A new rule is set to prevent drivers from making in-season changes to their helmet designs.
The would bring an end to special lid designs that have graced the Formula 1 grid for the past decade – or virtually ever weekend, in the case of Sebastian Vettel!
There are arguments for and against the rule change. Those aligned with the FIA’s stance would rightly argue that keeping the same helmet design is a mark of respect for Formula 1 fans as well as a good branding exercise for the drivers whose helmets are – inasmuch – another version of their individuality.
Those against the change would argue that one-off designs are a means for drivers to have a form of expressing their individuality in a PR and sponsor-driven environment. For the likes of someone like Vettel, his constant helmet design changes are almost akin to his own ‘signature’, as much as it may offend F1 purists.
So as we bid farewell to one-off designs, here are (in no particular order) ten of our favourites:
Gerhard Berger, 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix
Casting back through history and ignoring the odd ‘borrowed helmet’ incident, former Grand Prix driver Gerhard Berger’s effort at the 1995 Portuguese Grand Prix probably marks the first time where a one-off helmet design was debuted.
The Ferrari veteran sported a scheme dubbed ‘No More War’ and its aim was to both raise money for charity and promote world peace.
Looking back at a design which is almost twenty years old, it clearly lacks the creativity of today’s computer-generated efforts where the costs run into the thousands.
But that’s hardly the point. The beauty of this design was in its spirit, and for that alone, it deserves its place on our countdown.
Kamui Kobayashi, 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix
Sauber driver Kamui Kobayashi used the swansong race of the 2011 Formula 1 season to wear a special helmet livery designed exclusively by Joe Hahn, producer a member of the Linkin Park rock band.
The idea was born from a meeting between Kobayashi and Hahn during that year’s Singapore Grand Prix, where the band were invited by the Japanese driver’s sponsor, the Good Smile Company, which was collaborating with the Music For Relief charity founded by Linkin Park to raise money for disaster victims.
Through Linkin Park’s efforts, the charity had raised and donated over $700,000 in disaster relief funding to victims of the earthquake and tsunami that had struck Japan’s Fukushima region earlier that year that led to almost 16,000 deaths in Kobayashi’s homeland.
Hahn offered to personally design one of Kobayashi’s Arai-made helmets, and the design was subsequently put up for auction after the São Paulo race, raising US$19,000.
Vitantonio Liuzzi, 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix
Kobayashi wasn’t the only driver on the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix grid sporting a unique helmet design: another cool concept was developed by HRTF1 pilot Vitantonio Liuzzi.
In partnership with Kaos Design’s ‘Lucky’ Gianluca Croci, the Italian had experimented with a number of one-off helmet designs during the season, but his season-ending effort was undoubtedly the most striking.
Dubbed the ‘K-Writeme’, this lid was completely different to anything seen before – or since – in Formula 1. The outer layer was cast entirely in a material similar to a blackboard, which meant that Liuzzi was free to draw whatever he wanted on the helmet over the course of the Grand Prix weekend until he was satisfied with the final look.
“When Lucky told me his idea for this last special edition I loved it. The possibility of customizing your helmet how you want is something that has never been seen before in Formula 1 and something that I thought was quite fun to finish the season off. I just feel bad about ruining it with my drawings!” Liuzzi said after seeing the helmet for the first time.
Sebastian Vettel, 2013 Monaco Grand Prix
The king of constant helmet design changes is predictably going to feature a few times in this countdown.
Vettel’s fascination with helmet designs began during his pre-teen karting days, and since a young age he has continued to collaborate with helmet designer Jens Munser, who can be credited with almost all of the (at least) 90 different helmet schemes the German has raced with to-date.
Helmet manufacturer Arai has confirmed Vettel ‘retires’ a helmet design after a race win, however he does not need to win in order to sport a new design, and will sometimes rotate between multiple designs over an entire Grand Prix weekend.
Some of the designs have been subtle variations on a theme, while his more memorable are true one-offs.
One of our favourites came during the 2013 Monaco Grand Prix, where he donned a predominantly cream-coloured helmet which displayed a cartoon of a curvaceous swimsuit-clad lady wearing just a black swimsuit. The swimsuit paint was designed to turn translucent when the helmet reached a certain temperature, leaving just a pair of stars for the lady’s modesty!
The top of the helmet paid tribute to Sir Stirling Moss’ victory at the same circuit in 1961, featuring a collage of black-and-white photos of the Englishman’s drive to victory in the grossly underpowered Lotus 18 Climax.
Fernando Alonso, 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
The curtain-closing Grand Prix of the 2014 season marked the point where – finally – it was confirmed that Fernando Alonso would leave the Ferrari team, with whom he’d chalked up 11 wins and 44 podium finishes over 96 races with the Scuderia.
Aside from a rather hideous McLaren-inspired colour scheme during his sole season with the team in 2007, Alonso has traditionally run a blue, red and yellow helmet design to reflect his Spanish heritage.
He broke from that tradition when the curtain was brought down on his Ferrari chapter, donning a special helmet design to commemorate his time with the team.
Sporting the Italian tricolore from its flag down the middle, the left side of the helmet featured a celebratory photo of the team, while the right side was painted in matte black and featured the signature of every member of the team.
