Of all Formula 1 drivers, Mika Häkkinen knows the difference that a decent crash helmet can make. Throughout his career, the blue striped lid had become his calling card. On November 10, 1995 in Adelaide, it helped save his life when a rear puncture flung his McLaren into a trackside wall at 124mph.
Häkkinen’s Arai helmet has also been involved in an unfortunate outcome with a French pigeon and was left on the shelf in the pits when Häkkinen was arrested at Silverstone.
He’s one of 18 F1 drivers to contribute to a new book, Formula Helmet, which tells the story of the series between 1969 and 1999 through the perspective of the crash helmets, accompanies by stunning photography and interviews with some of the designers.
We reproduce an extract from Häkkinen’s section below, starting at 155mph on a French runway…
Birds, cops and another story you won’t believe
In the middle of the nineties, I was testing in France at an airfield. In the McLaren going up and down, putting the speed to 200 kph, holding it, turn round at the end, back, then 250 kph, holding all the way, round again. I was doing aerodynamic testing, it is really boring. The temperature is so high, you must keep your speed the same. Oh my God, all day long, 4 / 5 days, you going crazy.
“The bird crashed straight in my visor, hit my helmet and exploded”
Once I turn at the end, start back up the runway, I’m looking right, “what the hell”, I see a pigeon. God, I’m doing 250 kph, no chance to do anything. The Goddamn bird crashed straight in my visor, hit my helmet and exploded. If the helmet and visor not strong enough I’d have that bird in my throat. Blood came in the helmet, not nice. When I stopped, the mechanics were terrified seeing blood everywhere. That was one scary moment and made me think “Wow, luckily the visor and helmet are strong enough it saved my life and my eyes”.
In 1992, James Penrose had my helmet ready in the pits but no driver in it for warm up at the British Grand Prix on race day! What happened: my friend Mika Sohlberg was in same hotel so I said “I book a wake up call for tomorrow, you do same, so if anything happens you wake me and vice versa because the f***ing traffic is catastrophe”.
My alarm didn’t go off, Sohlberg got pissed, he was shit-faced, couldn’t wake… I woke half hour late, went to his room, we left immediately. Traffic a disaster! But I saw a police lady on a motorbike. Asked her “Can I please go wrong side of road as I’m late and who I am and please let me go?” She said “Okay but please pay attention and not fast.” So I’m driving on the wrong side of road and not far to the track, I thought “Hoo-har I’m not going to miss warm up”. Then police motorbikes are behind me, I thought “This is easier, an escort to the track”, put my foot down.
“So they arrest me, put me in Silverstone jail said ‘You aren’t doing any Grand Prix'”
At the gate I find police waiting and think “Uh-oh what have I done now?” I opened the window and a big policeman asked what I was doing I said “I got permission to ride this side.” He said “I don’t care if you are Nigel Mansell. Were you drinking?”, I said “No I’m driving in the Grand Prix”, but my friend had been drinking, so they arrest me and put me in Silverstone jail. They took passport and said “You aren’t doing any Grand Prix, you stay here, you break the law and we’ll see if you were drinking.” So mega-panic, luckily they let me out, Peter Collins of Team Lotus picked me up, I put my helmet on and did the race.
My helmet design
When I was in lower categories becoming a professional racing driver it was time to change my design to a simple one, easy to recognise. Most important was for the design to fit partners logos so they’re easy to recognise. That’s why it’s important to have a design that’s simple and classic to look good. That’s the reason for stripes in the design. The colours come from when I was karting. As a kid I raced with Blue Rose Team and they had that colour scheme so I decided to use that when I entered my professional career in 88.
In 2019 Valtteri Bottas asked me if he could use my design in Monaco and I said “Wow, of course!” It was a brilliant thing. It brings a little bit for Valtteri respect for the work we do together. I’ve been part of his career so he wanted the respect of me. Because I’d won a championship in F1 he wanted my permission to use my colours. It felt fantastic. It shows Valtteri’s character and the person he is.
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.