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Author Topic: Helmets  (Read 2395 times)

Offline Wizzo

« on: April 23, 2006, 05:02:41 PM »

Various layers of carbon fibre provide the highest stability, the automatic tinting of the visor facilitates a perfect view, the individual adaptation to the shape of the driver’s head guarantees the best possible degree of comfort: helmets in Formula 1 are not only icons of safety and hi-tech, they also affect the aerodynamic performance of the race cars.

The times when Formula 1 drivers bought off-the-shelf helmets are long gone. Today, every helmet is a unique item, individually tailored to the respective driver at great effort and expense. The Braunschweig-based company Schubert Engineering, which supplies not only Michael Schumacher’s helmet but also equips the BMW WilliamsF1 Team drivers Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber, never forces a driver’s head into a standard-size helmet. Each helmet is built around the head in question – from the inside out. In the first stage, the driver's head is scanned to create a life-size model. Once the model has been completed, the next step is similar to how the ancient Egyptians worked on their mummies: the model head is wrapped, layer by layer, in hi-tech fibres.

Although an individually customised helmet is still pie in the sky for an average motorcyclist participating in road traffic, here too, the fit decides not only the comfort, but also the level of protection provided. “When purchasing a helmet, it is of the greatest importance to check the helmet’s fit – it should be neither too tight nor too loose,” Dr. Christoph Lauterwasser of the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) says. He goes on to recommend that, if possible, a helmet should be worn for 10 minutes as a trial before it is bought.

While a common motorcycle helmet is constructed in three layers – padding, inside and outside shell – a Formula 1 helmet has no fewer than 17 layers. The individual components are a jealously guarded secret – the specialists cannot be persuaded to disclose more than the three main substances: carbon fibre for rigidity, fireproof aramide and polyethylene, which is also used in the production of bullet-proof vests and is intended to make the helmet impenetrable. Added to these are aluminium, magnesium and, as a binding agent, epoxy resin. In Formula 1, the saying goes “what is good for a monocoque also makes good clothing”. The carbon fibre compounds (CFC) used mean that the helmets are extremely lightweight at about 1.25kg, but can also withstand considerable punishment. The advantages of a light helmet are clear – it serves to reduce the strain on the driver’s neck muscles, especially in track sections with high G forces.

During the production of a helmet, 120 carbon fibre mats are glued together. After that, the helmet is off into the autoclave, where the individual layers are bonded to one another and hardened under high pressure and at a constant temperature of 132°C. Parts subject to exceptional loads, such as the underside and the visor cut-out, are additionally reinforced using aluminium and titanium. The interior padding consists of two layers of fireproof Nomex. The ventilation system is designed to allow up to five litres of fresh air to flow into the helmet’s interior. A filter cleans the air of the finest motor oil, carbon and brake dust particles. A radio in the chin area provides the means for communication with the pit. Thanks to a tremendous research and development effort, the noise level inside the helmets has been reduced to below 100 decibels.

A good view even in the most difficult situations is vital for the drivers. This is provided by the helmet’s 3mm thick visor. It is made from fireproof polycarbonate and its inside is extremely easy on the eye. The tinting adjusts within fractions of a second – similar to some sunglasses, only much faster. For instance, at the tunnel entrance in Monaco, the visor brightens up, darkening again in a split second at the tunnel exit, so that the drivers are not blinded.
Despite Formula 1 taking a break over winter, the visor is heated. Before the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) grants its approval for a helmet, it has to pass a number of different crash tests. During the so-called ‘penetration test’ a 3kg, pointed metal object is dropped from a height of three metres onto the helmet, which must remain unruptured. The helmet's secure fit is also tested. Subjected to a load of 38kg, the chin strap may not stretch by more than 30mm. The visor is bombarded with projectiles travelling at approximately 500km/h. The points of impact may be no deeper than 2.5mm.

Last but not least, the helmet is subjected to an 800°C flame for 45 seconds in the fire test. During this time, temperatures inside the helmet may not exceed 70°C. Although the service life of a Formula 1 helmet is close to unlimited, manufacturers and teams take no chances: at every grand prix, they have two extra helmets on stand by.

And did you know...

... that every single thread in the T 800 high-performance fibre used in Formula 1 helmets consists of about 12,000 microthreads? Each one of these microthreads is 15 times thinner than a single human hair. The total length of all the threads processed in one helmet is approximately 16,000km.
« Last Edit: April 23, 2006, 05:07:58 PM by f1wizard »

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