Motorsports is undeniably an extremely risky sport, with around 25% of professionals involved in accidents being hospitalised – the highest than any other major international sports.
A few improvements have been made over the course to reduce the impact of accidents towards racers. Apart from making compulsory changes to the design of the car itself to safeguard drivers, plenty of importance has been focused on the design and fabrication of racing helmets, in tandem with the continuous increase in power and speed of racing cars.
In this article, Malaysian international racer, Jazeman Jaafar explains his five unique features of a professional racing helmet.
1. Built from carbon fibre
Being the only protective layer of the head, the helmet’s main function is to protect the head from direct impact. At the same time, it needs to be light so that the driver does not feel the burden while racing, especially for long hours.
Therefore, carbon fibre is commonly used as it is a material that is known for its strength, durability, and lightweight properties.
F1 test with Mercedes AMG PETRONAS in 2015 (Picture courtesy of www.jazeman.com)
“It can also be combined with other materials to enforce a stronger protective layer. Besides that, carbon fibre helmets provide high levels of shock deflection, where the impact force is distributed equally across the surface rather than staying centralized to the impact area.”, said Jazeman, who is also the Director of Persona
2. Fireproof material
“In contrast to motorcycle disciplines, car disciplines require every helmet to be fireproof as the driver is restricted to a confined space, making it difficult for the driver to come out of the cabin.”, Jazeman added.
The fireproof material is in the inner lining of the helmet, commonly made of nylon or Nomex – a flame-resistant material. A race driver’s suit is usually fire-resistant as well, enabling drivers to withstand the heat and flames caused by an accident.
Jazeman also said that simple mechanisms such as the visor is designed with complex ideas and technologies with safety being the top priority. Racing helmet visors are usually fabricated using fire-resistant polycarbonate, a material known for its durable, shatterproof, and lightweight qualities.
Jazeman in the Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia 2019 (Picture courtesy of www.jazeman.com)
“Cars designed for high-speed racing are usually built with a low centre of gravity point, therefore placing the racers close to the surface of the road. This causes debris and other particles such as rocks to penetrate the cabin at high-speed, posing danger to the driver. The availability of a visor negates all of this and allows race drivers to concentrate on the race itself.”, Jazeman explained.
Some advanced visors are fitted with tints can adjust itself almost instantaneously to changes in the lighting conditions. Some visors have heating capabilities to prevent fogging in certain weather conditions.
One interesting technique applied by some helmet manufacturers is the addition of tin transparent plastic of tear-off layers – enabling drivers to tear off a worn-out layer to regain clear vision again.
4. Air vents
“Vents on the helmet are designed to allow a constant flow of cool, clean, and fresh air throughout the race. The vents are also the driver’s only source of fresh air. Therefore, plenty of engineering and design efforts have been put in place to equip these vents with filters which can filter out various dangerous particles such as brake dust and carbon, and motor oil splashes.”, Jazeman added.
5. Custom fit and design
Jazeman in 2005 during his karting days (Picture courtesy of www.jazeman.com)
“My design has been kept the same since my early days of Karting. Blue & Red are my favourite colours, and I wanted a design that was smooth but at the same time strike. The sharp ‘Arrow’ Feature on the side makes it easy to remember as well!”, expressed Jazeman when asked about his inspiration behind the custom-made helmet design.
The development of advanced digital tools such as Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and 3D modelling software has allowed helmet manufacturers to digitally measure and design the helmet to ensure a unique fit for every driver. This allows drivers to customise the appearance and fit of the helmet to their personal liking.
Recently, Persona and the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii) engaged to develop the Technology Transfer Apprenticeship Programme (TTAP), a human capital development programme designed to enhance automotive skills and knowledge of local talents through apprenticeships in the global motorsport scene.