What is a halo in F1? The device that saved Zhou Guanyu’s life

Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu can thank several innovative safety features for allowing him to walk away from his terrifying crash at Silverstone. But what is a halo, an element that has been regularly mentioned in F1 circles?

Zhou suffered a retirement at turn one of this weekend’s British Grand Prix following a huge accident. After contact with George Russell, the Alfa Romeo driver flipped upside down and skidded off the track at over 100 miles per hour.

More worryingly, Zhou was a helpless passenger as his car somersaulted over the tyre barriers and hit the catch fencing on the edge of the track.

Officials immediately red-flagged the race, as the Alfa driver’s trapped car made extraction difficult. Mercifully, Zhou was able to get out, and after checks at a nearby hospital, he received the all-clear.

In a video shared after he left the hospital, Zhou credited one key piece of safety equipment.

“The halo saved me today,” said Zhou, quoted via Autosport. “And it goes to show that every step we take in improving our cars has real, valuable results.”

Commentary during the race regularly mentioned the halo as a big factor in keeping F1 drivers safe – but what exactly is it?

What is a halo in F1?

Introduced in 2018, a halo is a protective element that shields the drivers in their open cockpits. It is just out of the driver’s eye line, with a central piece that attaches to the car in front of them. This is one of three connection points to the vehicle. The other two are above and behind either side of the driver’s head for maximum clearance.

Its primary purpose is to protect drivers during a crash. A halo can stop large pieces of debris from entering the cockpit and hitting a driver. It is also incredibly strong; it can shield F1 stars if a car ends up over theirs during an accident. For instance, Mercedes claimed that a halo could hold the weight of a double-decker bus.

Due to its fundamental purpose as a safety device, F1 has strict rules regarding its building. Bosses have approved just three companies for making the halo – meaning teams can pick from any of those three for their car.

Manufacturers build the halo using titanium due to its strength and lightness. Racecar Engineering says that it adds up to 20kg to the car’s weight as a result. The halo is then firmly attached to the chassis of the car, at the aforementioned three points.

Upon its introduction in 2018, the halo device received mixed reviews. On the whole, drivers said that it did not reduce visibility too much, but was a bit different. However, fans and some in the paddock bemoaned their ugliness. They suggested that a halo ruined the aesthetic of F1 cars.

Regardless of its looks, what critics cannot deny is that it has saved lives over the last four years.

Halo heroism in its first year

Back in its inaugural season, Charles Leclerc was very grateful for his safety feature at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. The then-Sauber driver was part of a nasty first lap pile-up at La Source.

Somehow, Fernando Alonso’s McLaren ended up airborne, flying over Leclerc’s head. Amazingly, replays showed that Alonso’s front right tyre hit the Sauber’s halo. Had it not been there, the car would have hit Leclerc’s head. F1’s latest safety feature had proved its purpose after just half a season.

More drivers saved by halo

Who can forget Romain Grosjean’s accident in 2020? The Haas driver broke a barrier and went up in flames during a horror crash in Bahrain. Somehow, the Frenchman’s car split in two as it careered through the Armco at 119 mph.

But do you know what stayed intact? The halo. This component held strong and prevented Grosjean’s head from smashing through the barrier instead.

Finally, world championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen nearly had a very grim coming together – if it wasn’t for the halo. At the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, the pair were battling at Monza’s first chicane.

In a tense squabble for position, Verstappen hit the ‘sausage curb’ on the inside of turn two, which vaulted his Red Bull into the air. The Dutchman’s car then hit Hamilton’s, riding up the side and over the front of the Mercedes.

As a result, Verstappen’s right rear tyre went straight over the halo – which saved Hamilton from bearing the brunt of the impact on his head, definitely saving his life.

Drivers were able to walk away from all of these shocking crashes in the last few years thanks to the halo. As ever, the sport stays at the forefront of innovation when it comes to driver safety in open-wheel racing.

As F1 fans, we are very grateful every time a halo does what it should – save lives.

Featured image credit: Getty