FIA’s newest safety feature, the head protection system, halo is strong enough to support the weight of two African elephants and sturdy enough to withstand a large, full suitcase at a speed of 225km/h. The FIA has revealed the manufacturing process and the supplier of the safety device.
Since its presentation, the device has divided opinion perhaps more than any other F1 innovation in recent years with drivers, team bosses, fans and pundits all taking explicit stances.
The reason the new safety system is called halo is its shape - its semicircular formation around the cockpit looks a little like an angel's halo. This shape divided opinions because it goes against the open-cockpit status of the sport and it is widely considered aesthetically less pleasing.
However, the FIA was keen to improve driver safety in F1 in the wake of the death of Justin Wilson in IndyCar, a similar open cockpit series, who was hit by flying debris during a race in August 2015.
The FIA tasked three manufacturers – Germany’s CP Autosport, Italy’s V System and UK’s SSTT to build a prototype within six-and-a- half weeks. The prototypes were then tested at the Cranfield Technical Centre, in the UK in October 2017. The CP halo was the first to pass the test and was chosen by nine of the ten teams, although some squads purchased the device from all three companies.
The history of CP Autosport in motorsport
Steffen Zacharias of Germany’s CP Autosport said it was easy to work with the teams which proved to be very supportive and open.
“We have a long history in motor sport, being involved since the 1990s, but we have an even longer background in aerospace materials and fabrication,” says Zacharias on FIA’s official website.
“I’ve been in this business now for almost 20 years and I have never experienced such an open-door philosophy from the teams,” admits Zacharias. “Whatever question we had, whichever expert we needed to talk to, we have been connected. Every door has been opened.”
Manufacturing and testing of the halo
Every device is geometry-checked, weight-checked and undergoes non-destructive testing, including x-rays and crack tests.
“We do these tests in-house,” says Zacharias. “Coming from the aerospace industry, we have a very intense testing area, including physical test benches and life-cycle testing. We test all our parts in-house by certified people to an aerospace standard.”
The titanium has a grade five which is used in aerospace industry which has an outstanding strength and stiffness combined with its relatively low weight.
“We had to buy about 10 tonnes of high-strength titanium within one-and-a-half months, and receive it all in time and in perfect quality.”
The manufacturing process is divided into three big steps. Before working with the titanium it must be heat-treated to be optimised for the task. The company generally receives forged blocks that have been pre-treated to an individual CP specification to help withstand the loads that the final device will face.
The next step is to pre-machine and gun-drill the tubes that will be welded together. The Halo itself is built from five different parts. The half ring at the top is made from two quarters of the circle. Then there are the two end pieces that attach to the back of the car and the central pillar in front of the driver.
The welding process is performed in a closed chamber to prevent any foreign objects from interfering with the material. The whole device then undergoes further heat treatment for additional strengthening before it is sent for testing.
Application on track
CP has already produced and shipped 70 Halos and is expecting to have made 100 by the end of March.
As the FIA intends to introduce the head protection device in all its open-wheel series, CP has an even bigger task; Not only is it supplying nine of the 10 F1 teams, it is also supplying the F2 series, while deliveries for Formula E's 5th season will start in Q4 of 2018.