"F1 has changed so much," says helmet designer Jens Munser, a quote that couldn’t be truer. It’s not just the racing that has changed either. Drivers have changed, teams have changed and of course, so have the helmets.
"I know not everyone is happy with it," says Munser. "Traditional fans liked the time around Senna and Prost, when the driver had one helmet but times have changed."
It’s possible to do a lot more with the helmets and the drivers like it.
With the eyes of the world press watching, modern drivers are a different breed. Munser believes the helmet is one of the only opportunities for a driver to show their character nowadays.
"They didn’t have to say so much about the team and sponsors. Nowadays drivers don’t have too many chances to show their personality. The helmet gives them the chance to be free and show their character."
Munser started his helmet painting career back when he was a Motocross rider, after looking for a helmet design of his own.
"When I started with Motocross riding, I painted my own helmets. It was not possible to get a painted helmet in Europe, one in a shop was either white, black or ugly. I asked where I could get a helmet painter in Germany but there wasn’t anyone. So I bought my own airbrush beginner set and got to work.
A helmet in a shop was either white, black or ugly.
"It took a long time to find out the right techniques for painting a helmet. My first motocross design ended up on the track, all the stones being kicked up just took the paint off, and by the end of the race the design was plain again!"
After much improvement, he made a name for himself designing helmets in Formula One.
"The first Formula One helmet I did was Tora Takagi back in 1998. He wanted his helmet design with a chrome base, he couldn’t get one in Japan, so he asked me to do it. Two years later, Nick Heidfeld approached me when he was racing in F3000. We continued doing his designs throughout his career."
Munser is however best known for his designs for Sebastian Vettel, who has had more than 50 of them.
"His first helmet was in karts, completely different to how it is today. He was eight years old and he wanted the crab from ‘The Little Mermaid’ on it, which was called Sebastian too. When he began as test-driver in Formula One, he came back to me and asked what I could do."
Vettel’s helmet designs are always a talking point before a race weekend, something Munser is particularly proud of.
"The Austin helmet was very special. People said how fun and original it was. It’s important for me once a helmet is finished to hear what people think of it. I liked the Monaco design with the old signs on, the gold helmet from the German Grand Prix but the helmet I have the biggest memory of is the flashing one from Singapore.
He was greeting the fans and the helmet was still flashing. It was a big relief.
"Singapore took a long time. We had to work out what LEDs to use, what battery to use. I was worried it might interfere with the radio. I was hoping the battery would last, it’s a long race, nearly two hours. It was amazing when he won the race, he was greeting the fans and the helmet was still flashing. It was a big relief, I was really happy!"
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