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Everything you need to know about F1 safety gear - including key safety features

Driver’s clothing has come a long way from the start of Formula 1 in the 1950s, with stark changes being made in order to ensure driver safety. Here’s each element of a race suit and the importance they have.

Frederik Vesti, Mercedes-AMG reserve driver, helmet detail

Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Fire was an extreme hazard in the first few decades of Formula 1, and drivers were frequently trapped in the burning wreckage of their car. Fire protection has thus been a key focus in safety, and the race suits have changed over the years to give drivers a better chance at survival. 

Jackie Stewart was instrumental in pushing for more safety measures in F1 after racing in some of the series’ most dangerous years. The three-time world champion’s campaign helped introduce several safety features, including full-face helmets and seatbelts for the drivers, as well as helping to develop a specialised medical unit which attend each race, safety barriers and greater run-off areas. 

Drivers need to be comfortable in their race suits and not constrained by heavy and rigid material, as well as ensuring it provides ultimate protection in a potential accident. The suit also needs to keep the driver at a comfortable temperature, making sure that they do not get too hot too quickly, as this can affect their performance.  

Each driver is required to wear a race suit, underwear, gloves, boots and a helmet, which hasn’t changed much since the 1960s. However, driver clothing is now far more technologically advanced and provides drivers with a higher level of safety. 

The FIA are responsible for enforcing safety measures and regularly review the regulations surrounding driver clothing. Both 8860 (helmets) and 8856 (clothing) regulations were reviewed and updated the last couple of years and have been approved again for 2024. 

Elements of F1 drivers race wear

Race suit

A race suit - otherwise known as overalls - is primarily responsible for offering fire protection to the drivers whilst also remaining lightweight and comfortable. Overalls were made mandatory by the FIA in 1963 and by 1975, they needed to meet specific fire-resistant standards. 

The FIA have a set of regulations for all driver clothing - known as 8856-2018 - which specifies that the suit should be all in one piece and feature shoulder handles, in case a driver has to be extracted from their car. Each race suit also features an expiry date embroidered into the neck to ensure they offer maximum protection to a driver. The date was once printed in the overalls, but this could be worn or burnt away so a more fire-resistant option was introduced. 

Daniel Ricciardo, RB F1 Team

Daniel Ricciardo, RB F1 Team

Photo by: Erik Junius

The technology of overalls has come a long way since the early 1960s and now each race suit is made of a lightweight and breathable material that is coated with fire-resistant Nomex - a flame-resistant fibre. They are all tested to make sure that they can withstand heat up to 600-800 degrees for over 11 seconds, which also applies to the suits' zips and stretch panels to make sure drivers are protected from fire. 

Each set of overalls comes with close-fitting wrists and ankles, as well as a high collar and a flap covering the full zip, to keep flames away from the driver. A race suit is tailor-made to each driver, with most preferring something close fitting, however, drivers like Jacques Villeneuve preferred a baggier suit because he found it more comfortable. 

The suit features stretch panels or a longer back to ensure the driver is comfortable when sat in a car, with the front usually shorter to prevent it pulling when under a seat belt. The overalls are also made of a lighter material to help the drivers move easily, as well as being breathable to allow body heat and excess sweat to escape, making a driver less prone to heat exhaustion. 

A suit now weighs around 750g which is a stark difference from the older suits which used to weigh around 2kg. Overalls are no longer embroidered with patches to help with the weight and movement, with sponsors now printed on the fire-resistant outer layer. 

Helmet

A helmet is one of the most important safety measures in Formula 1 and was made mandatory in 1952. There have been continual updates to helmet technology including to the tough outer shell and the updates to the impact absorbent insides.  

In the early days of the championship drivers only wore cloth caps and goggles, which did little to protect drivers, before cork helmets were then introduced. Helmets have come a long way, with the invention of Nomex, the addition of visors and eventually full-face helmets to increase the protection of a driver. 

Helmets consist of a carbon fibre outer shell with a foam liner and fireproof lining, which are stringently tested against impact resistance and fire, to ensure they provide maximum protection to drivers. The FIA regulates helmet safety under the 8860-2018 rules which have also impacted other race categories which are controlled by the governing body. 

