The most important piece of kit for a Formula 1 driver (aside from the car) is their helmet. The driver’s head is exposed in F1 due to the open cockpit nature of the cars, and this makes the helmet the most crucial piece of safety equipment that they have with them.
F1 helmets are some of the strongest helmets in the world. They can take an impact from any side and still protect the driver’s head. Some of the tests helmets need to survive include stopping bullets, extinguishing fires, and being crushed by weights, all before they are deemed safe to use.
The FIA is very strict on the tests that helmets need to pass before they are allowed to be used in Formula 1. This makes manufacturing these helmets incredibly expensive but also very tricky. Below, we cover in detail the strength of F1 helmets and the tests they stand up to.
What Are F1 Helmets Made Of?
F1 helmets are made of about 17 layers of carbon fiber on the outside, along with a polycarbonate coating. Within the layers of carbon fiber there is also some Kevlar for extra strength, and on the inside there will be many layers of foam too. An F1 helmet visor is made of polycarbonate.
Formula 1 helmets are tricky to make. The helmets need to be strong enough to withstand an impact, and at the same time, they need to be lightweight. Formula 1 cars travel at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour), and with no windshield or closed cockpit, the helmet needs to protect the driver’s head from debris or any kind of impact.
This means that the materials used in a Formula 1 helmet need to be both strong and light. The best materials to use then are carbon fiber. However, using thin sheets of carbon fiber often doesn’t offer enough protection to ensure that the driver’s head will be safe in the event that it is struck by something.
Formula 1 helmets can have 17 layers of carbon fiber in their construction. The innermost layer is a thick high density foam that protects the driver’s head from any impacts by absorbing the energy. This foam layer is softer than the carbon fiber but still firm, and it molds into the shape of the driver’s face for a comfortable but tight fit, preventing the helmet from shifting or moving around.
Carbon fiber helmets have been used in Formula 1 since 2001. Ever since their introduction, the number of deaths and head injuries in the sport has dropped drastically. The carbon fiber helmets might be slightly heavier than previous helmets, but they are much stronger.
How Much Do F1 Helmets Weigh?
F1 helmets weigh approximately 5.2 lbs, or 2.4 kilograms. They need to be light due to the G forces experienced by drivers. F1 drivers can experience up to 6.5 G in the corners, and this makes their helmet feel like it weighs 6.5 times more than it normally does, so they need to be lightweight.
The main issue that F1 drivers face when it comes to the weight of the helmet is the G forces they will be experiencing while they are in the car. Drivers can pull up to five Gs or more in a Formula 1 car. At five G’s, your entire body feels like it weighs 5 times more than it normally does.
This means that the weight of the driver’s head plus their helmet will be five times what it normally is. This makes it more difficult for the driver to focus while cornering, especially when it comes to overtaking. It’s also one of the reasons why drivers need to have incredibly strong neck muscles so they can keep their heads upright while cornering.
Formula 1 helmets weigh around 2.4 kilograms or 5.2 lbs, which is incredibly light considering how much material is packed into it. The average human head weighs around 11 lbs, or 5 kg. This means that a driver’s head with the helmet would weigh 16.2 lbs (7.4 kg). However, when pulling five Gs, the driver’s head will weigh closer to 81 lbs (37 kg) instead.
At this weight, the driver’s neck muscles will be fighting to keep their head upright, and they need to do this for at least an hour and a half during a Grand Prix. The heavier the helmet is, the more weight and strain will be put on the driver’s neck muscles while they drive the car.
How Strong Are F1 Helmets?
F1 helmets are, according to the FIA, considered to be the strongest helmets in the world. They have to undergo numerous tests, including being shot at by an air rifle, having weights dropped onto them, and being hit in the chin guard with a hammer. These are to simulate real impacts they may face.
The latest design of Formula 1 helmets was introduced in 2019, and the FIA has poured a decade of research and development into the latest Formula 1 helmets. Working with the major helmet manufacturers, Formula 1 helmets are now the strongest helmets in the world, according to the FIA.
Using Past Incidents For Guidance
The FIA have looked at previous racing incidents, specifically incidents such as the one Felipe Massa had at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when a spring hit his helmet and knocked him unconscious, to decide where to point their research for the new designs. This helped the FIA to develop a helmet that is not only stronger but also better suited to open-wheel race cars.
