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Cranfield Impact Centre’s role in testing F1 halo

3 December 2020

F1 driver Romain Grosjean emerged from a fireball crash and escaped with his life following a high-speed impact with a barrier at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday. A significant contributory factor to his survival was the recently introduced halo head protection device, now mandatory in F1 and lower motor racing series.

The halo device was tested extensively at Cranfield Impact Centre during its development by the FIA prior to its adoption, and the issue of head protection in motorsport has been investigated in a number of MSc projects at Cranfield over the years.

Dr James Watson, manager of the Cranfield Impact Centre – one of just two FIA-approved test centres in the world, used for crash-testing Formula 1 cars – said: “The halo device, along with other safety features on the latest F1 vehicles, has made a tremendous difference in protecting drivers in accidents. In the event of an accident, it is imperative to preserve the survival space around the driver and the halo device forms part of that critical zone.

“Prior to the introduction of the halo in 2018, we conducted compression tests on the device from various scenarios to establish its suitability. Static tests on the halo were taken to a load level that would be the approximate equivalent mass of five large typical SUV vehicles resting on the device. As with all safety devices in F1 vehicles, the halo is designed to reduce the risk of injury in as many accident types as possible.”

Clive Temple, Motorsport MSc programme director and senior lecturer at the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre, Cranfield University, said: “All of the ‘systems’ in the safety cell of a modern F1 car came into play in this one accident, from the driver’s fireproof clothing and head protection, head and neck support device, to the safety cell structure, impact structures, and, of course, the halo which was critical to Romain Grosjean’s survival. On our Motorsport Master’s courses we provide our students with an appreciation of the criticality of these systems through our taught modules and group design projects. Students can go even further by choosing to investigate structures, structural integrity and materials for their individual research projects.”

Professor James Brighton, Head of the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre and Professor of Automotive Engineering, said: “Safety has been at the heart of our performance vehicle engineering for the last 50 years. When things go wrong at these high speeds, the consequences would be severe in the absence of the engineered solutions we have today. Many of our modern test standards began development decades ago in our Automobile Engineering department, now the Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre.”

Cranfield University has undertaken research, consultancy and testing for the motorsport sector since the 1970s. Cranfield’s Advanced Motorsport Engineering MSc (previously Motorsport Engineering and Management) has been running since 2000-2001, making it the longest running Master’s programme covering motorsport engineering which is currently triple accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Royal Aeronautical Society and Institution of Engineering and Technology.

Cranfield’s Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre focuses on the development, application and evaluation of advanced vehicle technologies to help make vehicles more capable, lighter, greener and more efficient.

Cranfield introduced the first master’s course covering mechatronics and motorsport – the Advanced Motorsport Mechatronics MSc – in the world in 2018.

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