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Case study measures impact of new Formula One head ‘halo’ system

Media release

The head protection ‘halo’ system mandated in Formula One racing may affect the drivers’ head position and motion, potentially compromising steering accuracy, a new simulation test led by Curtin University suggests.

The case study, published in the journal BMJ Case Reports today, examined the use of the halo frontal cockpit protection system – a titanium arc fitted to the open cockpit of a racing car – in a 70-year-old amateur racing driver with more than 10 years’ driving experience at the national level.

The halo system was mandated by the motor sports’ governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) for the 2018 Formula One season, following the death of French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi after a crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix.

Lead author Dr Simon Rosalie, from the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, said the case study indicated the halo changed the driver’s head movements.

“The use of the halo head protection system to mitigate the risk of head injury for Formula One drivers has divided the industry, with some drivers resisting the move,” Dr Rosalie said.

“This case study suggests the halo system affects the head position and movement for drivers, which may impact their navigation and the accuracy of steering.”

Dr Rosalie said the research indicated there may be a need for training and ergonomic adjustment to compensate for the impact on head position and movement.

“This study indicates the need for the effect of the halo on the muscle activity in the neck to be measured to ensure any negative impacts of the new head protection system are addressed,” Dr Rosalie said.

“It also suggests there may be a need for training, particularly among less skilled and experienced drivers, to reduce the impact of the change in head position caused by the halo system.”

The paper, ‘Effect of a halo-type structure on neck muscle activation of an open cockpit race car driver training under qualifying conditions’, can be viewed online here.