Red Bull helmet art in Indianapolis 04 Jul 2006
The days when safety was the only function of a racing drivers helmet are long gone. Todays helmets are no longer just protective head gear but are used by drivers to display their own personal style and by sponsors as mobile billboards.
To combine style and sponsorship on one helmet is a tricky business and in Indianapolis Red Bull thought it was about time they paid tribute to the art of the helmet, and showcased the work of 23 of the worlds best helmet designers.
Graham Hill in the early 1960s was the first driver to personalise his helmet. He chose a design which incorporated white arrows on a black background - the emblem of his beloved Cambridge rowing club. Jackie Stewart quickly followed Hills lead and designed a patriotic helmet inspired by the tartan of his Scottish clan. These early forays into helmet design remained a private matter and owed more to the drivers personal taste than the demands of a sponsor.
Niki Lauda became the first driver to recognise the commercial potential of helmet sponsorship when he emblazoned his trademark red helmet with the logo of a sponsor, Raiffeisenkasse. From this moment on drivers were keen to sell space on their helmets. Sponsorship driven design culminated with Mario Andrettis sponsorship coup in the 1980s. The Italian-American even persuaded the New York Stock Exchange to buy some space on his helmet.
This amateurish approach to design quickly began to dilute the value of helmet space and in the late 1980s Ayrton Senna decided to employ an artist to help him design his helmet. Senna teamed up with Sid Mosca and together they designed a helmet that incorporated sponsorship messages with the bright yellow and green of the Brazilian flag.
Designers were able to utilise the limited space on a helmet to greater effect and were, at the same time, able to incorporate the individuality of the driver into the helmets design. All drivers racing today wear specially commissioned helmets. Michael Schumacher - ever the family man - asked Germanys helmet whiz Jens Munser to put the names of his loved ones in Chinese letters on the four corners of his helmets windshield.
But it was down to Red Bull and its marketing machinery to push the design of helmets for their drivers to a new level. At the exhibition the Red Bull icon was shown in every possible variation stampeding around the helmets of the Red Bull drivers: in glitter, in high gloss and in silk finish. Now all that remains to be seen is whether those Red Bulls will stampede onto the podium again.