Formula Helmet

“Formula Helmet: The Glorious Years of Formula 1 Helmets 1969-99”: book reviewed

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A brand new, limited edition coffee table book – Formula Helmet – chronicles 18 Formula 1 drivers between 1969 and 1999 by examining their helmet designs and offering facts, anecdotes and background behind the designs and the drivers who wore them.

I’ve always adored helmets and, in truth, they were what first attracted me to motorsport. My earliest F1 t-shirts were of individual or whole field helmet designs and, like many connoisseurs, I’ve not been thrilled by the move to overly busy designs in recent years.

Unwrapping Formula Helmet from its packaging was the most excited I’ve been about a book in some time, and well… I don’t know.

On the plus side, it features endless gratuitous, luscious shots of F1 driver helmets from the 1970s-1990s, together with interviews and insights from helmet manufacturers, livery designers and drivers. Open the book on any given page and, provided you’re a fan of motorsport helmets – and not, say, lawn bowls – there will be something to enjoy.

The problem is that the book just doesn’t fit together as a whole – frustratingly teasing a few directions that, if followed through, could have been far more satisfying. For example, an encyclopaedia of driver lids from that era would have been superb, organised by year or manufacturer.

Likewise, a structure akin to John Devlin’s hypnotic “International Football Kits”, showing the evolution of the main drivers’ helmet designs year on year would have also been deeply enjoyable. This is partially done for a handful of drivers, but again not sufficiently followed through to be comprehensive.

Instead, there is a bit of everything thrown in – some decade summary pages, nods to the different manufacturers, highlighting key rivalries, but none of it exhaustive. The text, which is presented in both English and French, is at times frustratingly vague – for example a Francois Cevert helmet captioned ‘Watkins Glen 1973’ is shown, but nowhere is the deeply poignant context and history definitively explained.

I wanted to love this book so much, and there is lots to enjoy, but the inability to comprehensively execute any of the many ideas presented left me wanting so much more. There is a fantastic coffee table book about F1 helmets to be produced, but sadly Formula Helmet isn’t quite it.

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RaceFans rating

Rating three out of five

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Author: Bruno Bayol
Publisher: Red Runner
Published: 2022
Pages: 288
Price: £115.00

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Ben Evans
Motorsport commentator Ben is RaceFans' resident bookworm. Look out for his verdict on the latest motor racing publications on Sundays....

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  • 22 comments on ““Formula Helmet: The Glorious Years of Formula 1 Helmets 1969-99”: book reviewed”

    1. Sounds a bit like a missed opportunity and for the price, no thanks…

      1. Jeffrey Powell
        17th April 2022, 15:32

        I can’t afford this book so can someone who can explain why the glorious years are 1969 -99 ,is it because the full face helmet became most used from 69 onwards , I cannot see why that period is more glorious than the preceding 20 years , I suppose Jim Clark’s helmet was pretty boring but then so was Jochen Rindts ,is the 1970 WDC Helmet in the book only one of you can tell me.

    2. playstation361
      17th April 2022, 14:35

      Nice to see so many books coming about this sport in the market.

    3. I am going to rant a bit now OK.

      It annoys me that drivers get to wear different helmet designs.
      I can understand why they want too – but from a spectators perspective it is just annoying.

      I work in security and I can tell you from personal experience that the worst – WORST – sport for connecting to the athlete is F1.
      The only part of these guys that you can see is their helmet as it flashes past at an insane speed and if they all change their headgear each race then it just becomes a pointless joke trying to know who the hell is who!

      My wish?
      Each driver picks a base colour and number and then sticks whatever personal guff they are into today on their lid for this particular race.
      I am so tired of watching fast cars go by you would not believe it.

      1. Jose Lopes da Silva
        17th April 2022, 18:08

        It’s a bygone era. We can’t see the helmets in the TV anymore.
        I’m still waiting for the teams and the Regulators to make the halo in different colors for the drivers in the same team.

    4. Comment section impromptu poll!
      Top 3 most iconic formula 1 helmets in your opinion.
      For me:
      Senna
      Stewart
      Prost
      Share your views formula 1 fans!

      1. @pmccarthy_is_a_legend

        Graham Hill
        Damon Hill

        …erm…

        …Phil Hill?

      2. @pmccarthy_is_a_legend – nice one! Mine are:
        1- G. Hill
        2- A. Senna
        3- E. Fittipaldi

        1. @niefer ooo Hill and Emo, good ones 🙂

      3. @pmccarthy_is_a_legend Jacques & Gilles both had very striking / cool designs. I believe Schumacher was the first to introduce that squares with stars in the corners on the dome design, which was later copied by loads of people (including me).

        I liked Frentzen, and Alesi’s (even the chrome one).

        It’s a pity, because this is the kind of book I think would’ve loved, the history of the designs (Jean Alesi / Elio de Angelis as an example) and what they achieved in them. But more than a hundred pounds for a book is just a little silly for me.

