Geneva, Switzerland - If you’ve ever wondered just how tough a Formula One crash helmet has to be, you’re about to find out; the International Automobile Federation has just released a new helmet standard that will be mandatory for F1 from the 2019 season and in other disciplines soon after.
It’s worth noting that this is a car-racing helmet; it’s not legal for motorcycles, either on the street or the track, because the visor aperture is too small to permit the required field of vision. I was given a Bell XFM-1 Formula One helmet as a gift in the early 1980s but I only wore it a couple of times because I found it utterly claustrophobic - I even had to move my head to check the bike’s mirrors.
In total contrast, FIA safety director Laurent Mekies said at the reveal that the top of the new helmet’s visor opening had been lowered by 10mm to provide ballistic protection for "unprecedented levels of safety during impact from debris" - presumably in reaction, along with the ‘halo’ protective bar, to the injuries suffered by Felipe Massa and Henry Surtees.
The new standard specification was developed in collaboration with helmet makers Stilo, Bell, Schubert and Arai; the demo helmet in the pictures was made by Bell Racing in Italy.
Its outer shell is moulded using advanced composite materials, including carbon fibre and Kevlar, to ensure resistance to crushing and penetration, while the crushable inner shell is Styrofoam with a flameproof fabric lining, and is designed to deform under impact, thus absorbing forces that would otherwise be carried over to the wearer’s head.
Under the new FIA standard 8860-2018:
The helmet must withstand an impact at six metres per second, with peak deceleration on the driver’s head of no more than 200G, and at 9.5 metres per second with no more than 275G imparted to the head.
The chin guard is hit with a mechanical hammer at 5.5 metres per second; peak deceleration shall not exceed 275G.
Then they shoot a 225g metal projectile at the helmet at 250km/h - and once again the peak deceleration mustn’t exceed 275G.
A 10kg weight is dropped 5.1 metres onto helmet and the transmitted force mustn’t exceed 10 kilo Newtons, while a four-kilo impactor dropped onto helmet at 7.7 m/s must not penetrate the outer shell.
An air rifle fires a 1.2 gram pellet at the visor - and the pellet may not penetrate to the inside of the helmet.
All the attachment points are checked for mechanical strength, the surface is checked for uniformity to minimise friction and finally, the helmet exposed to a 790 degree flame - and it must stop burning immediately the flame is removed.