque’s Sauber.

“I don’t know how it would have ended up without but, looking at it, I’m happy it was there,” Leclerc said after the race. “I’ve been lucky on this one. Looking at the halo, it’s not looking good.

“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.”

The halo also helped protect Romain Grosjean from serious injury when his Haas split in half and burst into flames on the opening lap of the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix.

“I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing we’ve brought to Formula 1 and without it, I wouldn’t be able to speak to you today,” Grosjean said from his hospital bed a day later, after previously stating the device had “no place” in the sport.

Even Hamilton himself escaped serious injury when Max Verstappen‘s Red Bull sat on the top of his Mercedes at last year’s Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

Replays showed Verstappen‘s wheels made contact with the top of Hamilton‘s helmet, with the majority of the impact buffeted by the halo on his Mercedes car.

“Halo definitely saved Lewis‘s life today,” Wolff said after the incident. “It would have been a horrible accident, that I don’t even want to think about, if we wouldn’t have had the halo.”

Sainz says halo saved two lives

Following Sunday’s race, there was nothing but praise for the once-maligned structure, with Sainz highlighting that it likely saved two lives at Silverstone.

“It was incredible, the crash and the fact he came out of it, it’s crazy,” Sainz said at the FIA press conference. “I just find it incredible that he can come out of it.

“It just shows, we sometimes criticise the FIA but in other cases you need to give it to them, how much they’ve been helping us.

“If you see the crash in F2 this morning and what happened with the halo, they saved probably two lives and we need to give it to them.

“I feel so happy to be racing in Formula 1 in an era where we are pushing each other [at] higher than 300 kph like you saw today, racing.”

The fact Zhou, who released a statement after being released from the Silverstone medical centre, said his focus is now on F1’s stop in Austria next week is remarkable in and of itself.

Now, as with all major accidents, the FIA will investigate to see what factors worked as planned and helped the driver, and what areas need improving.

Zhou‘s roll hoop was ripped clean off his Alfa Romeo, with pictures and videos showing it was the halo and other surrounding safety structures that prevented his head from hitting the ground.

Those findings won’t be known for some time, but one thing that’s certain is that the FIA’s dedication to safety, even in the face of criticism, should be lauded.

Adriano Boin
Motorsport journalist specialising in Formula 1 and Ferrari.
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