The Engineering Challenge of Giving Formula 1 Cars Halos

We’re just a month from the start of the 2018 Formula 1 season, and that means it’s debutante season, where squads take the wrappings off situations of extreme machines they’ve expended the offseason build. So far, the topic has appeared to be retro-chic. McLaren has gone for an “papaya” orange and blue livery for its MCL3 3 vehicle, inspired by the very early 1970 s racing machines. Ferrari’s SF-7 1H has returned to a classic ruby-red, dropping last year’s splashings of white. Cherry-red Bull is being cagey about its competition colors, disclosing its new RB14 in a “special edition” black livery.

When the cars line up on the grid in Melbourne, Australia, on March 25 th, they will share one feature that is totally new to the sport: a clunky seeming loop-the-loop of metal and carbon fiber, directly in the drivers’ eye line. This is the “halo, ” a T-shaped safety cage designed to protect the driver’s chief in crashes, protecting children by deflecting winging objects, like a wheel tos loose from a smash up ahead. This sort of threat is only one of the few remaining security hazards in F1 that hasn’t been engineered away, and killed Henry Surtees in Formula Two racing in 2009, and Justin Wilson in an IndyCar race in 2015. In 2009, F1 driver Filipe Massa was knocked unconscious by a thunderbolt that winged off another car.

F1′ s governing body, the FIA, has been considering ways to protect its drivers noggins since at least 2011. One possibility was a cockpit canopy, much like what you recognize on a fighter airplane. That came with questions about how drivers could exit their vehicle after a crash, and troubled devotees who have always known F1 as an open cockpit racing sport.

The thing we’re getting to know as the halo was first proposed by Mercedes in 2015 as a kind of compromise: It should deflect big winging perils, without too drastically changing the appear of private vehicles. A slim central pillar supports a loop-the-loop that wraps around the cockpit, only above the level of the driver’s helmet. Starting this season, it’s a must-have, and with everything else, comes with strict rules. The halo must withstand a force-out of over 12 tons in static tests, which entails all the manufacturers have had to add extra support to their automobiles. “You’ve got to design your chassis to take these loads–and they’re nothing trivial, ” McLaren chief technical officer, Tim Goss said in a press release. “You’re talking about a London bus sitting on the side of the halo.”

Mercedes was the first team to suggest the halo as a style to protect motorists without giving up the open cockpit feel that’s integral to F1.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport

Each F1 team must buy the halo from one of three manufacturers. Despite being built from lightweight titanium, the halo weighs about 30 pounds, a significant chunk in a athletic where every ounce countings. And it puts that mass high up, challenging engineers and drivers who favor the car’s center of gravity has become a low as possible, for improved cornering stability.

“This kind of weight will have an effect, period, ” says Joseph Katz, technologist at San Diego State University, and writer of Race Car Aerodynamics: Designing for Speed. Because each team uses its own suspension and aerodynamic setup, each will deal with that effect in its own style. The cars being presented now won’t be the same at the end of the season: From one race to another, the teams play with their intends, ever looking for the microscopic advantages that make such a difference in this sport.

The arrival of the halo will intensify that evolution. It could negatively impact airflow into the engine and cooling ducts. Or, because manufacturers are allowed to wrap it in a shroud of carbon fiber, they could turn the basic halo into an advantageous form.

“I would not be surprised if someone tries to make an airfoil shape, then tries to make it generate downforce, ” says Katz.( That’s when the air pushes the car down, planting it more securely on the ground, and helping with stability .)

The more obvious hazard of the halo–it’s right in front of the driver’s face–doesn’t seem to be a problem at all. “I really didn’t notice it was there, ” says Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, after participate in the new design for a spin at Silverstone’s National Circuit on Monday. The only period he did see it was when there were overhead trail signs requiring a glance up. He did say it builds get out of the car trickier, which could be an issue after a crash, but that’s a trade-off the FIA has deemed acceptable for the extra protection.

Still, it’s early days. The motorists haven’t tested the design in all the conditions a season of racing all over the world, from Canada to Brazil to Singapore, will present. The halo might change the route the air buffets their psyches, inducing vibrations or noise, for example. Visibility could vary at the Singapore Grand Prix, which takes place at night, or in the tunnel that induces up part of the Monaco track. Whatever the effect, was expecting sponsors elbow for room on the halo, a potentially useful bit of real estate, specially since it will obscure some of the driver’s helmet.

The halo is just the latest invention in a decades-long quest to make Formula 1 safe, one that has been rather successful. Crashes are common; fatalities are rare. The 2015 death of Jules Bianchi, following a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix, was the first since that of Aryton Senna in 1994.

More than any sport, F1 is about evolution: getting faster, more efficient, safer. The FIA is already looking into refined versions of a halo for future years, as well as other ideas to protect drivers’ chiefs. So while that band of titanium may be the defining characteristic of 2018′ s automobiles, it may not be there forever.

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