There was a time when a driver’s helmet was his coat of arms. The thing that identified him when one looked at the car. It was a way to engage with the fans. Real fans could instantly tell a Jabouille or a Tambay. A Villeneuve or a Pironi. The commercially minded sold space on their helmets but also marketed the helmet as a brand. You could buy helmets of your favourite drivers and build up collections, if that was your thing. You knew where you stood. Today there is an illogical trend that sees drivers changing their helmets from one race to the next. One weekend Vettel’s helmet is chocolate-coloured, the next it is in tribute to a footballer. I’m sorry, but I don’t get it. The drivers do not seem to be doing this for any commercial reason and it means that identifying them has become harder and harder, as the car numbers are still too small and the only way to do it today is with the yellow flash that differentiates the two cars. The sport is complicated enough for the casual and new viewer and constantly changing helmets means that they have no idea who is driving what. Does it make sense? Yes, I guess unique helmets can sell for a higher price, but by undermining the driver’s individuality this must be weakening brands because the helmets become irrelevant and useless in any sense of identification. Seeing a car and knowing the helmet instantly was always rather a nice thing, rather than seeing a car and thinking “Is that Bloggs or Sproggs?” I would understand the trend if it meant that drivers sold multiple helmet merchandise to fans who might want to have a Vettel collection or whatever, but they don’t seem to do that. Familiar helmet designs are valuable because – like stable team liveries – they make the sport simpler.
As a little test, look at the helmets below and see how many of them come instantly and how many require work. And what do you notice about that?