Every race weekend, they catch the eye of the public and supporters. A vital accessory in the Formula 1 driver’s kit, helmets have gradually taken on a new dimension to become a platform for personalization and design. Franceinfo: sport takes you into the secrets of the manufacture of these objects, which sometimes touch on works of art.
It all starts with the pilot’s ideas and desires. « We are in constant contact »explains Mark Antar, helmet designer for Lance Stroll (Aston Martin). « As soon as he has a desire, or something he likes, I prepare designs to show him and his team. » Together, designer and pilot then orient their choices to get closer to a final drawing. A natural distribution of tasks for pilots. « I have ideas, but I’m not an artist, I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like »smiles Formula 2 driver Théo Pourchaire. « And the designers also have references to help me. We collaborate like that »he adds.
The designer also ends up becoming familiar with the habits of the pilot and the essential elements that make up his helmet. « By spending time with them, especially on the phone, I get to know them »explains Adrien Paviot, who works with several drivers on the current Formula 1 grid, but also Théo Pourchaire in F2, or Romain Grosjean, today in IndyCar. « Charles Leclerc is attached to the flag of Monaco, Pierre Gasly has small elements in tribute to friends. »
I ask for my colors, my French flag, my initials, the basic things, and for the rest, I trust him.Theo Pourchaire
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However, communication remains essential to ensure that everything is clear between the stakeholders. « This is not always easy to understand the desires of the pilots »tempers Mark Antar. « For me to figure out what Lance has in mind, it takes a lot of talking and testing to validate everything. » Designers are also there to determine what is feasible, what can be achieved, or what is too difficult to conceptualize.
To feed the creative aspect, they draw their inspiration from everything that surrounds them on a daily basis. « I look at architecture, graphic design, painting »lists Mark Antar, who sees the helmets he designs as a « blank canvas where he can let his imagination run wild. I draw inspiration from everywhere, sometimes it’s a car decoration that will inspire me, sometimes a logo can become the basis of a design. But it can also come from elsewhere, from art for example », abounds Adrien Paviot. Designers rely on 3D digital models to refine the design.
The designers still have to deal with a few constraints, in particular the presence of external elements on the helmets. « There are sometimes problems with the place of sponsors »regrets Valentin Belgy, specialized painter. « You have to deal with that, with the team, with a lot of things that take away freedoms. »
Once the concept has been validated, the helmet is then sent to the « last link in the chain », as Valentin Belgy describes himself. For just over ten years he has been working to give shape to the design and create the finished product. « We have all the final decisions, like the choice of material, then comes the painting », he describes. Everything is handmade, which makes each piece unique.
On the sidelines of all this progress, we must not forget the challenge of time. « At that moment, the noose tightens, between all the organization, the painting, and the time limit of the race », recalls Valentin Belgy. Especially since the seasons, which are getting longer and busier, are reducing work periods for designers and painters. After this race against the clock, the helmets can then accompany the pilots in another event: that of the track.