Would Formula 1 Still Be Formula 1 with “Halo” or Canopy Driver Protection? [Op/Ed]


Formula 1 is in the middle of another big decision. There are several proposals on the table that provide more protection for the F1 racing driver.  The first is a hoop design called “halo” that is meant to protect the racer from impacts by large objects. The second proposal is a full canopy similar to a fighter jet plane that should protect against all objects big or small.


f1 ferrari concept halo vettel
Halo concept by Ferrari

There are several halo designs, but the most popular is the one with a center mounting point directly in front of the driver. It does block a narrow band of vision in the center, but it still offers unobstructed view to the sides. The overall shape and design of the F1 car does not change much in this concept.


f1 canopy concept mclaren
F1 Canopy concept by Andres Van Overbeeke

The overall shape of the F1 car changes with this solution. However, the size and sleek design can coexist with the canopy concept as seen in the proposal by Andres Van Overbeeke.


f1 red bull canopy halo concept
Red Bull canopy concept

There is a third design that combines the halo design with a partial canopy enclosure.

Driver opinion is split on this issue. F1 Champion, Sebastian Vettel, supports the idea of the Halo device as it can save lives. In the other camp, Lewis Hamilton, another F1 champion, says that if implemented this device should be optional.

Opinion/Editorial by Paul Shippey.

I have mixed feelings about this subject. Having lost my good friend and business partner, Justin Wilson, last year to an IndyCar wreck impact that could have been prevented by such a device [halo or canopy], I understand why Formula 1 is looking at this. Would Justin have supported this? I’m not so sure… he was also a purist, as are many of the guys racing open-wheel cars.

So let’s assume this device could have saved Justin Wilsons life in Indycar, yet interestingly, Indycar is not the formula looking to implement this right now. It’s F1 which also lost a driver in the past year.  Apparently such a device may not however have saved Jules Bianchi, as the blunt-force impact of a high-speed wreck itself can maim or kill a driver without anything touching his head. Bianchi collided with a crane, would the Halo have withstood such an impact, who knows?

2013 usgp f1 sebastian vettel

However, being a bit of an open wheel purist, having raced Formula cars, I also struggle with the idea of it. The Ferrari looked hideous with the Halo design -like a giant bug landed on the canopy, while the Red Bull concept looks less ugly and more natural to me. That being said, why now?

Ok, so Justin Wilsons’ death spurred this, but how many drivers have died from an impact hitting their helmet in the past decade or so? In 2009, Felipe Massa survived a suspension-spring impact to his helmet in Hungary, and since his accident in F1, one may have to look back to Ayrton Senna in 1994 to find a case of head impact that caused death.

To me, it’s really about what does “open-wheel” stand for?  Is Halo a sudden and maybe not so well thought-out reaction to death? At what point do we stop racing altogether because death is likely, or even probable?

Lauda vs Hunt 1976 F1 season battle
Lauda vs Hunt 1976 F1 season battle

In the sixties and seventies drivers died like flies in F1 accidents. In the 60’s, there were 29 deaths and 18 died in the 70s, so approximately two or more per year. Every time a driver lined up on the F1 grid in those days, they took a huge risk, way greater than there is today. Do the math…

At what point do we put a canopy over the drivers head and call it Le Mans? That’s my concern. I would not bother with the Halo or canopy, unless we want to call it something other than F1. It may sound callous, but one F1 death since 1994 is not cause for major concern. It is after all a dangerous sport, and the drivers know that. Think about it, more people die playing football every year in America.