Before a manufacturer’s helmet is deemed safe to use by Formula 1 standards, it needs to undergo several different tests before being approved. These tests have been designed to simulate real-life scenarios and to replicate incidents that have occurred in the past.
Some of the tests that a Formula 1 helmet will undergo to prove its strength include being shot at by an air rifle, having various weights dropped onto it from different heights and speeds, as well as a blow to the chin guard with a hammer. All of these tests are used to simulate impacts that might be common while the driver is out on track traveling at over 200 miles per hour.
F1 Helmet Safety Tests
F1 helmets must undergo the following safety tests:
- Standard impact test: The helmet is hit by an object at 31.16 ft/s, and the peak deceleration on the driver’s head must not exceed 275 G’s in total
- Low-velocity impact test: The helmet is hit by an object at 19.68 ft/s, and the peak deceleration on the driver’s head must not exceed 200 G’s with a maximum average of 180 G’s
- Low lateral impact test: The helmet is hit by an object at 278.87 ft/s, and the peak deceleration of the driver’s head must not exceed 275 G’s
- Advanced ballistic protection test: A metallic projectile weighing 0.4 lbs (0.18 kg) is fired at the helmet at 155.3 miles per hour, and the peak deceleration must not exceed 275 G’s
- Crush test: A 22 lbs (9.97 kg) weight is dropped from 16.7 feet high onto the helmet, and the transmitted force cannot exceed 10 kN
- Shell penetration test: An 8 lbs (3.6 kg) weight is dropped onto the helmet at 25.2625 ft/s, and the helmet must stay intact after impact.
- Visor penetration test: An 8 lbs (3.6 kg) air rifle pellet is shot at the visor, and the air rifle pellet must not penetrate the interior layer of the helmet, and the driver’s vision must not be impaired
- Visor coating test: The visor coating is transmitter tested to ensure coloration and vision are not significantly changed or distorted by external factors
- Retention system test: Roll-off tests and dynamic tests are conducted to ensure the strength of the chin strap and its attachments
- Chin guard linear impact test: The helmet undergoes a simulated impact test at 18.0446 ft/s, and the peak deceleration cannot exceed 275 G’s
- Chin guard crush test: The chin guard is hit with a hammer, and it must remain intact
- FHR mechanical strength test: The helmet is tested to ensure the strength of attachment points for Frontal Head Restraints (or FHR)
- Projection and surface friction test: The helmet is tested to ensure that the surface of the helmet is smooth and that friction is minimized, and the outer shell surface is also subjected to a BARCOL hardness test to test resistance to penetration
- Flammability test: The helmet is exposed to a 790 degrees Celsius/1,454 degrees Fahrenheit flame, and the helmet must be able to self-extinguish
How Strong Were F1 Helmets In The Past?
In the past, F1 helmets were not that strong. They started off with weaker open-face steel helmets in the 1950s that required drivers to use goggles and a face cloth to shield them. There was then a switch to fiberglass helmets, which are used today primarily outside of the F1 world.
In the past, Formula 1 helmets weren’t great. When the sport first started in the 1950s and the pre-war era, drivers were using open-face steel helmets. Drivers had to wear goggles and a face cloth to protect their eyes against the wind and any debris on track. Safety was far less important in those days.
Dan Gurney was the first to bring a full-face helmet to the sport at the 1958 German Grand Prix, and these caught on quickly. Full-face helmets were preferred because they offered more protection, and the drivers experienced far less buffeting (when the wind moves the helmet around) with these helmets.
Eventually, visors were also built into these helmets. However, they were still incredibly heavy and not as strong as they should have been. Formula 1 then switched to making the helmets using fiberglass, which was much lighter and stronger than the steel helmets, and the high-density foam lining was also brought in.
Fiberglass helmets are still used today, mainly in junior single-seater racing, karting, and some closed cockpit cars. These helmets are much more affordable and slightly lighter than carbon fiber helmets, but they offer less protection against direct impact.
Are F1 Helmets Fireproof?
F1 helmets are fireproof, as it’s one of the main requirements they must adhere to. The helmets have to be put through intense testing to be approved for usage, being exposed to 709 degrees Celsius flames (1,454 degrees Fahrenheit), and being required to self-extinguish afterwards.
One of the requirements that Formula 1 helmets have is that they need to be fireproof. As we have seen in the past, there is a huge fire risk when it comes to Formula 1. From Romain Grosjean’s crash at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix to smaller incidents involving fuel and hot bodywork, there is always the risk of a fire.
