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Red Bull helmet art in Indianapolis 04 Jul 2006

Formula One Grand Prix of USA, Red Bull Helmet Art, Saturday. Image shows Formula Unas with the helmets of Christian Klien (AUT/ Red Bull Racing), Vitantonio Liuzzi (ITA/ Scuderia Toro Rosso), test driver Robert Doornbos (NED/ Red Bull Racing), test driver Neel Jani (SUI) and Scott Speed (USA/ Scuderia Toro Rosso). © 2006 by Red Bull GmbH und GEPA pictures GmbH. Formula One Grand Prix of USA, Red Bull Helmet Art, Saturday. Image shows the helmet of Scott Speed (USA/ Scuderia Toro Rosso). © 2006 by Red Bull GmbH und GEPA pictures GmbH. Formula One Grand Prix of USA, Red Bull Helmet Art, Saturday. Image shows the helmet of David Coulthard (GBR/ Red Bull Racing). © 2006 by Red Bull GmbH und GEPA pictures GmbH. Formula One Grand Prix of USA, Red Bull Helmet Art, Saturday. Image shows Christian Klien (AUT/ Red Bull Racing) with his helmet. © 2006 by Red Bull GmbH und GEPA pictures GmbH. Formula One Grand Prix of USA, Red Bull Helmet Art, Saturday. Image shows Scott Speed (USA/ Scuderia Toro Rosso) with his helmet and the helmet of test driver Neel Jani (SUI/ Scuderia Toro Rosso). © 2006 by Red Bull GmbH und GEPA pictures GmbH.

The days when safety was the only function of a racing driver’s helmet are long gone. Today’s 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 world’s best helmet designers.

Graham Hill in the early 1960’s 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 Hill’s 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 driver’s 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 Andretti’s sponsorship coup in the 1980’s. 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 helmet’s design. All drivers racing today wear specially commissioned helmets. Michael Schumacher - ever the family man - asked Germany’s helmet whiz Jens Munser to put the names of his loved ones in Chinese letters on the four corners of his helmet’s 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.