Giovanna Amati: 'Once the helmet was on, I felt I was treated equally'


Giovanna Amati says it was only once she put her crash helmet on that she felt freed from the prejudice towards women in motor sport

Giovanna Amati Brabham Kyalami South African GP Kyalami

Giovanna Amati struggled to find a well fitting lid - until she spotted the custom Alan McNish model

Paul Henri-Cahier

Giovanna Amati says it was only once she put her signature crash helmet on that she felt freed from the prejudice that was then often directed towards women in motor sport, and could finally compete on equal terms.

Amati, the fifth woman to ever race in Formula 1, made three attempts to pre-qualify for Brabham during the 1992 season, at South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, failing to make it through each time. It was the last time a woman has been entered in a grand prix weekend.

Prior to her F1 efforts, it took Amati quite a while to find the a crash helmet that fitted her. When she did though, after spying a certain small-headed Scotsman in F3000, she felt liberated…

In the excerpt from new book Formula Helmet below, Amati recounts these stories and more. Featuring interviews from 18 F1 drivers, the book tells the story of the championship between 1969 and 1999 through the perspective of the crash helmets, accompanied by stunning photography and interviews with some of the designers.


“I first knew Bell when I was riding a motorbike. I liked their helmet because it offered good vision and perfect support. Other brands like AGV, Bieffe or Shoei contacted me, but I didn’t like their helmets. They were too large and because of the air flow, my head moved inside them. Compared to men, I have a small head.

“In Formula 3000, I noticed that Allan McNish had a Bell XFM-1 smaller than the others. I asked him how he got it. He was the only driver in the world to have a head as small as mine! Bell made him a smaller shell. They sold me the same helmet. Even if it was heavy, it was perfectly adjusted for me.

Scottish formula 1 driver Allan McNish watches the results in his Toyota which will compete this year during the F1 world championship 09 January 2002, at a private practice session in Montmello circuit of Catalunya. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOPHE SIMON (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

It was upon spotting the small-headed McNish that Amatti found the perfect lid


“Concerning my decoration, I copied the design from another driver and used colours I like: blue and green. They represent sky and earth, two elements that meet. I like sobriety and simple things.

“I used to prepare my helmet, visor and tear-offs two hours before the start of a race. After that I stayed with it because I didn’t like people to touch it.

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“I liked to put it on because it was the moment when I became a driver with the same identity as others on track, on equal terms, and not like a woman.

“During a race for the Ferrari Challenge in Brno, my baggage never made it. I had to use Nicola Larini’s helmet and suit. During the practice session, I never drove so badly because of the helmet that was moving and the suit that didn’t suit me!

“I think that helmets nowadays are too much “Carnival” style. I don’t like this fashion of mixed colours. It’s not easy to recognize drivers. Besides, the small numbers and the halo don’t help. And there are too many changes during the season. One has to have personality and one’s own colours!”


Formula Helmet

Bruno Bayol

Buy now


Formula Helmet by Bruno Bayol examines the fascinating history of the F1 driver’s crash helmet, with particular focus on closed face designs from 1969 to 1999. As well as providing a history and development of brands such as Arai, Bell and GPA, the book features captivating driver accounts of how their helmet designs came to be and when they needed them most.

Three-time world champion and safety pioneer Jackie Stewart provides a heartfelt forward, whilst stories from Mario Andretti, Mika Häkkinen and Jacques Villeneuve others are as charming and entertaining as they are insightful.

Numerous original helmets were examined and photographed at close quarters, providing exquisite detail throughout the book. It also includes pictures from world-renowned photographers Bernard Asset and Bernard Cahier capturing iconic crash helmets in racing action.