Crash helmets are the most obvious piece of safety wear for a driver – and they are the one item that a driver absolutely cannot do without. The increased use of modern technology in Formula One has not overlooked helmets and the versions used by drivers today make use of the knowledge gained from space travel. Safety, comfort, and usefulness are all important components of today’s helmets. Consider the following:
- The material used: The helmets are made with the same ultra-strong materials that teams build cars with. The material must adhere to tough regulations to ensure it is strong enough to survive an accident. The helmets have to comply with similar kinds of crash tests that the cars go through as well. If they are at all damaged in a race then they will be replaced for the following event. Drivers usually get through about 15 helmets during a season – and discarded ones do become collectors’ items.
- How it is sized: Each driver has the helmet made to measure. This customized fit not only increases comfort when it is worn in action, but also ensures that the helmet is not likely to slip off in an accident or have gaps where fire or other debris could find their way inside the helmet during the races.
- Functionality and strength of the visor: The visor of the helmet has to be as strong as the rest of the helmet, but it also has to provide the driver with enough visibility. Some drivers fit special tinted visors to keep the sun out of their eyes, while all of them are fitted with tear-off strips that allow the driver to remove a layer if it is covered with oil or dirt. Drivers cannot risk smudges on their visors when racing at 200mph.
- Special padding: The inside of the helmet is full of special padding. This not only makes wearing the helmet as comfortable as possible for the driver, but also adds further protection in the event of an accident.
- The mouthpiece: At the mouthpiece of the helmet is a hole for a special tube that allows the driver to drink fluids during the race. Because of the incredible heat in a Formula One cockpit during the race, it is vital the drivers are kept well hydrated so they do not get tired and run-down, which could lead to them making mistakes and crashing out.
- Earplugs: Before drivers put on their helmets, they put in special earplugs to prevent their hearing being damaged by the very loud noise of Formula One engines – which is easily in excess of a Motorhead concert or a jet taking off. The earplugs also house the radio systems that allow drivers to communicate with their teams in the pits.
- Balaclavas: Drivers also wear fireproof balaclavas to protect their head in the event of fire.