What do Formula 1 drivers do when racing is suspended? There’s a good chance that more than a few will be picking up the phone to Jens Munser.
Now that the rules restricting helmet design changes have been scrapped, drivers are able to wear a new livery for each race, if they wish. And the man fulfilling these wishes is Munser.
From his workshop in Salzgitter, in the north of Germany, he and his team are responsible for creating over 500 crash helmet designs per year for racing drivers around the world.
A lengthy client list includes names such as Michael Schumacher, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Daniil Kvyat and one of Munser’s longest-established clients: Sebastian Vettel.
The four-time Formula 1 world champion was well-known for his creative designs during his Red Bull years, when he went through a staggering 96 different helmet designs — before restrictions were imposed.
Producing that number of variations requires a driver who’s straightforward to work with, says Munser.
“With Sebastian it was important to have a driver that I have an idea and can tell him, and he will normally say yes, let’s do it,” he says.
“It’s different from having a driver who wants to keep their design the same every race. It’s nice to have someone who shows my ideas to millions of people.
“With Seb it’s easy. He says very clearly yes or no, or I have a better idea. It’s not like ‘oh I don’t know’, it’s always a clear answer. It makes it easier for me.”
Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari designs have been very similar with only minor changes
The process of designing helmets begins long before they are unveiled on a Grand Prix weekend. Munser explained that the process he goes through with Vettel usually begins long before the season gets underway.
The two usually hold a meeting during winter testing to discuss ideas for designs and will then progress from there.
“We meet at the beginning of the season, normally in Barcelona, and we have a talk about ideas. Sometimes about ten or twenty different ideas, I put up some graphics and we say ‘ok, yes or no, or to think about it – let’s wait to improve on it, but basically ok’. These three steps are normal after our meeting.
“Then over the year we meet again, I look through my notes and make a final graphic and ask him ok or not? And then we start it.”
“Someone asked me how I’ve done it, they all think I drilled holes in the helmet, but this is wrong”
Since joining Ferrari, Vettel has switched to a far more basic design concept, only changing subtle features instead of wholesale redesigns of his predominantly white helmet.
But as Munser explained to Motor Sport, he doesn’t think the reversion of helmet rules will result in drivers going mad with entirely new designs.
“It won’t bring back the Red Bull times with Sebastian and turning up to every race with a new helmet,” he said.
“Yes, it’s better to be free but I don’t think that so many drivers will change the designs often now. Maybe Lando Norris, but I can’t imagine that this will happen more than now. With Sebastian Vettel, we only do small changes and I don’t think we will change too much.”
Of the 96 Red Bull designs he did, it is the light-up spectacular made for Vettel at the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix that takes the crown for Munser’s favourite.
Vettel’s light-up 2012 Singapore GP helmet is Munser’s favourite design
The LED-incrusted eye-catcher lit up amongst the Singapore skyline, and was added to the company collection after Vettel took victory wearing it.
“My best memory is the LED helmet for Singapore, with the flashing lights on top.”
“The LED helmet needed to do a lot of testing and to make sure that there is no interference with the radio so we made a test helmet before so they could test there was nothing going on with the radio or portable electronics.