Formula 1 helmets are put through thorough fire tests by the FIA before they are approved for use in the sport. During these tests, the helmet is exposed to flames at temperatures of 709 degrees Celsius (1,454 degrees Fahrenheit). The helmet must self-extinguish once the flames are removed.
This will ensure that the helmet does not remain on fire even if the driver is out of the car. The low flammability of the helmet is crucial because it can cause an extremely dangerous situation for drivers and marshals alike. The paint used on the helmet must not interfere with the helmet’s flammability.
In addition to the helmet, drivers have to use fireproof balaclavas whenever they are in the car. This protects their neck and face from any flames that might bypass the helmet and fireproof race suit, as we saw with Niki Lauda’s horrific crash at the Nurburgring in 1976.
Are F1 Helmets Bulletproof?
F1 helmets are only bulletproof against air rifles, as anything stronger will puncture through the helmet. The helmets are tested through rigorous firing tests. These firing tests consist of small metallic objects being shot at the helmets at extremely high speeds to simulate realistic debris.
Formula 1 helmets are incredibly strong, and they need to be able to withstand huge impacts while protecting the driver. The helmets are strong enough to stop a bullet from an air rifle However, anything stronger than that will cause damage to the helmet and could potentially penetrate the helmet.
The FIA has two ballistics tests that they conduct on Formula 1 helmets. This might not involve firing a sniper rifle at the helmet, but it does show that the helmets are strong enough to protect the driver against small metallic objects traveling at high speeds.
The first test is done against the shell of the helmet. A 225 gram (8 oz) metallic object is shot at the helmet at a speed of 155 mph (250 kph). The peak acceleration of the helmet must not exceed 275 G’s during this test.
The visor is also tested for ballistics protection. An air rifle is used to fire a 1.2 gram (0.04 oz) pellet directly at the visor. In order for the helmet to pass the test, the pellet must not penetrate the visor at all.
Why Are F1 Helmet Visors So Small?
F1 helmet visors are small as a means to protect the drivers, as prior incidents caused concern, such as Felipe Massa’s at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, with him getting struck in the exact location where the new carbon fiber strips are located. Visors are also now lower down on the helmet.
Formula 1 visors have gotten much smaller over the years. There’s an obvious difference between the size of the visors, even if you go back to the 2000s. This was done for good reason, and it was done as a direct result of incidents that we have seen happen since then.
The visors on Formula 1 helmets have been made smaller, and they have been moved lower on the helmet. In addition, an extra strip of carbon fiber has been added on top of the visor for extra protection against the driver’s forehead area.
Felipe Massa In 2009
Felipe Massa’s terrifying incident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying session triggered this move to gain traction. While driving at 155 mph (250 kph), Massa was struck by a large metal spring that came off the back of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car. The spring struck Massa’s helmet, right above the visor (where the new carbon fiber strips are placed).
Massa was knocked unconscious by the impact, and with his foot pinned to the floor, his car sped straight into the tire barriers. The pictures following the crash show how much damage the metal spring did to Massa’s helmet.
How Many Helmets Do F1 Drivers Use On A Race Weekend?
F1 drivers may use up to 3 helmets per race weekend. In some cases, the drivers can bring even more spare helmets to race weekends. This may seem like a lot, especially when each helmet costs more than $4,000, but drivers can use different helmets for different conditions.
For example, one helmet will have a clear visor (for rain or low light situations), and others might have darker tinted visors or even colored visors based on which the driver prefers to use.
Drivers will often switch between these helmets for different sessions. This is especially true when drivers race at venues in hotter climates, such as Singapore, for example. With all the effort expended in combination with the heat, the helmet can build up sweat and take a long time to dry. The spare helmets will be ready to go for the next session.
Another reason why drivers bring three helmets to each Grand Prix weekend is that they might need a backup helmet when one is damaged. Since Formula 1 cars offer no protection from the elements, helmets can easily become damaged by debris or even pebbles shot up from gravel traps. Safety is the top priority, so having a helmet that is in perfect condition is essential.
Formula 1 helmets are considered to be the strongest in motorsport. Made of 17 layers of carbon fiber with a foam inner liner, they’ve been put through rigorous tests before going out onto the race track, including tests to ensure they’re fireproof and will withstand massive impacts.