What is halo? Device that saved F1 driver Romain Grosjean in Bahrain crash explained - and why is it controversial?

Shocking video footage shows the Formula 1 driver's car pierce the trackside safety barrier and catch fire

Track marshals clear the debris following the crash of Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on November 29, 2020 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Tolga Bozoglu - Pool/Getty Images)

Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean says the sport’s one-time controversial halo device saved his life after a dramatic crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old’s car burst into flames after piercing through a steel barrier at 140mph and splitting in two during the 15th round of the 2020 Formula One World Championship.

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Grosjean was quick to escape the wreckage and somehow walked away from the blaze with only second degree burns to the backs of his hands.

Speaking from his hospital bed, the French driver confirmed his appreciation of the halo.

“I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1, and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today,” he said.

What is the halo?

Introduced in 2018, the halo is a strong piece of protective equipment fitted above the driver’s head in the cockpit in all Formula 1 cars.

It is a three-pronged bar designed to stop or deflect large pieces of debris, such as trackside barriers or wheels from another vehicle, from entering the cockpit.

The FIA was committed to introducing some form of additional protection around the cockpit to reduce the risk of head injuries to drivers from flying debris.

All teams were consulted before it became mandatory and drivers tested the halo in practice sessions in the year leading up to its introduction.

Yet opinion was split.

A fire is pictured following the crash of Romain Grosjean of France and Haas F1 during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain. (Pic: Getty Images)

Why is it controversial?

The introduction of the halo effectively brought an end to the idea of open cockpit racing.

Discussion at the time was centred around the aesthetics of the device the FIA wanted to introduce, rather than the safety benefits it would bring.

A transparent cockpit shield was seen as an alternative but proved unusable after Sebastian Vettel said the device made him dizzy after one lap.

Romain Grosjean is pictured on a screen escaping his crash during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain. (Pic: Getty Images)

The halo, however, was the only device that could deflect a wheel fired at it at a speed of 150mph and provide a largely unobstructed view for the driver.

Grand Prix Drivers' Association chairman Alexander Wurz said at the time: “We drivers respect the FIA's stand on safety and support its ongoing quest to make racing safer.

“Over recent decades, we have seen increasing speeds and ever faster lap times and this ultimate racing quest is solely possible due to increasing safety.

“Equally, over the same period of time, we have seen an increase in popularity of our sport. F1 is a role model for ever-increasing safety without jeopardising performance.

“While the halo solution might not be the most aesthetically pleasing for everyone, we drivers will nevertheless race and push as hard as we can on track, which is the key for F1 to continue its growth and popularity.”

What’s been said in the wake of the crash?

The halo is clearly visible on Romain Grosjean's car as he drives on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain. (Pic: Getty Images)

Grosjean admitted he was sceptical about the halo when it was first mentioned yet has unsurprisingly changed his mind.

“Hello everyone, I just wanted to say I am OK – well, sort of OK,” he said, speaking from his BDF Military Hospital bed just hours after the crash.

“I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1, and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today.

“So thanks to all the medical staff at the circuit, at the hospital, and hopefully I can write you quite soon some messages and tell you how it's going.”

Race winner Lewis Hamilton is well aware of the dangers involved in the sport.

“I am just so grateful the halo worked and the barrier didn't slice Romain's head off,” he said.

“It could have been so much worse. It is a stark reminder that this is a dangerous sport. I would be lying if I was to say no, I don't think about my future when I see an accident like that.

“I have been racing 27 years and I was nine when I saw a kid die on the same day I won a race.

“I have always been aware of the dangers and risks that I take and when I get later in life I question it more than perhaps I did when I was in my early 20s.”

Will Grosjean race at the Sakhir Grand Prix?

A statement released from Grosjean’s Haas team confirmed the driver’s recovery is going well and he is expected to be released from hospital on Tuesday 1 December.

Though he has been ruled out of the Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday 6 December and will be replaced by the team’s Brazilian reserve driver Pietro Fittipaldi.