Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Talking heads // A rational take on driver helmet changes

Published by Lukeh

F1 driver true colours

Formula 1 seems to be in a bit of a dodgy place right now. A lot of people are talking of crisis, the teams are looking to the future way ahead instead of trying to support those struggling in the current and the ongoing discussions of costs, changes and rules continues to jump back and forth as always. Yet what seems to have sparked quite a response as of late is the news that drivers will no longer be able to switch helmet designs from race to race during the season - a decision that is so supposedly minor for so many people yet has created a heck of a response.

I’m actually surprised at how much of a backlash this has caused. When you consider that people are getting annoyed at someone like Sebastian Vettel going between helmets within a single weekend, the wave of anger has turned towards the fact that the FIA seemingly has nothing better to do than to ban different helmets. There is no doubt that there are more important topics on the agenda but let’s actually step back a second and take a look at this.

No limit on creativity

Part of the reason that the helmets are being kept as a single design for a driver is to try and make ‘the show’ less confusing. I’ve been hearing that term a lot lately - ‘the show’. We have to keep in mind that, regardless of how much of a sport Formula 1 is, it is also a source of entertainment and must cater for all audiences and it is a show. Television rights and worldwide exposure to the sport means it shouldn’t be anything less to the promoters of the sport but this doesn’t mean it should reduce the competitive side of things. It may seem crazy to some of you but this decision seems much more for the hardcore as it at least gives some identity to the drivers instead of throwing an idea back and forth like it means nothing. Why should it mean nothing? It gives the driver much needed identity when it can be so tough to identify drivers if their helmets are different from the last race.

The argument I don’t understand at all is how this decision stifles the creativity of a driver and expressing who they are. This is an odd one to me. Don’t get me wrong - to use Vettel as an example again, he had some incredibly good designs and you can get the likes of Jenson Button who incorporated the Pink for Papa into his helmet last season - but there’s no reason why a driver can’t come up with a designer a fancy new design over the off season. There’s no limit on creativity here at all, just less occurrences of it but does that really matter in the grand scheme of things? Surely the creativity should be coming on track rather than on Photoshop with their design team.

There’s also a good sense of tradition to the idea of having a helmet design that follows you throughout the year and even throughout your career. The iconic strips of Ayrton Senna have followed his legacy even into the branding of the film Senna, whilst elsewhere the cap design of London Rowing Club has followed the Hill family through generations of drivers. Drivers will always come up with variations of their design and it’s a given that you’d see that flair change from time to time in the colours or look but at least with these drivers they stick to what has been part of their career and made something so instantly recognisable part of their career too.

A different chord

Perhaps I’m just an old Formula 1 fan who sees things like this with rose-tinted glasses. I’m not hugely interested in massive tyres, ground effects or sparks but this strikes a totally different chord with me. Traditions become traditions because they mean something and have a purpose that people want to repeat over time and this is a tradition that I’ve never understood when it comes to being such a meaningless concept to more modern drivers who swap left, right and centre. I’m all for meaningful flourishes of change but it’s akin to not wanting someone changing their profile picture every five minutes.

It's just the emotional frustration of wanting the FIA to do more than this

This isn’t just a desperate write up attempting to defend F1 either. At the moment F1 is in a pretty poor place and no one would argue against that regardless of how good the racing is. Last season had some fantastic races but we shouldn’t be seeing teams falling apart so quickly. Yet is it worth making such a fuss over what people regard as such a small decision?

I don’t think anyone will argue that the FIA and Formula 1 itself are at a crucial point in the long term future of the teams and sport itself, and that there are very important decisions to be made in these regards. I just think it’s a bit odd that it’s triggered such a negative response and whether that negative response is just the emotional frustration of wanting the FIA to do more than this or genuine annoyance at helmet design changes being less frequent. Rules revolutions are being rejected and smaller teams are being ignored - this is the stuff to be questioning the FIA over rather than helmets. There’s no need to act like this is the only thing they’re focusing on right now.

We’ll see if this rule sticks around anyways. I love the fact that you can associate the likes of Lauda, Senna, Mansell, Hill and so many more with what their helmet design is. I love the fact that you can create something that becomes part of who you are and represent yourself year after year. And I love the fact that it’s a tiny tradition that obviously still has it’s purpose regardless of rule changes happening all around the car. Whilst it’s much more of a brand these days in a media driven world a driver’s racing helmet is such a strong backbone for the identity of a driver that it just makes so much more sense in my eyes to just tell drivers to come up with something for them to stick with for the season. Plenty of people will agree, plenty will disagree and plenty will be indifferent. Let’s just not be so negative about it when it’s not the biggest decision in the world.