August 20, 2022

After being involved in a massive rollover accident that sent his Alfa Romeo Formula 1 car into a catch fence, driver Zhou Guanyu was cleared by F1 medics and said he suffered no major injuries during the crash. Sunday’s race at Silverstone. Without a doubt, the car’s halo saved his life. The failure of the roll bar, however, meant the halo was the only element left to protect the Chinese driver as his car skidded on the upside-down tarmac. Why that happened is still unclear, but here’s a breakdown of what happened on the first lap of the British Grand Prix.

According to the regulations, F1 cars have many extremely specific safety measures built in, although these are not parts designed by the series for every team to use. Yes, there are plenty of spec parts in the 2022 cars but nothing as structural as a roll cage. No matter who builds these components, they must all be built and tested to the same exact standards for the FIA ​​to approve them.

The upper part of an F1 car is made up of two rollover structures: the primary structure is the roll cage while the halo is the secondary. The roll bar is located just behind the cockpit and is there to ensure that the pilot is not crushed in the event of a rollover. It must undergo heavy load testing to ensure that it can support the weight of the car (even if it hits the ground very hard).

As a structural component, the hoop is bonded to the chassis and the assembly is tested to withstand 11 tonnes vertically, 7.7 tonnes longitudinally and 6.6 tonnes laterally. With F1 cars weighing less than a tonne, that means a vertical impact should be tough enough to break the hoop, even after factoring in the 242.5 pounds of fuel the cars need to have on board at the start. of the race.

Photos of Zhou’s car rolling on the tarmac, before it hit the gravel outside the Abbey corner, clearly show the collapse of the hoop structure. Or rather, detach. Visually, at least, it looks less like the hoop itself failed and more like a chassis failure. First, the T-bar goes off, then what looks like the actual hoop of the hoop flies out of the car as it begins its rest on the halo alone.

The footage is terrifying, being able to see Zhou’s head backlit by the sparks and shielded only by the halo. In some crashes, drivers may try to squeeze as far into the cockpit as possible before impact, but that’s not exactly possible when hanging upside down from their seatbelts. In fact, the force the upside-down car applied to the tarmac was so violent that it literally ripped a path across the Silverstone surface, pictured by the journalist and F1 presenter. Craig Slater.

According to the FIA, the halo can withstand 13.2 tonnes of pressure, so it is stronger than the vertical limit of the roll bar structure, even if it is considered secondary protection. At Monza last year, the halo effectively shielded Lewis Hamilton from serious or worse injury when Max Verstappen’s rear tire essentially landed on Hamilton’s head.

By the time the car reached the gravel trap, it dug in, sending it flying uncontrollably towards the tire barrier. Once he hit the tire barrier, he ricocheted forcefully against the catch fence, which did its job and prevented him from entering the spectator area directly.

The catch fence is designed for exactly that, to flex and catch a car or debris in its mesh, but it’s alarming to see one go over the tires and get stuck in between. Ultimately, that was what complicated Zhou’s extraction, rather than medical issues – a true testament to how well the security systems worked on Sunday.

Ultimately, the chassis and other components fail (frightening, given the two ton difference in what they can hold), and the initial hit might have been enough to break the structure, even if it didn’t. There was no malfunction of the hoop itself. We won’t know for sure until the FIA ​​releases the full speed and impact figures, among other details.

For now, it’s as race winner Carlos Sainz said in the post-race press conference: “I feel so happy to be racing in Formula 1 at a time when we are pushing ourselves to be more 300 km/h as you saw today, the race You can’t imagine the speeds we do at high speed [corners] and change direction, fight for position and know you can do it safely or in a safe window.”

In just five short seasons, the halo has become synonymous with safety in the most extreme conditions. Now it’s the FIA’s turn to reveal exactly what happened and how F1 can learn from it.

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