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F1’s return to helmet design freedom – the best so far

by Jack Benyon
8 min read

After five years in which Formula 1 drivers were only permitted one special helmet design per season, the rules were changed for 2020 to allow complete freedom again.

That led to a burst of creativity that accelerated as the season progressed, and which will surely only increase in 2021.

There have already been some spectacular and memorable new designs, many marking important causes. We’ve selected our favourites so far.

Entries by Matt Beer, Jack Benyon, Glenn Freeman, Valentin Khorounzhiy, Scott Mitchell, Edd Straw

Mega-Mind: Norris and Sainz designs for charity

Drivers With Mind Helmets 001

Drivers: Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz
Race: Eifel GP
Design: By the drivers, for Mind

I always prefer a helmet design with meaning behind it. Which is why it was awesome to see Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris race with crash helmets they’d designed themselves, for charity.

McLaren partnered with mental health organisation Mind in 2020 and a couple of helmets were painted by Sainz and Norris as part of that, then given away in a prize draw to raise money. The drivers later raced with those designs in Germany, which was really sweet to see – and those race-worn helmets were raffled off as well, raising almost £60,000. – SM

The classics are the best

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Qualifying Day Imola, Italy

Driver: Pierre Gasly
Race: Emilia Romagna GP
Design: Senna-themed

Pierre Gasly wore an Ayrton Senna tribute helmet for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, which he described as “remembering one of my idols”.

While it’s a simple story, to see contemporary drivers celebrating drivers of the past is always a joy. And it’s not uncommon. Last year, following the loss of Niki Lauda, Lewis Hamilton wore a version of his helmet to victory at the Monaco Grand Prix, with Sebastian Vettel wearing a Ferrari-era version later that year.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Thursday Monte Carlo, Monaco

Monaco has often been the venue of choice for such tributes. Kimi Raikkonen has worn a James Hunt helmet design there, while Marcus Ericsson donned fellow Swede Ronnie Peterson’s legendary lid in 2014.

Jean-Eric Vergne has run both Jean Alesi and Francois Cevert helmets at Monaco, while Valtteri Bottas paid tribute to Mika Hakkinen – who played an important role in his career – there in 2018.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Monaco Grand Prix Wednesday Monte Carlo, Monaco

There was even a case of a driver running a rival’s helmet design, albeit thanks to circumstances. David Coulthard had to borrow a helmet from Michael Schumacher for the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix, finishing second.

The Monaco Grand Prix is due to be back in 2021, so let’s hope more drivers opt for a nod to the past with their helmet design choices.

Back to Gasly, and his Austrian Grand Prix ‘Full Gas’ livery designed by a fan also impressed, but the Senna effort was always going to win over the F1 fanbase. – ES

Vettel is still the king in one area of Grand Prix racing

Gp Germania F1/2020 VenerdÌ 09/10/2020

Driver: Sebastian Vettel
Races: Tuscan, Eifel, Turkey GPs
Design: Retro themes

Sebastian Vettel is probably the biggest reason F1’s helmet rules went through their 2010s changes.

His predilection for turning up at seemingly every race with a new design in his Red Bull days annoyed purists who missed the era when drivers stuck to a single – often iconic – helmet design for a whole career.

20057 Tuscan Gp Vettel Helmet

Then when Vettel settled on a single design, the striking simplicity of his German flag stripe on a white background was hailed as exactly the kind of strong and memorable image that a classic F1 helmet should be.

It was inevitable that Vettel would get creative again once allowed to, and he took full advantage of the 2020 flexibility with miscellaneous design changes, mostly keeping the base of his usual colour scheme.

His Mugello (above) and Nurburgring (below) specials stand out most.

Gp Germania F1/2020 Sabato 10/10/2020

The split design for Ferrari’s 1000th F1 GP had technical drawings of both the current car and its 1950 sibling, but it was the ‘weathered old cloth’ brownish tone of the 1950 side that was the most evocative element.

Vettel’s Michael Schumacher tribute for the Eifel GP was wonderfully subtle. It featured details from his legendary friend and mentor’s 2006 helmet 3D printed on the white parts of Vettel’s standard scheme, which he showed to Michael’s son Mick in a touching moment.

