Helmet Design for Sebastian Vettel

Design for a Formula 1 race car helmet for Sebastian Vettel.
For the German Grand Prix at the Hockenheim Race track on July 22, 2018.

“Earlier this year Sebastian reached out and asked if was interested in designing a helmet for him. This seemed like a wonderful challenge. In order to come up with a truly personal solution though, I thought it was necessary to see him perform in real life. Luckily the final pre-season test was happening in Barcelona a few weeks later. I flew down from Berlin, and received envious looks from my fellow passengers when a young gentleman in a Ferrari Outfit picked me up at the Airport.”

“I haven’t been on a proper racetrack before. I expected to be most impressed by the architecture of the track and the grandstand, the mesmerising ballet of the pit stop crew I knew from TV and of course the sheer speed of the cars. It turned out that the most overwhelming and exciting sensation was something else: the sound. The different pitches of the engines — between roaring and shrieking—  make you feel like you’re hearing living creatures. Sebastian later told me that the cars actually used to be way louder when he started out, and that he distinctly remembers first going to a Formula 1 race and immediately being under a spell from the sound.”

“Britta Roeske, Sebastian’s PR Manager, welcomed me, filled me in on the rules and showed me around, all the way into what felt like the sport’s tightly guarded Sistine Chapel: Ferrari’s garage next to the race track. There was an army of technicians monitoring incoming data on computer screens and mechanics getting ready for the returning car. The intense mood radiated 50% hyper-professionalism and 50% pride and religious devotion to the spirit of Ferrari. Sebastian meanwhile was out on the track, doing laps — the final chance to do tweaks to the car before the start of the season.


In the afternoon I talked to Sebastian about the tension of a performance that is defined by testing the limits of a collaboration between a high end machine and a human being. The teams have armies of great engineers working within the confines of tight rules that limit the design of the engine and the car. The edge that superior technology provides you can be significant— and still tiny. Eventually I asked him about the deciding factor, that makes the difference between winning and losing: Driving skills? The biggest tolerance for (or ignorance of) risk?”


“Back at my studio in Berlin, I began turning what I had seen and learned into a fitting design for Sebastian. He had given me carte blanche, save for the narrow German flag that runs across each of his helmets —  a homage to his hero Michael Schumacher.”


“He said that what it comes down to, is the ability to focus. There’s all the technology, the competition, the mind games, the crowd. You win when you are able to cut through all that information and tune your mind to be one hundred percent in the moment of the race.”


“I enjoy having to deal with a fixed element as a starting point for a design. Instead of working around the flag, I picked it as a guiding visual principle. I began by visualising the sound and created concentric circles around the ears. Back from the neck a cluster of Black, Red and Yellow stripes climb up, weaving above and below each other. Then the mess is being simplified until the three colours run side by side straight across the top of the helmet. Finally the flag is condensed even further to one essential red line that leads across the visor to the front of the helmet.”


“I finalised the design by taping coloured paper to the shell of helmet. I drove to Jens Munser, the helmet whisperer Sebastian has been trusting for years to paint his helmets. He broke down my design into a dazzling web of masks, and layer by layer, the design came alive over the course of day.”


“The most glorious moment of the process was when we slowly removed the masking tape from the freshly painted helmet. I guess this was almost as exciting as the emotion you experience when roaring across the finish line for a win in front of 120,000 fans. Almost.”

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