It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. Well, so is boredom.
Take Formula One driver Mark Webber, who came up with a design for his racing helmet several years ago while doodling in class in Queanbeyan, Australia.
“It was a science lesson, but I was very bored in the lesson so I was designing my helmet. I even remember the teacher’s name. She wasn’t very happy, but I got some ideas and eventually I wanted to run with the Australian flag colours and then have the green and gold on top, which are the sporting colours of Australia,” said Webber, who drives for Red Bull.
The green has been toned down for commercial reasons - Red Bull mostly does silver, blue and red - but Webber said it’s basically the same look he came up with as a teenager.
“I want to keep it like that. It’s not super-exciting, but it’s close to me. I’ve had it for my whole career, so yeah, it was my design, and I will start and finish with it,” he said.
Some drivers are finicky and want to design their own look. Others, like McLaren’s Jenson Button, are happy to have someone else do it - and don’t fuss too much about changes.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa says a driver’s headgear is more than just protection against flying debris and crashes - it has a metaphysical quality as well.
“I think the helmet is like the face of the driver. I don’t really like to change it so much because it should be similar to when you started,” he said.
Formula One helmets are ruinously expensive - Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher wears a Schuberth model that reportedly costs $15,000 - but they are also essential.
Just ask Massa, who owes his life to his Schuberth.
In 2009, he was driving in the qualifying session for the Hungarian Grand Prix when a spring fell off Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn car and clipped Massa’s helmet. He suffered a skull fracture and spent several days in an induced coma.
It was a scary incident - and not as rare as you might think.
Earlier this year, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg hit a bird during practice at the Malaysian Grand Prix.
However, none of that means a helmet can’t also be a personal statement.
Massa’s is based on the flag of his native Brazil and is also an homage to his father, Luiz Antonio Massa.
“My father used to race for fun, but the colour was different. His colour was blue and orange, and I changed it to blue, yellow and green, my country’s colours. I’ve used the same design since I started. For sure it gets a little bit more and more daring with the years, but it’s similar to how it was before,” Massa said.