When Ferrari came out of the pits in Barcelona with a prototype cockpit head protection system many observers believed that this was the final design of the so called 'HALO'.

The reality is that the system tested by Raikkonen on track and later shown off by Ferrari in the paddock was in fact really just a non-structural component to test the aesthetics of the concept and also the impact on driver visibility. While Raikkonen said that it was not a big problem - simply saying 'it was OK' - I struggle to believe this as the main mounting point is right in the drivers' line of sight,

There seems to be some uncertainty over the exact specification of the HALO which has been proposed. The Ferrari test version is made from a carbon fibre composite but the proper version tested by the FIA in England has been made from roll cage steel.

HALO is designed to prevent drivers' heads from being impacted in some accidents such as those that killed Maria De Villota, Justin Wilson and Henry Surtees. The idea is that the structure will take the impact of loose debris, such as wheels, rather than the drivers' heads and in FIA tests the new concepts have proven effective.

The HALO is not the only head protection system on the table for the 2017 cars, there are a number of others which have also been tested on a GP2 car in 2015. One uses fins ahead of the cockpit to deflect debris, and another has composite cables running over the drivers head.

Whatever system is selected there are some very important questions which need to be answered, before any team can start serious work on their chassis design. Taking the HALO as an example (though the questions apply equally to the other proposals) you need to look at the weight of the system. The metal HALO is thought to weigh about 15-20kg and that will have to be factored in to the cars weight overall, its centre of gravity and its weight distribution.

Remember in F1 the weight distribution of the car is fixed to being within a very small window. Adding a big weight like this high on the car will have implications for the car layout in others. Installing HALO will mean other components, perhaps has fundamental as the MGU-K and oil tank will have to move.

Additionally to that, there is the implication of mounting something like HALO onto a carbon fibre monocoque - will it have to be bolted on like a roll cage or can it be bonded onto the carbon fibre directly? Either way the design of the chassis will have to change with new hard points being added and some of the cores and laminates changed I would guess.

What will the crash test requirements be for the new protection systems? That needs to be defined and proven before any car can be tested and again this has a big impact on the cars' overall design. Indeed the actual specification of the system is unclear - will it be a single FIA supplied design or will the teams be able to design their own solutions to meet dimensional and test requirements?

If it is a single FIA design then the teams will need to accommodate it in their chassis concept, which let's not forget are already in the wind tunnel and some are testing with the HALO attached, others are testing without. But the aerodynamic impact of such a device will be substantial, so will teams start to tune the cars around it?

Indeed there is no certainty over which of the new cockpit protection systems will be adopted at all.

Right now with no final 2017 regulations, and such great uncertainty it almost seems foolhardy to rush a under researched and unfinished cockpit protection system into racing when the implications are still not fully understood.

Max Yamabiko

Max Yamabiko will bring you a closer look at the technical side of F1 and motorsport in 2016, from the latest developments and solutions employed to keep you ahead of the game

 

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