Understanding F1 Safety Gear: From Helmets To Harnesses


In essence, the composition of current driver racewear has remained largely unchanged since the 1960s, comprising a race suit, fireproof undergarments, gloves, boots, and a helmet. However, modern iterations of racewear excel in both protective capabilities and comfort compared to their predecessors from every preceding decade. The enforcement of safety standards is overseen by FIA regulations, with helmets governed by 8860 and clothing by 8856. Periodically, the FIA safety department reviews these regulations, considering advancements in technology and the outcomes of incidents, any of which may prompt revisions. Notably, both regulations underwent updates in 2018, with the addition of a numerical suffix to each. Typically, these updates are initially implemented in Formula 1 and subsequently filtered down through other elite categories and junior-level racing circuits.

One-Piece Race Suit


Two F1 drivers are wearing one-piece Race Suit


Central to the racing attire is the one-piece race suit, now governed by regulation 8856-2018, although its enforcement is only mandatory in Formula 1 this year. Prioritizing safety, the suit is crafted from Nomex, a fire-resistant material pioneered by Dupont. This material has superseded previous fire-resistant materials, such as treated cotton, which tended to lose efficacy over time due to wear, washing, or exposure to substances like fuel or oil. Consequently, Nomex, being inherently fireproof, has emerged as the standard material for fire-resistant racewear. Over time, advancements in Nomex technology have led to thinner and lighter materials, contributing to enhanced comfort, as elaborated below.

Modern race suits comprise three layers of fabric to meet the fire-resistance standards mandated by the Fdration Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). Previously, under regulation 8856-2000, the required time for fire resistance was 10 seconds at 800 degrees Celsius, but now, it stands at 12 seconds to align with current regulations. Furthermore, the fire resistance test now extends to seams and stretch panels to ensure uniform protection throughout the entire suit. Additionally, suits must now bear an expiration date to prevent their use beyond the safe service life.

Fireproof Racing Undergarments

Beneath the racing suit, drivers are required to wear fireproof undergarments, which are also governed by Regulation 8856-2018 and typically crafted from Nomex material. These underlayers have undergone significant technological advancements in recent years, transitioning from bulky, woolly thermals to thin, breathable, and moisture-wicking fabrics. Not only do they meet the necessary fire protection standards, but they also provide the comfort and performance required for athletic endeavors.

Consisting of a long-sleeved top, long john-style bottoms, and socks, these undergarments feature generous overlap between layers to ensure the driver's protection even in a seated position. Similar to the race suit, these underlayers must display regulatory certification and can be adorned with sponsor logos. Additionally, F1 drivers wear a balaclava, often with a double-layered front for added protection to the facial area beneath the helmet. In previous decades, double eye holes were preferred for increased protection during higher-risk periods. However, contemporary designs typically feature a single, larger eye hole, sometimes extending over the nose or mouth to accommodate a tube for the drinks system. Microphones and earpieces for driver-pit communication are often integrated into the balaclava, although some drivers prefer to have them inside the helmet. This setup not only provides better proximity to the ear and mouth but also offers cost-efficient backup options in case of equipment failure.

Nomex Snug Fit Gloves

A quintessential feature of a racing driver's attire, gloves have evolved from crochet-backed or punched leather designs of the past to incorporate fire protection for the hands. Featuring fine leather palms for tactile feedback and Nomex material extending from the palm to the fingertips, these gloves prioritize both safety and precision. A snug fit, often secured with Velcro straps at the wrist, is crucial for feedback and safety. Despite the compromise between fire protection and tactile finesse, recent accidents, such as Grosjean's, underscore the importance of sufficient Nomex layers to shield the hands effectively.

A lesser-known safety innovation found in modern gloves is the inclusion of biometric sensors. Embedded within a fingertip, these wireless sensors monitor vital signs such as heart rate and oxygen saturation. Data from these sensors is transmitted to the car's Safety Data Recorder and can be accessed remotely. This real-time monitoring provides crucial information to medical teams, enabling them to assess the driver's condition and make informed decisions, particularly in challenging extraction scenarios.

Boots That Prioritize Feedback Over Safety

Racing boots have evolved in tandem with footwear fashion trends, prioritizing feedback over absolute safety. Current designs often resemble sports trainers, featuring Velcro straps or laces and a thin silicone rubber sole. The latest trend leans towards sock-style uppers, departing from traditional leather or synthetic materials.

Carbon Composite Helmet


Carbon Composite Helmet For F1

Image Source: Oracle Red Bull Racing

The transition from leather flying helmets to fiberglass-shelled variants, initially open-faced and later enclosed with visors over goggles, marked a significant evolution in helmet design. Modern F1-spec crash helmets represent remarkable engineering achievements subjected to rigorous testing standards outlined in the prevailing 8860-2018 regulations. These regulations, which have already permeated other racing categories, epitomize the culmination of decades of helmet advancements. Constructed from a carbon composite outer shell, foam liner, and fireproof lining, each component undergoes meticulous testing to meet FIA standards. Recent revisions to regulations aim to reduce helmet weight while maintaining impact resistance. A lighter helmet not only enhances comfort during high-g maneuvers but also enhances safety during major accidents, reducing neck injuries even under forces exceeding 50g, notwithstanding the protective HANS device. F1 helmets, depending on shell size, weigh as little as 1250g.

A pivotal aspect of the -2018 regulations was the alteration in eye port size and visor overlap. Following Felipe Massa's accident, where a metal coil spring breached his helmet shell upon impact, the FIA mandated a reinforced overlap between the visor and helmet using Zylon strips. Subsequent regulations reduced the visor opening size and reinforced the surrounding area, eliminating the need for additional strips. Despite concerns regarding reduced visibility, the effective window area remains unchanged, as the previous visor stickers or Zylon strips occupied the same space. Those familiar with F1 in the 1970s and 1980s may recall the inclusion of a tube in the driver's helmet, connected to a specialized gas supply to facilitate breathing in the event of fire entrapment. As safety measures and safety cars across racewear, cars, and track operations improved, such systems became obsolete and are no longer mandated by regulations or fitted in cars.

Head and Neck Support

The Head and Neck Support (HANS) device, mandated in 2003, serves as the final component of a driver's safety gear. Designed to limit head and neck movement during crashes, the HANS device attaches to the helmet and secures via seatbelts, anchoring onto a carbon fiber collar to prevent hyperextension occurrence often leading to fatal basal skull fractures. The tragic death of Roland Ratzenberger at Imola in 1994 underscored the dangers of unrestrained head movement with just a safety harness.

Without a HANS device, the inertia of a frontal collision could cause the driver's head to move forward forcefully, risking neck hyperextension. This tension between the skull, neck, and shoulders, compounded by the weight of the helmet, could result in severe injuries. With the HANS device in place, forward head motion is restricted, mitigating the risk of hyperextension and significantly enhancing driver safety during frontal impacts.


Formula 1 safety gear has undergone significant evolution and refinement over the years, driven by technological advancements and a commitment to driver safety. From the robust carbon composite helmets to the fireproof race suits and innovative HANS devices, each element plays a crucial role in protecting drivers from the inherent dangers of high-speed racing. F1 also has a strict overtaking code to avoid accidents.