This past weekend saw the aeroscreen safety device (the same idea which was rejected by F1), make its race debut in the IndyCar season opener held at the Texas Motor Speedway. IndyCar's Aeroscreen, co-developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, protects the head of the driver as well as the upper torso whilst still maintaining an open cockpit approach to racing. The response the aeroscreen received from drivers was encouraging and Red Bull Advanced Technologies are in talks with IndyCar over supplying its aeroscreen device for the series’ next generation chassis. With changing regulations in Formula One it may only be a matter of time before the aeroscreen replaces the halo in Formula One. So, let us explore this device in more detail.
The aeroscreen safety device is a ballistic canopy made of five pieces of 3D-printed Titanium, designed to protect the head of the driver from debris. The aeroscreen has been specifically tuned to the requirements of INDYCAR and has been developed in such away that allows it to function on road courses as well as traditional oval speedways.
A statement from Red Bull Advanced Technologies (RBAT) highlights the features of the aeroscreen and its rapid inception into INDYCAR:
RBAT Commercial Development Officer, Andy Damerum commented, “The Aeroscreen project has worked well for RBAT, INDYCAR and Dallara [INDYCAR Factory]. We have proven by static load and ballistic testing that the Aeroscreen is as strong, if not stronger, than the Halo, which has already proven to prevent serious injury in F1.
This statement clearly acknowledges the success the Halo has shown in Formula One with regard to driver safety. We can all recall the role the Halo played in keeping Charles Leclerc from serious harm when Fernando Alonso's McLaren spiralled into the air and quite literally bounced on top of Leclerc's Sauber during a dramatic first-lap crash at the Belgian Grand Prix in 2018. However, the statement from RBAT crucially says the ‘Aeroscreen is as strong, if not stronger, than the Halo’.
Formula One prides itself on having the best drivers, the best cars and the best level of safety. If the Aeroscreen is proven to be an even more effective device than the Halo, it may only be a matter of a few seasons before we see it on the Formula One grid.
F1 Digital presenter Will Buxton has been a long supporter of the Aeroscreen as shown in his tweet dated May 24th 2019:
“I’ve always believed aeroscreen to be the way forward. Great to see Indycar and Red Bull leading the charge. Central support strut clearly required for the strength so some elements of halo but good looking and all-round comprehensive protection whilst remaining open cockpit.”
The conversation and debate around the Aeroscreen and the Halo does not seem to be going away anytime soon, so what did some of the INDYCAR drivers make of the Aeroscreen having raced with it this past weekend in Texas?
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter of the 2020 season opened and the 2019 Champion, seemed a reliable person to comment on the Aeroscreen and his comments show the transition to be seamless:
"Other than the handling differences, I didn’t notice the screen to be quite honest. It felt like a normal INDYCAR race to me: I didn’t notice a big difference to last year. The handling is different in the car but as far as the driver’s experience, I don’t even notice it anymore. It’s crazy how good a job they’ve done with the ducting. The visibility was fine: I had zero issues with it from that standpoint."
High praise indeed for the Aeroscreen from Josef Newgarden, who is team-mate to Simon Pagenaud. Formula One fans will recall Pagenaud’s name being in the headlines recently for his pre-meditated plan to take Lando Norris out of the lead at a virtual Indianapolis because he didn't want an F1 driver to win another of the series’ iRacing Challenges. This move was the epitome of bad sportsmanship and sent the virtual car of Norris into the sky. For many commentators, it was therefore ironic to hear Pagenaud also comment recently on the safety element the Aeroscreen brings to the racer by stating "You just feel safe. You feel like, if anything happens, your face is protected. That’s awesome to see such a leap forward in safety."
Following such success seeing the polycarbonate screens navigating the racetrack, Red Bull Advanced Technologies have also announced that they are currently in preliminary discussions with INDYCAR with regard to a future collaboration on their new [Fourth Generation] car. There are many areas where RBAT are able to assist both INDYCAR and Dallara [INDYCAR factory] on the design.
The Aeroscreen device can stand as much as 15 tonnes, which is the equivalent weight of 21 Indycars. Despite the fact we have seen numerous pile ups in the real and virtual world, 21 vehicles on top of one another is close to impossible and reaffirms the safety and strength of the Aeroscreen device.
INDYCAR is growing in global popularity and Swedish racer Felix Rosenqvist, competing in INDYCAR for Chip Ganassi Racing entry, recently commented to the media that “with me and Marcus [Ericsson] coming into the series, back home in Sweden I think it’s actually more popular than F1 now, I think the world is kind of getting to know more about it”.
In conclusion, Formula One is facing uncertain times and with teams struggling financially off the grid and race victories becoming too predictable on the grid – other sports are looking to capitalize. Having been offered the Aeroscreen and rejected the idea in favour of the Halo, if other sports continue showcasing revolutionary technology, Formula 1 may have to respond, or risk being overtaken by the competition.