Formula One, one of the most dangerous sports, has been attracting millions of viewers around the world. Over 400 million fans watch cars exceeding 260 km/h travel around the circuits. Unfortunately though, with the high speed, competition, and adrenaline, crashes are inevitable. These crashes may bring more excitement to the sport, but the safety of the athletes remains a controversial topic.
Until the 2000s, Formula 1 was perceived as a highly risky sport. During the 1980s and 1990s, accidents were very common. The most well-known example is legendary Ayrton Senna, who died on May 1, 1994, due to a fatal crash during the San Marino Grand Prix. Senna’s death was a turning point for Formula 1’s safety. Since the 1990s, the features of the F1 cars and the safety regulations on track have evolved and are still evolving. From halo and car adjustments to safety cars, there have been a lot of additions to the safety regulations. Senna’s accident in 1994 especially showed the need to improve car safety to reduce injuries and death on the track. Neck and head protection became the primary protection since Senna’s death was due to injuries in those areas. The most important feature was the Head and Neck Support (HANS) system which was made compulsory in 2003. HANS is a support device that is attached to the helmet of drivers, and connected around the driver's shoulders. When an accident occurs, it prevents rapid head movements.
If you are a Formula 1 fan, you are definitely familiar with halo. Halo is a safety system that is placed over the cockpits and made to protect drivers’ heads from getting crushed under other cars or pieces. Halo plays a crucial role in modern-day races as it creates direct protection over the driver’s head. Despite its crucial role, the halo is actually a pretty new concept. In 2018, FIA (International Automobile Federation) made the halo mandatory in cars. It was introduced after driver Jules Bianchi’s vital accident in 2014. In the Japanese Grand Prix 2014, Bianchi lost control of his car and collided with a recovery vehicle that was removing a car from a previous accident. The collision caused severe head injuries to Bianchi, which put him in a coma and later caused his death. If halo was available at that time he could have been saved.
Even though this technology is a beneficial update for the drivers, many fans opposed it when the halo was first introduced, saying it ruined the traditional design of the car. However, these fans regretted this claim as the importance of the halo was proven repeatedly.
In Monza Grand Prix 2021, for example, where
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided, and the importance of the halo was shown once again. In the incident, the tires of Verstappen’s car ended up above Hamilton’s halo.
Considering the possibility of Hamilton’s head getting crushed under Verstappen’s car, halı saved possible injuries. After the incident, fans started hashtags about halo saving Hamilton’s life. Thousands of posts on social media supported the use of the halo.
Coming to 2023, viewers have witnessed many serious accidents where drivers were able to walk out of the car easily. Romain Grosjean’s accident in the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix was, for example, an unforgettable one. During the race, Grosjean hit the barriers with 67 G force and his car rapidly got in flames. It seemed almost impossible for him to get out of the car alive. While everyone was watching anxiously, he got out, walking. What helped him walk out of the flames? The safety adjustments. Halo, fire-protecting suits, helmets, and HANS were the main safety elements. Without the safety adjustments in the car and the help of the marshals, it would not have been possible for him to survive such an accident with relatively minor injuries.
In modern racing, safety has become such a valued topic that viewers feel less doubt that the drivers will get severe injuries in an accident. Even though we witness the harshest accidents, we feel by heart that the drivers will be able to walk out of the car. To sum up, having safety systems and devices in Formula 1 cars is crucial for fans to enjoy a safe race and most importantly for the drivers to survive the most severe accidents.
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