Class of 2011: The Helmets

April 4, 2011

Each year, once the teams’ liveries have been rounded up, I’ve meant to do a post about the drivers’ helmets as well, and never got around to it. Well, SHOCK HORROR: for 2011, I’ve finally done it.

I’m not as into helmet liveries as I am those of the cars, but nevertheless, I think there’s a fair amount of interest to be found in paying attention to the changing trends, and to the habits that some drivers have of switching designs frequently, or using one-off paint jobs, and so on. Personally, I think helmet designs were at their best between around the 1980s and late 1990s – during that time, just about every driver had a distinctive yet usually simple design. The patterns would be large, and easily¬†reproducible¬†– in comparison to helmet designs in other sports (such as superbikes), they were never needlessly complex or detailed. This meant that there were a wealth of classic and memorable designs (and at some point, I’ll get around to doing another feature on some of my favourites from this era and beyond).

Since the turn of the century, however, there’s been more of a shift in fashion towards more elaborate and complex designs – helmets that look terrific in close-up, but from a distance are far less distinguishable against the backdrop of a car. There’s also tended to be a bit less reliance on national identity (in the past, an especially high percentage of drivers’ helmets would be based around their national flag), and a lot of drivers are far less concerned about having a single branded image following them through their career – instead changing their design at the drop of a hat, to please either the demands of teams/sponsors or simply their own whims. It’s an idea that surely seems anathema to fans of the likes of Senna, Hill or Mansell.

Among the 2011 helmets, there are a number of these more “modern” designs – but pleasingly, a number of drivers do still have what I’d call “classic”-style paint jobs, some of them among the more recent additions to the sport. So let’s have a closer look at them all…

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New Lids

January 24, 2007

The new Renault launch is later today, and I’ll be covering that from 1pm GMT, with news of whether or not we actually get to see their eagerly-anticipated new livery.

In the meantime, though, it’s worth noting that both the main title contenders for this year have got new helmets to go with their new teams. Alonso, predictably enough, has removed the Mild Seven colouring from his lid with his switch to McLaren, but it’s disappointing that almost all traces of red and yellow have gone as well – the “Spanish flag surrounded by blue” had certainly become a signature look for him, and replacing it with the colours of his car means that he just ends up looking like a corporate slave to the team. Or, looking at that picture, Takuma Sato.

Kimi, meanwhile, had already ditched his trademark blue in 2006 to fit in with McLaren a bit more, so his new Ferrari design is more of an evolution of that, with more white on it. It’s a nice clean design, although it seems to me more than a little reminiscent of someone else who once drove for Ferrari

I don’t know, though. Gone, it seems, are the days when each and every driver would have a distinctive design that they’d stick with throughout their career, no matter how it clashed with their current car. Great helmets – Senna, Hill, Mansell, etc. – can be just as effective and identifiable as a great livery, and it’s a real shame that so many drivers now feel the need to change their design from year to year based on what colour car they happen to be sitting in…