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Helmet Design

Williams quietly unveiled their FW29 today and kept the hype very low key – the car must speak for itself on track, they advised. It is visibly a Williams with colors not much changed in spite of their new sponsor, Lenovo, but it appears to have grown a splendid mustache this year, the upper component of the front wing assembly curving up and away from the lower element. Messing around with the nose of the car is almost becoming a Williams tradition.

Helmets 1

As I was looking through the photographs, I came upon the standard portraits of the drivers and was struck by the complexity of their helmet designs. Much of this is caused by the profusion of advertising, of course, but there does seem to be a trend towards increasingly confusing designs. These days it isn’t easy to identify the drivers as they whoosh past, hunkered down between their high cockpit sides and its shoulder bulges, and these modern helmets don’t help with their profusion of colors and strange shapes.

Even a driver as recently arrived as David Coulthard has a clear and simple design for his helmet, based on Scotland’s flag without embellishment and instantly recognizable as a result. Compare this with Kathikeyan’s, also inspired by his nation’s flag but managing to appear similar in its spiky Indian wheel to Wurz’s red and white zigzags. Considering how much of the helmet is obscured by adverts, it hardly seems worth going into such detail with the design.

Helmets 2

Back in the good old days (said the old fart) things were much simpler. Nelson Piquet’s red and white teardrop and stripes were easily identified and Senna stuck with an even plainer theme of green and blue stripes on a yellow background.

Speaking of yellow, it does seem to be the in color of the moment – most new drivers use it somewhere on their helmets and Lewis Hamilton favors it almost to excess. I wonder if this is a subconscious hope that Senna’s magic might have come partially from his helmet colors. Don’t laugh – the F1 drivers are a pretty superstitious bunch.

Take green cars, for instance. There is a tradition going back over fifty years that green is an unlucky color in racing. That might have come from the fifties, when all the British cars were green and were routinely thrashed by the Italian red, and it should really have been exorcised by Lotus in the sixties and Benetton in the nineties. But I suspect that the myth lingers on, perhaps given new life by Jaguar’s brief return to F1.

To return to helmets, the fashion for complex designs certainly doesn’t help commentators and could make Murray Walkers of them all. Which is bad news for young drivers trying to make a name for themselves. If I were a driver just entering F1, I’d buck the trend and go for the simplest helmet design imaginable.

Oh, wait a minute – wasn’t Mark Webber wearing an unadorned white helmet in one of the recent test sessions…?

One Response to “Helmet Design”

  1. [...] Helmet design – Formula 1 Latest gets nostalgic for the days of simpler helmet designs. [...]

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