Believe it or not, the main purpose of racing apparel is not to look so fabulous, but to protect drivers from harm. In this article, we go into details of what to wear at races and why.
The helmet is a must-have item for race car drivers. When it comes to car crashes, the first thing you want to protect is your head. Helmet design has been constantly improving over the years, making helmets more safe and comfortable. Helmets for race car drivers are made of carbon fibre and polystyrene, extremely strong and resistant materials, with added fire protection in the form of Nomex and fireproof balaclavas tucked under the helmet.
Helmets are made to measure, and each driver has their own recognizable helmet design, thus ensuring that the helmet stays in place in case of an accident. Helmet visors must ensure sufficient visibility in addition to protection. They usually have strips that drivers can tear off in case they get dirty and some have sun protection too.
Helmets also have an opening at the mouthpiece, allowing drivers to take fluid during the race. Staying hydrated is crucial because it can get extremely hot inside the car during the race.
RACE SUIT: FUNCTIONAL AND FASHIONABLE
On the outside, Formula One suits are covered with advertisements and logos of drivers’ sponsors and companies that support their team, but on the inside, race suits are made of Nomex, a fireproof synthetic fibre that was originally used for spacesuits in the Apollo programme. This is because the main purpose of a race suit is to protect drivers from temperatures up to 700 degrees Celsius for at least 12 seconds, in line with FIA’s regulations, giving them enough time to escape the fire. F1 race suits have a zipper in front and cover the whole body. Fire suits are a mandatory part of racing apparel since 1967. Under the suit, drivers also wear underwear, T-shirts, and socks all made of Nomex. The only downside to this form of protection is that it makes drivers very hot during the race.
Motorcyclists were different race suits made of sturdier materials such as leather, because fire protection is not as important in these races. The priority is to prevent injuries from falling off a motorbike.
GLOVES, BOOTS AND OTHER ACCESSORIES
Nomex is not used just for the overalls and undies – gloves and boots are made of it too, amounting to a complete fire protection. In addition, gloves are trimmed with leather to make sure that they don’t slip off during the race, and the soles of boots consist of a very thin layer of rubber, letting drivers feel the pedal at all times. Some drivers also wear ankle and knee protectors to prevent bruises and similar injuries.
Special earplugs are another necessary piece of equipment. They are supposed to block the noise of racing car engines, and prevent hearing damage, since these engines can be as loud as the airplane taking off. The earplugs also have a radio system used for communication between drivers and their team in the pits.
Finally, at the end of the race, drivers will wear special jackets called “bullet-proof vests” to cover their dirty race suits and make sure that all the sponsors’ logos are fully visible on TV.