Helmet of Lando Norris, McLaren

Helmet of Lando Norris, McLaren

Photo by: Lando Norris

A key safety change made to the 2018 regulations was adaptations to the eye-port size and visor overlap. The new helmet changes came into force following an accident with Felipe Massa in 2009, when a spring came loose from the back of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn car and hit the front of the Ferrari driver’s helmet. Although the helmet took most of the impact, Massa was knocked unconscious and needed surgery to fit a metal plate into his skull. 

The FIA then introduced a Zylon strip to help reinforce the overlap between the visor and helmet, followed by new rules to make the visor opening smaller and reinforce the area around the eye-port.  

Helmets previously featured a tube going into the helmet during the 1970s and 80s that was attached to a medicated gas supply, to help a driver breath if they were trapped in a fire. With changes being made to safety, these tubes were no longer fitted into the car or were required as part of the regulations. 

Gloves

Gloves provide some key safety features, including fire protection and biometric capabilities. Each glove is made from the fire-resistant Nomex material and provides drivers with tactile feedback from the silicone grips on the steering wheel. 

Biometric gloves were first introduced in 2018, at the same time as the Halo feature on the car. The safety feature monitors the driver’s condition following a crash. Each glove is fitted with a 3mm thick sensor which transmits data on a driver’s pulse and blood oxygen levels back to their teams. 

The biometric data also gives the medical team information about the driver’s condition if they need to quickly extract them from the car following an accident. For example, the recovery team might choose to bypass some recovery procedures to get a driver free more quickly to be able to stabilise their breathing or heart rate. 

Gloves with increased fire protection were introduced in 2021 following Romain Grosjean’s crash at the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix. The Haas driver went through the barrier and ended up spending 29 seconds inside a fireball before managing to escape with severe burns to his hands but was largely unscathed, thanks to the safety devices on his car and suit. 

Valtteri Bottas, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, puts on his crash helmet and gloves ahead of FP1

Valtteri Bottas, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber, puts on his crash helmet and gloves ahead of FP1

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Following the accident, the FIA began looking at ways to improve safety and began trialling gloves that would give more fire protection in a similar incident. Improved gloves were trialled at the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix, which allowed an extra 1.5 seconds of fire resistance. 

Boots

Boots must also offer a degree of fire safety, however, this is somewhat compromised to ensure that the drivers have as much feedback from the pedals as possible. In more recent years, the boots have become more of a sock style with a thin rubber sole, instead of the older leather or suede style. 

The boots have a flat sole to maximise feel through the pedals and, in wet conditions, you’ll often see drivers having the soles of their shoes dried before getting into the car to maximise grip.  

Underwear

Underneath the race suit, a driver will be wearing a fireproof underwear layer which must also be compliant to the FIA regulations and is made of Nomex. They are now made of a breathable, moisture-wicking material, to keep drivers comfortable in high heat.  

Each underwear layer consists of a long sleeve top, bottoms – which look similar to long johns – and socks, which overlap each other to add an additional layer of fire protection. Drivers will also wear a balaclava over their head, which adds protection to parts of their faces that can be exposed by their helmets.  

Previously drivers opted to wear a balaclava with two eye holes but in more recent years for safety, but now a single eye hole is more preferred. The added layer of protection will normally cover their noses and mouths, with a hole stitched into each balaclava for a drinking tube which allows a driver to stay hydrated during a race. 

HANS

The Head and Neck Support (HANS) device was made compulsory in 2003 and is the final element of a driver’s race gear. The device limits the movement of a driver’s head and neck inside the car to help prevent injury if they crash.  

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari helmet and HANS device

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari helmet and HANS device

Photo by: Sutton Images

The HANS connects to the helmet and is secured by the seatbelts, which helps anchor it onto the carbon fibre collar, which prevents hyperextending – which is the leading cause of death in racing and is the result of a basal skull fracture. Roland Ratzenberger suffered a fatal skull fracture at Imola in 1994, which was a consequence of just wearing a safety harness with an unrestrained head. 

Without a HANS device, the harness pulled shoulders back, forcing a driver’s neck to be stretched. This would create tension between the skull, neck and shoulders with injuries exacerbated by the helmet, which adds additional weight to the head.

Nowadays if a driver is in a frontal collision, then the HANS device will reduce the forward motion of a driver’s head and reduce the strain on their neck, completely getting rid of the risk of hyperextending.

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