March 22, 2023
An F1 Driver Is Not Alone in the Cockpit

An F1 Driver Is Not Alone in the Cockpit

He’s loaded with equipment, like a biometric sensor and fire-resistant overalls, to keep him safe, but please, no jewelry.

When a Formula 1 driver settles into his car, he is loaded with equipment. Most of it is required and designed under rules set by the F.I.A., the sport’s governing body — even their underwear.

Safety dictates much of the rules, especially fire protection. Overalls, balaclavas, gloves, socks and shoes must be flame resistant.

“Of course the drivers would like to drive in T-shirts, but that’s not possible,” said James Clark, head of sports marketing motorsport for Puma, which supplies Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo with clothing made of Nomex , a fire-resistant material.

Overalls must extend from the neck to the ankles and have shoulder straps for easy extrication. A big consideration is weight.

“As lightweight as possible,” Clark said. “Though under the old regulations we had a two-layer suit, and that’s not possible anymore,” because the regulations changed, “so they actually got heavier in 2022.”

Drivers have several suits available for each three-day Grand Prix weekend. “Someone like Lewis [Hamilton] gets more than Zhou [Guanyu] — it’s a personal preference,” Clark said, while in a humid climate such as Singapore, drivers will have five, one each for the practices, qualifying and the race.

At the end of the season, overalls are kept by teams; some, such as Ferrari, auction them for charity.

Underwear, however, is not a driver’s preference. Normal underwear is against regulations and must be made of fire-resistant material, like Nomex.

Racing boots are fairly standard, but the carbon insole will be designed specifically for a driver, depending on size and pedal feel. Drivers typically change boots every other race, but “Kimi [Raikkonen] took one pair for the whole year. We had to force him to change,” Clark said.

Gloves have also evolved. Recent introductions include a three-millimeter, or less than an inch, biometric device fitted inside the palm to monitor a driver’s condition, which is particularly useful in an accident. Their resistance to fire has also improved, credited with mitigating the extent of Romain Grosjean’s burns in his crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2020.

Clark recalled how Nico Rosberg “had these magenta gloves — and he asked me how much he could save if he didn’t dye them. We said, ‘No, that’s a step too far,’ because it would have been 1.5 grams,” or less than an ounce.

Safety is paramount. This year there has been strict enforcement of regulations prohibiting the wearing of jewelry, which the F.I.A. said could increase the risk of burns, among other dangers. That prompted a backlash from some drivers, particularly for those who are married or wore necklaces for religious reasons.

“If something bad was going to happen, I want to wear my wedding ring as it kind of feels bad to take it off,” Kevin Magnussen of Haas said. Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes had called the furor over jewelry “a little bit silly. ”

And, of course, the major piece of race gear are helmets, which have to meet F.I.A. standards for impact and energy absorption.

Bell Helmets, which supplies 12 of the 20 Formula 1 drivers, provides them with three helmets for each race weekend. Over a season, drivers may use as many as 25. Helmets can be reused, but “everything has to be as light as possible, so if there is a stone chip, we are not going to repair it and add weight — we’ll go and use a new helmet, ” said Stephane Cohen, chief executive of Racing Force, Bell’s parent company.

And, like with overalls, used helmets sometimes are auctioned for charity. A helmet Max Verstappen of Red Bull wore at the Austrian Grand Prix this year was auctioned, along with other items, for 250,000 euros, or about $243,000.

A basic carbon-fiber Formula 1 helmet can cost $5,000, but for Formula 1 drivers Bell scans each head for an ideal fit, meaning it can reach $15,000.

Bell must also consider visibility; Formula 1 races are held during the day, at night and at twilight, while weather conditions vary. It means there are different visors for different conditions, which can be affixed and removed midrace.

“Imagine driving on a partly wet racetrack under a cloudy sky, then the dry line,” where the track will look slightly different as it dries, “starts appearing. It is very important for the racing driver to clearly see with the highest possible level of contrast where the best lines are and how the track is evolving,” Cohen said. “It is a personal choice; some will prefer lighter, some will prefer a darker visor.”

Attached to the protective padding inside the helmet is a camera weighing 2.5 grams. It is at eye level and shoots video from a driver’s perspective.

“The purpose was to give to the viewer the exact view of what the racing driver sees through his helmet’s shield,” Cohen said. For example, he said, “some oil comes on the visor, we want the viewer to see it and to feel it.”

HANS (Head and Neck Support System), a device attached to the helmet that sits around the driver’s neck, has been required since 2003. It prevents the driver’s head from launching forwards in accidents, reducing the risk of head injuries.

When it comes to design, drivers are permitted to modify their helmet’s look, but even the paint they use must comply with F.I.A. standards. Some helmet liveries, such as the yellow of Ayrton Senna or red of Michael Schumacher, are associated with the driver.

“It’s the only bit a driver gets to customize and express themselves and have fun with,” said Lando Norris of McLaren . He recalled that one design “in Japan in 2019 that was hand painted” was among his favorites.

Specific creations are “part of the driver identity,” Carlos Sainz of Ferrari said. “I’m more old school, maybe you fine-tune a bit, but it should remain relatively consistent.”

Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo added that “it’s the only thing that is visually, personally.” His partner, the professional cyclist Tiffany Cromwell , has designed some of his helmets, including the neon-themed one he wore at the last race, the Japanese Grand Prix, as a tribute to Tokyo.

Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin adopted the colors of the Ukrainian flag this year in support of the country.

“The message,” he said, “is that obviously the whole world should be united and is united, I think, to fight war.”