        1. Jack (@jackisthestig)
          19th April 2022, 0:27

          On the subject of JV’s helmet, there’s a picture of a very young Jacques sat in his father’s car with Gilles and his mother Jean stood beside. She is wearing a striped shirt which is an exact match of the colour scheme of Jacques’ helmet. The thing is he first saw that picture years after he came up with that design and he had no conscious recollection of his mother’s shirt.

      4. Ronnie Peterson for me. Also like the Hills’ one and Hunt’s design.

      5. Just from memory (which isn’t what it was):-

        1. Mansell (Could be a little biased, and about as busy I’d go)
        2. Hill (not so much because of the design per se, but for it’s simplicity and recognisability)
        3. Vettel – basic version. (Yes I know it’s arguably similar to a Schumacher design, and if I am honest Seb has never been a driver I like a great deal, but again it is simple and recognisable).

        1. P.S. Looking at some of the others you guys have listed there are some great ones. Some I had forgotten, whilst others I arguably never really properly knew (even though I may have seen them). However I love that most of these designs merely evolved rather than changed.

          I get that drivers like to be able to express themselves through their helmets, but think about a poll like this in a 20 years time. A large number of respondents would be choosing from particular seasons, or even particular races (assuming they remember all the changes).

          1. @cairnsfella I like Vettel’s design of all the current F1 drivers more so at the moment with the Ukraine flag (I liked his Bernd Schneider tribute one also).

            It’s a problem I find with any Red Bull backed drivers that I can’t tell them apart, if you laid out everyone from Vergne, Buemi, Alguersuari, Albon, Hartley, Gasly etc I wouldn’t have a clue whose was whose. Mark Webber’s is probably the only one I’d recognise.

            1. You reminded me that I didn’t mind Coulthard’s helmet either. Not the best, but nicely identifiable.

      6. I’d swap Prost for Gilles Villeneuve

    5. This is a book I would have to loved to have bought, as I too am an obsessive about how good racing helmets used to look.

      For £115 though. Nah. Big oooof, as the kids say. Would have to be pretty bloody comprehensive for that price.

    6. Hi Ben Evans. I am the editor of the book. I want to thank you for your honest review and I admit you’re right about something: the book is not exhaustive, I understand it can be very frustrating.

      The story of the helmets is a very special subject, because we can talk about a lot of things. The first version of the book was only 250 pages long, but I wanted to add more interviews, more pictures… When we reached 288 pages, I realised that we could write much more, but then the price of the book would have been much higher, and the reading would probably have been boring for the readers. About the price, as you’ve seen it, we use very high quality materials, and by the way we an international award with this book.

      I also add that we worked with the 3 greatest helmet painters of that era, they all agreed on everything in the book, we made all the modifications they suggested. Several F1 team managers congratulated us for it, as Peter Windsor who made a nice video about it on his channel.
      About François Cevert, as for several other parts, we didn’t want to publish horrible pictures, it was not the point. We insisted on human stories (Villeneuve, Hakkinen, Andretti told us very nice stories), and it’s also the case for the Cevert / Beltoise family.
      One last thing I fully admit: there’s a lot of “easter eggs” hidden in the project, we push the reader to look for them and to take a break on some pages.

      Anyway, I respect your opinion, it’s just the first time we have a review like this so I wanted to express my opinion too and explain why we did things like this.

      You may have noticed that we’re thinking about writing the next episode: 2000 – today. Helmets today are of course much more complicated, not everyone likes them, but there are real nice stories to be told.
      That’s what I learnt while doing this book, it’s not only about helmets, but about the people who do / wear them.
      For me, as an F1 enthusiast, it’s an original way to rediscover F1, but I admit it’s a acquired taste !

    7. As someone who started to follow F1 in late 1970s, I identified drivers with their helmets and I miss it a lot now. I actually made a web page for myself tracing helmets for notable drivers in roughly the same era as the book (50’s and early 60’s were mostly brown helmets and drivers did not consider them as knights their coats of arms, and post 2000 drivers got “artistic”) and I eventually realized that what I appreciate most is the possibility to see developments of helmets for individual drivers. I can therefore sympathise with the reviewer’s longing for this feature being done properly.
      Also seeing drivers in a given seasons by their helmets is nice, but looking at seasons in this way did not bring any insight to me.
      By the way, for years I have been seeing a guy close to my place commuting daily to work on a small Vespa, in business suit in summer, wearing Alessi helmet. Always brings a smile to my face.

    8. Ironic how the author accuses the book of being “frustratingly vague”, citing a Francois Cevert helmet captioned ‘Watkins Glen 1973’ as an example… Only to leave me wondering what happened at Watkins Glen in 1973.

      So if you, like me, are not a two-legged F1 encyclopedia: Cevert died in a crash during quali. In this context, “Watkins Glen ’73” is a reference to the grand prix, not the legendary rock festival.

    9. Ah sorry I forgot to add something in my message, and this is an answer to Ben Evans. The author Bruno Bayol has a fantastic knowledge of helmets, that’s what started our project be cause I was impressed by his website:
      http://formulahelmet.com/

      We know that several painters use it as a reference for some of their works. Of course it was pointless to do the same in the book. :-) Anyway, if someone has questions about it, don’t hesitate I’ll answer them.

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