Guest Author - Christine Blachford
We’ve already looked at the clothes a driver has to be kitted out in to make sure he is safe, but one of the most important elements for his wellbeing is the helmet. Whilst its main priority is simply to protect the head, the helmet has adapted over the years to become a cutting edge piece of technology.
Helmets used to be really heavy, weighing around 2kg. If an accident occurred, they could cause serious whiplash and neck injuries, especially under extreme deceleration. Helmet manufacturers realised that this was a big issue, and invested in making the materials lighter. It was worth the research, though, as now helmets weigh roughly 1.25kg, and are much, much stronger.
They are made from several layers of plastic and carbon fibre, designed to be strong and absorb any impact in the case of an accident. The inside of a helmet, the softer bit that goes against a driver’s face, is made up of the same fireproof materials as the overalls. The visor is made from special plastic, and can be tinted depending on the time of day. We saw in Singapore drivers used less tinting to provide more vision. Most drivers carry tear off strips of plastic on their visors at the start of a Grand Prix, so that they can tear them off as their vision gets dusty throughout the afternoon. Each helmet has to pass strict FIA tests, just as every part of an F1 car does, and has to work well with the Head and Neck Support device.
There are a few tricky areas, when it comes to helmets. Drivers tend to have a water bottle with them in during the races, especially at tracks with high temperatures and humidity. The helmets can have a hole in which the straw or pipe of the water bottle is fed through. This allows them to drink easily. Of course, they have to be able to breath easily as well, and the helmets have small filters on them to allow ventilation.
These days, the clever minds behind the best F1 technologies are including the helmet as part of the design of the car. The driver is just below the main air duct leading to the engine, and therefore the right shaped helmet can assist with air flow, directing it where it needs to go.