It was, without doubt, a beautiful and thoughtful touch.
Kimi Räikkönen, 2012 Monaco Grand Prix
Kimi Räikkönen cuts a unique figure in today’s Formula 1 paddock. One of the first drivers to openly sport a tattoo in his early racing years in F1, the Finn has earned a reputation for doing things his way.
An idol of his was the late 1976 World Champion, James Hunt, a driver famous for his own indiscreet antics during the drink and drugs heyday of the 1970s: the Englishman famously wore a ‘Sex: Breakfast of Champions!’ badge on his racing overalls when he started out in F1.
“My life would definitely have been much easier in the 1970s. I was definitely born in the wrong era,” Räikkönen once quipped.
During the 2007 pre-season, Räikkönen entered a snowmobile race in Finland under the pseudonym ‘James Hunt’, winning the race by over two minutes. Later in the year, he and two friends dressed in gorilla suits and entered a powerboat race (again as ‘James Hunt’) in the Finnish harbour city of Hanko!
With the Monaco Grand Prix being the unofficial ‘home’ of one-off helmet designs (and the playboy lifestyle), Räikkönen decided to don a helmet design mirroring that used by his idol for the 2012 race.
He added a ‘James Hunt: 1976 World Champion’ decal to the top of his helmet design for the 2013 race. Unfortunately and rather typically of Formula One Management’s obsession with copyrighting, they deemed that decal in breach of the TV broadcasting rules and instructed him to cover it up. Kimi, quite rightly, refused.
Nico Rosberg, 2014 German Grand Prix
Another example of bureaucracy going mad came at the 2014 German Grand Prix, when Nico Rosberg decided to patriotically commemorate Germany’s victory at the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a commemorative helmet design.
Fresh from marrying his fiancée and announcing a multi-year contract extension with Mercedes, Rosberg posted a picture on his Twitter feed of the custom helmet design he would run at his home race. The striking black-and-gold design featured the World Cup trophy, the German flag and four stars – one for each World Cup victory by Germany (or West Germany, in its pre-partition guise).
However, the FIFA statutes strictly forbid the use of images of the World Cup trophy, and as such Rosberg was forced to change the design ahead of the Grand Prix weekend to remove the seemingly offensive prize.
“Any unauthorised use of the official marks not only undermines the integrity of the FIFA World Cup and its marketing programme, but also puts the interests of the worldwide football community at stake,” FIFA said in a statement – blatantly ignoring its own hypocrisy at a time when its most senior officials were surrounded by allegations of accepting bribes to vote favourably for Qatar’s bid to host the Finals in 2022.
Rosberg rebuffed the controversy by claiming a comfortable lights-to-flag victory on home soil.
Sebastian Vettel, 2013 Stratos design
For a man whose many claims to fame include being a four-time World Champion and serial helmet changer, it is no surprise to see the German make another appearance on this countdown.
It was estimated that Vettel had used 76 different helmet designs over the course of his career up to the end of the 2013 season, but one of our favourites came at the start of that year.
Painted in the style of an astronaut, the helmet was a nod to the achievements of Felix Baumgartner, who made a world record skydive of an estimated 39 kilometres in the Red Bull Stratos helium balloon in October 2012.
The Austrian dangerman set the altitude records for the highest altitude manned balloon flight, the highest altitude parachute jump and the fastest free-fall velocity ever, reaching an estimated 1,357.64 km/h (843.6 mph), or Mach 1.25 on his descent.
Jenson Button, 2014 ‘Papa Smurf’ helmet
The sudden death of Jenson Button’s father, John, from a heart attack during the 2014 Formula 1 pre-season shocked the motorsport community.
The 70-year-old was an ever-present, although largely unobtrusive figure in the background, attending virtually every one of the 251 Grands Prix his son had contested up to that point.
When Jenson finally broke through to claim a long-awaited maiden victory at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix, one of the first to be embraced was his father John, whose pink dress shirt was quickly soaked in champagne.
The pink shirt became something of a superstitious tradition on each race day, and as Jenson’s profile soared, so did John’s, particularly during his son’s 2009 Drivers’ Championship win in 2009 with Brawn GP.
The 2014 British Grand Prix marked the first time that Jenson would not have his dad by his side at his home Grand Prix – a race where Button had never finished on the podium – and he fittingly chose to mark the occasion with a special pink helmet design that he ultimately landed up wearing for the rest of the season. Printed on the back was an image of the Papa Smurf cartoon character, reflecting the nickname he affectionately gave to his Dad.
Sebastian Vettel, 2011 Monaco Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel’s domination of the 2011 season – where he won eleven of the year’s nineteen races – meant that he was changing to new helmet designs almost as often as Lady Gaga changes her outfits.
There were a couple of stand-out designs used over the course of that season but undoubtedly the best came at the customary venue for one-off and tribute designs: Monaco.
The German is rather unique among his peers in possessing an enthusiastic and well-read knowledge of Formula 1 history, so it was a delight to see his Monte Carlo lid reflect that with a beautiful collage of past Monaco Grand Prix posters throughout the classic event’s history.
Images via Fernando Alonso, Flickr, GoodSmile, Grand Prix Games, McLaren, Red Bull Racing, Sutton Images, XPB Images