At the topflight of motorsport, the drivers need top of the range safety equipment. Arguably the most important piece of that puzzle is the driver’s helmet. Their helmets have some truly amazing technology in them. But how much does a Formula 1 drivers helmet actually cost?
Formula 1 level safety helmets cost around $4000 each. However, over the course of a full season, a single driver will require 15 helmets, adding up to a total of $60,000.
The standard for these helmets is incredibly high, and they are designed to protect the driver against many different scenarios in the world of motorsport.
The Importance Of Helmets In F1
With Formula 1 cars being arguably the fastest racing series in the world, safety is absolutely crucial. As we have seen in the past, head injuries can be really severe, even at Formula 1 level with the right safety equipment.
In 2009, Felipe Massa was hit just above his visor by a 2-pound spring that came off the car in front of him. The 2-pound spring met the Ferrari driver, who was traveling at 160 MPH. The result is essentially the equivalent of a gunshot straight into the helmet.
Massa was unconscious with his foot stuck on the throttle pedal before his car even hit the barriers at the end of the straight. The result was an extremely violent injury, a concussion and Massa missed the rest of the 2009 Formula 1 season.
Accidents like these, as rare as they may be, cannot be overlooked. Since this incident, the FIA have required all Formula 1 spec helmets to include a carbon fibre strip that runs across the top of the driver’s visor.
The Cost Of An F1 Helmet
Formula 1 helmets are designed to the highest of standards with safety in mind. This of course, will skyrocket the actual cost of the helmet. A single Formula 1 level helmet from Arai costs around $4000.
Throughout the course of a season, the drivers will need to make use of multiple helmets, at least 15. This is because helmets do also wear, and it’s important to keep the safety at a maximum. Formula 1 drivers attend race weekends with at least 3 different helmets.
If one helmet is damaged or has a crack, they can use a second or third helmet. This is how seriously helmets are taken in Formula 1. The standard has been set extremely high. With a total of 15 helmets, drivers are looking at a cost of around $60,000 per season, just spent on helmets.
The Hidden Costs
The costs discussed are basically just for the plain shell of the helmet. There are extra costs involved in preparing the helmets for actual use around a track. The first of these is the inner padding, which is personalized to fit each driver individually.
Next is the visors. Most drivers use tinted visors which act as sunglasses on hot, sunny days. However, when it rains or they are attending a night race, drivers need to use clear visors for better vision.
The drivers also need to personalize their helmets based on what designs they prefer. Most drivers will have their own go-to graphic designers who have designed helmets for them for years. They will all charge different rates, but some might provide their services for free in return for some sponsorship space on the helmets.
The final stage is to paint the helmets. Some helmet designers also do painting. However, painting a helmet is a very delicate process, as it can be difficult to get the design right, but the painter also needs to apply a protective coating over the paint in order to keep the helmet strong.
The Technology In A Formula 1 Helmet
Being the top-flight of motorsport, there have been a lot of advancements made in the technology side of Formula 1 helmets. These helmets are much more advanced than your standard helmets that you would find down at your local bike dealership.
Firstly, the helmets need to connect to the team radio. Drivers are in constant communication with their teams at all times during the race and even the garage. At the push of a button, they can talk directly to their team on the pit wall. Their radios are crystal clear even over the incredibly loud engine noise.
Drivers need to keep hydrated throughout the race. Due to that, they have an intricate drinks system that feeds an electrolyte fuelled drink straight to them at the push of a button as well. There’s a complicated system behind it, however the helmet needs to have the drinks straw easy to access inside the helmet, and this has been carefully designed in order to keep the helmet strong and fully enclosed.
The Protection Offered
With the extreme high speeds that Formula 1 cars reach, there is also the risk of extreme impacts, be it from small or large objects, they can do severe damage to a helmet at high speeds. Formula 1 and the FIA are constantly testing and updating the safety regulations surrounding Formula 1 helmets.
As mentioned previously, the FIA introduced a carbon fibre strip over the driver’s visor shortly following the 2009 season. This innovation would later save Max Chilton’s life in the 2014 season. The FIA is constantly reviewing and improving the safety standards of helmets used in Formula 1.
In order for a helmet to be deemed safe to use in Formula 1, it needs to pass a series of tests set out by the FIA. The first of these tests is the fire test. During this test, the helmet needs to be exposed to flames reaching 1400 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 45 seconds. During this test, the inside of the helmet cannot measure higher than 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
This means that the helmet can resist extreme heat in the case of a fire, or an incident such as the one that Jos Verstappen experienced in the pit lane some years ago. The helmet must also self-extinguish once the flames are removed from it. The drivers head needs to be protected from the extreme heat in order for the helmet to pass the test.
The next test is the penetration test. In this test, a heavy, sharply pointed metal object is dropped onto the helmet from a height where it can reach a high speed, specifically 9.5 metres per second. In order to pass this test, the helmet needs to remain intact and show no signs of opening.
The next test is to ensure that the helmet will stay on during an impact. The helmet is fitted to a test dummy and is the pulled in the opposite direction by a force of 38kg. This tests whether the chin straps are strong enough to keep the helmet in place, or whether the helmet will fly off on impact.
The final test is the visor. Which is still a crucially important part of the helmet as we saw with the Felipe Massa incident of 2009. Small projectiles are fired at the helmet at a speed of 300 MPH. In order to pass this test, the indentations left in the visor can be no deeper than 2.5mm. They also test the visor using air rifles that fire a 1.2g pellet at the visor.
The latest update in helmet safety came as recent as 2019. The visor was set lower by 10mm, and although this does not seem significant, it means that the major impact area is now the shell rather than the visor itself.
Formula 1 requires intricate, complex and insanely high standards of helmets. This comes at an extreme cost of around $4000 each. Add on the extra small costs of painting the helmets and the technology that goes into it, you are probably looking at around $5000 each.
In addition to that, Formula 1 drivers are required to use at least 15 helmets throughout the course of the season in order to keep their helmets strong and safe to use. This adds up to an incredible cost that is incurred by the team.