Formula One’s halo cockpit-protection bar did its job more than once this year, and made viewers question its role at least once. But in the ugly August wreck involving Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso, an investigation found that the halo protected Leclerc from a smack in the visor by the front of Alonso’s car.
Motorsport.com reported on the investigation Thursday, which was done by the FIA Global Institute that’s run by F1’s governing body, the FIA. It was obvious at the time of the first-lap Belgian Grand Prix crash that the halo, which partially enclosed the cockpit for the first time this season, protected Leclerc’s head from Alonso’s bright-orange McLaren as it flew over him and smacked his car right into the halo. What wasn’t obvious was the extent that it protected him.
That’s what the FIA Global Institute’s been working on in the months after the crash, and Motorsport.com reports that it found that the halo shielded Leclerc “from injury or worse.”
The institute concluded that Leclerc wouldn’t have gotten a wheel to the face, but that the front of Alonso’s car likely would’ve hit him in the helmet visor. (Keep in mind that the institute is owned by the FIA, and while it claims to be a separate legal entity, its study results could sway in the favor of F1 and the FIA’s best interest because of the ownership.)
The halo was structurally intact and still usable after the crash, according to Motorsport.com, and wreck photos showed that Leclerc only got hit by small pieces of debris coming from Alonso’s race car. Without the halo, though, the institute found that he probably would’ve been hit by much worse.
Here was the main idea of what would’ve likely happened without the halo on the car, from Motorsport.com:
Speaking exclusively to Motorsport.com about the results of the investigation, the FIA’s Safety Director Adam Baker said: “From the available data and video footage, we are confident that the wheel would not have hit Leclerc’s helmet.
“But, as Alonso’s car continued to yaw relative to Leclerc’s, we believe that Alonso’s front wing endplate would have just contacted Leclerc’s visor. It is difficult to predict the severity of the contact with any precision though.”
The institute also found that if the wheel would’ve hit Leclerc in the head with similar force to what the car hit the halo with, there would’ve been potential for a serious head or neck injury—the entire reason F1 drivers almost universally called for cockpit protection two years before F1 began mandating it.
Now those drivers have cockpit protection in the form of the halo, even if it was a year late, and it likely saved Leclerc’s head from an unpleasant encounter with the front of Alonso’s car. That’s a good thing, whether you’re a fan of it or not.