Take a look as we dive into the history of F1 helmets.
Helmets play a vital role in motorsport, and especially F1, but have they always been there? Have they always been mandatory, and what sort of technology goes into their development?
F1 has been the ultimate driver's challenge for almost a century now, and over the decades we have seen some devastating accidents, some of which have been life-threatening, and some even fatal. So it is up to the FIA ( Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile), F1s governing body, to implement more safety measures that change on a yearly basis.
For diehard F1 fans, the FIA always gets tagged as the "sport killer" as their limitations and restrictions are said to take the exhilaration out of the sport. But, without them, the safety of the drivers, engineers and even spectators are then put at risk, and one of the hundreds of their safety measures is indeed the helmet.
When motor racing started back in the late 1800s, cars were seen as the next progression after horses and no one wore a helmet on horseback at the time, so, naturally, no one wore a helmet when racing cars. It wasn't until a few decades later when motorcycle racing gained in popularity in motorsport that people started taking note of the importance of wearing a helmet. Still, in motorcycle racing, a new helmet made from leather and a rare type of tree sap from India, which has similar properties to fibreglass, became the standard in motorcycle racing at the time.
As motorsport advanced, car racing drivers adopted the safety trend of wearing a helmet as it was proven that drivers who wore a helmet suffered less severe concussions than without. However, for some drivers, a cloth cap was still a more comfortable alternative.
Furthermore, a new trend started lurking as drivers started to customize their helmets with colours and stripes to help fans and teammates better identify who was behind the wheel, which actually encouraged more drivers to wear a helmet. These same principals are still used today.
It wasn't until the 1970s that F1 implemented a brand new design helmet for their drivers. This new design had a fully sealed visor that could be opened and closed, however, still with a peak to help keep the glare out of the driver's eyes. This would have caused some strange aerodynamic effects and would not be allowed in modern F1 FIA restrictions.
Also in the 1970s, more helmet manufacturers came into the market, one of which was a brand called AGV who developed lightweight helmets. F1 driver, Nikki Lauda, was one of the first to use one of these new helmets but, during his fateful crash at the Nurburgring, for reasons still unknown today, his AGV helmet came flying off during impact.
In the 1990s, a new helmet design was developed and approved by the FIA in F1 that was made from fibreglass and Kevlar. It proved to be incredibly lightweight, comfortable and could withstand multiple impacts. This was necessary as F1 car technology was drastically improving thus making the cars faster and faster, and driver safety was a much higher priority.
This helmet design lasted until 2009, but an incident with Felipe Massa at the Hungarian Grand Prix made the FIA consider a redesign. During that race, a spring from another vehicle bounced up and hit the Massa in the helmet. This caused him to get disorientated and crash, and due to the spring impact, resulted in surgery. Although the helmet did a fantastic job of taking the majority of the impact, the helmet design had to be improved. This was done with the help of a nylon strip at the top of the visor, which is twice as strong as Kevlar, and became mandatory for F1 helmets.
Since then, nothing has changed with the overall helmet design, but the cars have changed with the addition of the F1 cockpit halo to further keep F1 driver as safe as possible.
Take a look at the video below by YouTube channel, Driver61, on The Fascinating Evolution of F1 Helmets.
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