Hard shell soft center.
Keep a cool head.
Back in the day, Sven Krieter didn’t really know what to make of Formula 1, he explains. His last ten years, however, have been spent at the sharp end of the grand prix action in his role as protectorin-chief of drivers’ craniums. He ensures they can literally keep a cool head and continue to see clearly, even when the weather isn’t playing along. Krieter is busy applying a rubber lip to the edge of a black helmet, turning it constantly, wiping away excess adhesive and pressing the elastic material firmly with three fingers. Welcome to the headgear specialist’s workplace in the German city of Magdeburg. The finished item will protect and adorn the head of Nico Rosberg in his next race for Mercedes-AMG Petronas. Schuberth supplies five Formula 1 drivers, and Krieter is one of the company’s key figures – the face of the long-established helmet-maker’s motor racing activities. The 40-year-old travels with the Formula 1 circus to all the races and testing dates on the calendar to look after the drivers. That means he racks up more than a quarter of a million airborne kilometers every year. And he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
Krieter, who trained as a heating and ventilation system fitter, hesitated before taking up the F1 job, such was the initially overawing nature of the assignment. However, after sleeping on it several times and taking an intensive English language course, he accepted the offer. “My first race was Silverstone in 2005. I’d never flown anywhere before,” he recalls, “let alone somewhere as hectic as Heathrow. And then there was driving on the left-hand side of the road without a navigation system. It was tough.” Nowadays, thinking back to those early days makes him smile.
Krieter and his three colleagues make 80 helmets a year for F1 drivers, plus 20 for the DTM touring car series and around 150 for general sale. Amateur drivers can buy an SF1 – Schuberth’s racing helmet – for 5,000 euros. A small workshop has been set up especially for the task in part of the state-of-the-art Schuberth factory. Here, Krieter and his team work on the helmets with the help of special tools, measuring instruments and high-end adhesives. It’s a fine example of the role still played by exclusive craftsmanship in the high-tech business of Formula 1.
The helmet shell is prefabricated from 19 layers of carbon fiber using a type of pressure oven called an autoclave. The individual layers are laid one on top of the other, placed in a vacuum and baked in the autoclave at up to six bar of pressure at 170–200° Celsius (338–392°F). The monocoque safety cells of Formula 1 cars are manufactured using the same method. This ultrasophisticated procedure is also applied in the aerospace industry due to its ability to maximize material strength. Nico Rosberg uses the middle of the three helmet shell sizes produced.
The recipe behind the foam is secret.
Krieter and his team are handed the hardened and painted helmet shells for the finishing stage. The sponsors’ logos and Rosberg’s personal designs are applied by airbrush before the team turns the shells into fully-fledged helmets.
The shell protects against fire (the helmet has to withstand temperatures up to 740° Celsius / 1,364°F) and fragmentation, but without the right shock absorption that would mean little. To this end, the shell has an inner lining of highgrade multi-zone foam – of the type used by all helmets. The technicians then add a special shock-absorbing foam to the lining. This is the standout feature of the lining added to Schuberth helmets and remains a source of pride for the company. The recipe behind the foam is secret, but we do know that it consists of two components. It is a method that was already in use when Schuberth arrived in Formula 1 in 2000.
Former Mercedes reserve driver Nick Heidfeld was the first to use Schuberth helmets and was soon followed by Ralf and Michael Schumacher. Nico Rosberg has trusted in the Magdeburgbased firm’s products since his days in junior racing. And, as we speak, Krieter is working on helmet no. 92 for the Wiesbaden-born driver.
Not everyone wants everything.
Up to this stage, all the company’s race helmets are identical – save for the shell size and paint finish. Only now does the customization process begin. The padding for the helmet is made using precise head and face measurements taken from the driver. The idea is for the head to be held firmly inside the helmet, but there is still some room for maneuver. “The drivers have to feel good,” says Krieter. “Together we try out different variants of the helmet until everything is just right.” The drivers also have the last word on visors and the special mini spoilers on the forehead area and back of the helmet. Rosberg prefers a top spoiler, while others don’t have any of these aerodynamic aids – designed to minimize the effect of lift at high speed – in the interests of saving weight. A finished race helmet weighs 1,350–1,500 grams.
Krieter has six different types of visor on hand for each helmet at each Formula 1 weekend. “When it’s raining, I screw on the clear visor,” he explains. “Then we have the variants with 50 and 80 percent tinting.” All visors are available in three different colours. Before the drivers head out onto the track, Krieter also sticks tear-off strips onto their visors, which the drivers have to be able to whip off in a single movement at speeds of 320 km/h (approx. 200 mph) should they get dirty or mist up. “Nico never wants more than three or four of them, whereas other drivers have seven or eight,” notes the expert.
Rosberg and the helmet technician are in direct contact at the track. From time to time, his physiotherapist also calls up – “if Nico needs a spare part, new pads, a different visor or some other item, because he has a suggestion for a possible improvement”. On one occasion recently, though, Rosberg had to accept the limits of what is possible: “Nico was wondering if we could make a visor in the same color as his personal nameplate on the side of his helmet. We tried all sorts of things, but sadly we were never able to produce that exact shade and still ensure the visor met the safety stipulations.”
Although things don’t always work out, Krieter tries to make as many wishes as possible come true. “The key areas for drivers are ventilation and lightness,” he points out. Almost every year brings new, lighter helmet shells, and these are tested for safety in a special laboratory before they go into series production. The ten holes in the chin and forehead area and in the visor are designed to channel ten liters of fresh air around the driver’s head at speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph).
Mechanics in skiing helmets.
“In the past, the air was simply blown onto a driver’s head and face. Now we channel it rearwards over the top of the head, where it escapes through six ventilation holes,” explains Krieter. All of which enhances aerodynamics as well. A race helmet nowadays works in a similar way to the car’s diffuser. So it’s no surprise the helmets are tested in their own wind tunnel.
The latest idea involves two additional holes channelling air around the visor to prevent misting. If this innovation proves itself in the wind tunnel and earns good crash test results, it will go into series production. Ahead of the race in Monaco, the service team also screwed a new high-tech visor designed to sharpen visibility onto Rosberg’s helmet. “Nico’s seeing everything as if it’s in HD now,” says Krieter. Like all visors, this one had also been impacted with steel balls shot from an air gun device in a test lab. In 2015, Schuberth became an official supplier to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team.
The mechanics in the pit lane wear the SK1 ski helmet, which will soon be available in a limited edition. The exceptions are the crew operating the jacks at the front and rear of the car, who are protected by Schuberth’s SR1 integral motorcycle helmet.