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The art of a helmet

Days and hours of craftsmanship and skill are put in to create an icon of which is a drivers helmet...

My new helmet for 2021

A brief history of the racing helmet

Before the start of World War 1, motor racing became quite popular and was starting to grow in Europe and the United States. However, as cars got quicker each year due to constant development, drivers started getting dirt and dust in their eyes. To solve this problem, the drivers would wear leather caps with goggles like early pilots, to protect their eyes and head. Imagine Biggles in a race car! There was a major issue though, this form of 'head protection' wasn't exactly protective and drivers were still suffering significant head injuries.

Pre-War, many people were still concerned about safety of racing drivers, as the helmets hadn't had much development in the previous decade. Due to a lack of safety development, drivers started to wear firefighter and football helmets as these had better protection than the contemporary racing ones. An absurd fact is that hard-shell helmets were used in motorcycle racing in the 1930s, but it took until the early 1950s until a hard shell helmet for racing drivers was created. When the first metal helmet was showcased in the motor-racing world, Formula One saw this idea and made it compulsory for all drivers to wear one.

In 1954, Bell Sports created the first mass produced racing helmet which changed the industry. Many more helmet companies were to follow. Towards the end of the 1950s, the first official helmet safety standards was formed called Snell (helmet certification), who worked alongside the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile), then was used in all Grand Prix.

Almost unbelievably, NASCAR, being the most watched motor racing discipline in the United States, only made full-faced helmets compulsory in 2001 after the death of driver Dale Earnhardt. To think that Formula One made it compulsory 50 years prior is mind-blowing; of course the major difference is that Formula One involves an open cockpit, whereas NASCAR is a stockcar, though the speeds of both are extravagant and the number of cars competing in a race can go up to over 20.

Till now, helmets and driver safety equipment have been developing annually and the current standards of the equipment and cars are extremely safe. The last fatal accident in Formula One was Jules Bianchi, who sadly passed away during the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014 - this was because the horrendous weather conditions resulted in him losing control of the car and colliding with a recovery vehicle on track. The crash should never have happened, and since then, the FIA have improved communication between the teams, drivers and race marshals who may be clearing “on track” debris.

Racing drivers now have the choice of various helmet brands, major ones being Bell, Arai and Stilo. Since the 1970s, drivers have been having their helmets painted to their personal preference; now a 'lid' can represents a driver’s personality and the current field of racing drivers have a diverse array of designs, chopping and changing them depending on what race they are taking part in. As the helmet is the most viewed part of a driver’s race-gear, it's a great opportunity for sponsors and partners to advertise themselves. This can be seen on my current 2021 “lid’.

Written by Ryan Margolis

Stilo ST5 FN Carbon - Designed by MDM, Painted by Lewis Scothern of (Scothern Custom Designs) 2021


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