From the early days of the soft shell helmets to today’s hard shell designs, the racing helmet has evolved to keep pace throughout history. 25% of racing accidents end in hospitalization — more than any other sport. However, only a small percentage is due to head injury, thanks to the advance of one tool — the helmet.
With new technology, lightweight materials and better designs, the way a helmet is made and the protection it offers has changed massively. With simple but incredibly effective advances, the chances of you walking away from an accident without a head injury now are far greater than ever before.
However it wasn’t always this way. When the first helmet came out in 1908, it was a leather hat, as time went on, the protection level of helmets developed. With full face being favored, materials such as Nomex and the adoption of visors changed the game. Plus, with more aerodynamic designs, plus lighter, stronger materials being used, things have only gotten safer.
As you watch in the video the development of the helmet is still ongoing. The head and neck safety, better known as the HANS device is a carbon fiber collar worn around the neck with the helmet loosely connected by two tethers. It allows for free movement of the head in normal operation but limits the amount of unrestrained movement the head and neck suffers in a crash. Yet this only became mandatory in Formula One in 2003.
After Felipe Massa’s crash in Hungary in 2009, helmet makers innovated to produce a ‘Zylon strip’ across the top of the visor to double the impact performance of the visor. Even with all of these developments over the years, head and neck trauma remains the greatest single injury risk to racing drivers. So always remember when at the track to wear your helmet!