Gp Turchia F1/2020 VenerdÌ 13/11/2020

It would be remiss not to also point out Vettel’s Turkey helmet, which replaced the German flag stripes with a rainbow and featured cartoon characters around the bottom of the helmet in a bid to highlight the need for diversity, was fantastic and reportedly sold for €225,000 at auction for charity, believed to be the most expensive F1 helmet ever bought. – MB

A fitting send off to an F1 dynasty

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

Driver: George Russell
Race: Abu Dhabi GP
Design: Commemorative

At the very least, George Russell’s Abu Dhabi lid was a very good non-replica tribute helmet. Paying homage to the Williams family in the year that it stepped away from grand prix racing, it married an understated basic design with an impressive roster of extra elements – a message of gratitude, a factfile of the team’s F1 achievements and as many as nine car design silhouettes – and managed to do all that without it coming off as at all crowded.

But the reason it’s my pick is not so much any of that, but just the mere fact the base colour and layout of the helmet are just perfection. The matte black and dark blue look absolutely phenomenal, and every bit of branding is completely congruent. I was awed when I first saw it, and I still feel a tinge of aesthetic satisfaction looking at it now. – VK

The best lid we never saw in 2020

Driver: Romain Grosjean
Race: Abu Dhabi GP
Design: White, drawing

It’s tragic Romain Grosjean won’t get to wear this fantastic helmet design, but under the circumstances he can just be happy to be alive.

After his fiery crash in the Bahrain Grand Prix Grosjean despaired at what he had put his family through in a compelling and dramatic retelling of his story. He said: “My son, Simon, five-years-old, is convinced that I have a love shield and that I can fly.

“He doesn’t process the fact that I could walk out of the car, he thinks I flew off the car. He’s convinced, and that’s why they think I’m a superhero.”

It’s that kind of imagination – from Grosjean’s kids – that spawned this helmet design for what would have likely been Grosjean’s final Grand Prix. His children Sacha, Simon and Camille designed it themselves and in a similar way to Lando Norris’s Silverstone effort (featured later), there’s something charming about the imagination of a child being able to run boundless over the design process.

This means so much more for other reasons. But what a shame Grosjean couldn’t sign off his F1 career in a helmet featuring the designs of his children for extra protection. Let’s hope Mercedes gives him that test so he can give it an outing. – JB

A couple of mega efforts in a season of mediocrity…

Driver: Antonio Giovinazzi
Races: Italian, Emilia Romagna GPs
Design: Postcard, Retro

Seemingly like many other F1 fans, I struggle to get too excited about Antonio Giovinazzi in F1. Brutal, perhaps, but this is elite motorsport and Giovinazzi is yet to prove he truly belongs on the grid, even if he is a phenomenal simulator driver at the very least.

Given his relative lack of support, I decided it was only fair to fight Giovinazzi’s corner for his wild pair of fantastic home-themed one-off lids in 2020.

For his first native Grand Prix at Monza he revealed a blue and white masterpiece (above) in the style of a postcard celebrating his beloved Italy and the Apulian region where he grew up. It still features his (hornet, bee, wasp?) racing driver motif but there’s a lady, local fruit and a ‘greetings from Italy’ message also added with a beach-style colour theme.

Thanks to 2020, Giovinazzi got three home grands prix and followed up his Monza design – memorable for the colours alone – with a spectacular retro effort for Imola (below).

A huge 99 in a white circle looks very 1980s, whole a three-tier stripe around the bottom and colour blocks give this a lovely theme from the past. Another Imola classic. The only way you can mark that one down is the sponsor logo in the middle of the number. ‘Rolling eyes emoji’. – JB

When in doubt, ask 6-year-old Eva for help!

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

Driver: Lando Norris
Race: 70th Anniversary GP
Design: White, drawing

Lando Norris is one of F1’s best hopes of engaging with a younger fanbase. Running a helmet designed by a six-year-old girl was a great gesture, made all the sweeter by having a replica delivered to Eva Muttram on her doorstep.

Put yourself in her shoes for a moment and imagine designing a crash helmet for your favourite driver when you were a small child – then seeing them race it.

If Nigel Mansell had done that when I was Eva’s age, I’d have been over the moon. Let’s hope Norris does it again in 2021, and maybe some other drivers follow his lead. – GF

In addition, perhaps reflective of Norris’s ranking in the helmet design department, The Race’s video editor Luke Hinsull voted for another of the British driver’s efforts to make the list.

He said: “Norris’s Monza Pizza helmet I found highly amusing, which shows it can be fun for the most simple of reasons!”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Monza, Italy


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