After much furore at the start of the season over the halo head protection device, F1 has largely fallen silent on the subject since Charles Leclerc escaped serious injury at the start of the Belgian Grand Prix – thanks to the halo.
However the question of a driver’s ability to escape from an overturned car arose in Abu Dhabi; Nico Hulkenberg’s race was over after just half-a-lap following a dramatic collision with Haas driver Romain Grosjean at the turn eight-nine chicane.
The Renault was inverted and Hulkenberg feared the car could be on fire – he could not get out until the car was put back onto its wheels.
With the pair side-by-side on the first of the two back straights, Hulkenberg dived on the inside of Grosjean on the left-handed turn eight, only for both to run slightly wide into the corner. With Grosjean not giving up the position, he went for the inside of turn nine.
Probably looking to assert his position on the racing line, Hulkenberg took a relatively normal line through turn nine but, with Grosjean still by his side, the two came together.
Grosjean’s front-left wheel collided with Hulkenberg’s rear-right and, as is always a risk with open-wheel racing cars, it caused the Renault to be sent into a couple of nauseating rolls. The Renault came to rest upside down against the barrier.
The car landed with one of its rear wheels on top of the barrier, causing the Renault to rest at an awkward angle on top of the rollover hoop and the halo device.
Hulkenberg was unable to extricate himself from the car and, whilst he was physically fine, he was audibly very panicked when he spotted flames coming from the rear of his car.
“I’m hanging here like a cow. Get me out, there’s a fire. There’s a fire.”
Fortunately, the marshals were very quick to respond to the threat and any signs of fire were extinguished before they could take hold.
Once it was established that Hulkenberg seemed to have no injuries, the marshals were then able to right the car and allow the driver to be freed from the car.
Whilst Hulkenberg was completely fine and giving interviews not long afterwards – refusing to put any blame on Grosjean – and after the race he asked if he thought the halo device had hindered his escape.
“I don’t know, to be honest right now, if the halo blocked me or not,” said Hulkenberg.
“To the right I had the barrier anyway and then there was a very small gap.
“You know when you are upside down, it’s not so easy to find all the buttons and all the things because everything feels very different.
“It was the first time for me also to end up in the car on the roof. I was just sitting tight waiting for the marshals and they reacted very quickly and got me out.”
FIA race director Charlie Whiting did not believe that Hulkenberg’s extrication from the car was compromised, and instead said that the halo helped to give the driver more room in the cockpit.
“Quite clearly that’s one of the sort of accidents the halo was designed to help with,” Whiting said when asked by about the situation by Motorsport.com.
“It provides more space for the driver once the car is upside down. That was one of the things we wanted to make sure was still possible [during the prove-out phase for the halo].
“When you have an accident like that the radio from the car is automatically routed to race control so we get immediate information.
“Drivers normally say ‘I’m OK’ or ‘I’m fine,’ and we relay that to the doctors on their way to the scene. Then they can take their time to get the car righted and let him get out.”
Whiting was then asked about the criticisms of the halo following Hulkenberg’s crash, responding that the normal procedure is to wait for the car to be righted before extrication.
“So the routine under those circumstances is to put the car back on its wheels, which has to be done carefully of course.
“Once back on its wheels he was able to get out by himself.
“It was very controlled from what I could see, and our medical delegate was more than happy with the way it was done. It all worked exactly as it should.”
Whilst the halo is new for 2018, there are plenty of examples where a driver has been able to leave a car. A recent example is from the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix, where Pascal Wehrlein’s Sauber was tipped onto its side and resting against the barrier.
In this incident, Wehrlein had to wait to be able to exit the car. A timely reminder that this particular can occur with or without the halo.
What do you think about this incident? Leave your comments in the section below
By: Luke Murphy and James Allen
All images: Motorsport Images