The Racing Helmet
An incredibly brief look at the history of the racing helmet
It used to be that a driver chose a helmet design and colour scheme early on in their career and stuck with it. Then came Sebastian Vettel. The insanely fast young German changed the look of his helmet a staggering 18 times during the 2013 season, before Bernie stepped in and put a stop to all that nonsense. I for one am just disappointed that he didn’t settle on the heat sensitive one he wore in Monaco.
Possibly the best F1 helmet graphic ever
Helmet technology has come a long way since leather skullcaps and googles were the only thing drivers had to protect their squash. Nowadays a super lightweight composite structure of carbon fibre and kevlar, coated in resin and filled with both polyethylene and fire-resistant aramide, sits atop each formula one drivers head. A polycarbonate visor permits the driver good visibility but must also withstand both impacts and fire. Anti-fogging chemicals are used on the inside while tear-off strips are used on the outside to help the driver quickly clear away any squished bugs of bits of discarded rubber flung at them by the cars infront.
Within the last decade a few changes occurred in the field of helmet design including the compulsory use of the HANS device (Head and Neck Support) and the introduction of a Zylon strip across the top of the visor which doubles the impact performance of the visor component. This latter development was in response to Felipe Massa’s terrible head trauma that occurred during the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when a suspension spring fell from fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn and struck him in the head. Massa needed to have a titanium plate inserted into his skull in order to strengthen it for racing.
Massa was lucky to get away with this one.
The HANS device was originally developed in the 1980’s by a biomechanical engineer following the death of a friend at Mid-Ohio but the Formula One fraternity showed little interest in the product until the deaths of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna in 1994, both of whom suffered the type of injury this device was specifically created to prevent. HANS was officially mandated in 2003, long after many other racing series had done the same including Nascar (2001) and Indycar (2001).
The design stops the drivers head from being flung forward upon impact
Arguably, the most iconic helmet design of all time is mainly yellow in colour, with a couple of green and black detail lines running around it horizontally.