One of the greatest items any Formula 1 memorabilia collection can have in it is a driver helmet. Motor racing is often hamstrung by the inability of spectators to view the drivers face while in the car, but it does enable the fan to collect their favourite drivers designs or perhaps just their favourite designs period.
What I do hope to convey in this section of the site, is the various ways in which you can collect driver helmets and what my views and experiences are with numerous products. What will become very apparent, particularly with regard to collecting full-scale helmets is that these can come in many forms which any budding collector should be well aware of before departing with any hard-earned funds.
Collecting helmets can come in a range of forms, Minichamps has for years now been releasing driver helmets in 1/8 scale across various motor racing categories while Onyx used to release both Formula 1 and 500cc helmets in 1/12 scale. If you trawl through Ebay you are likely to find these helmets going very cheaply, from as little as $8 each. Unlike models of cars, the helmets have not appeared to have captured the demand of the collectors and few, if any, show any signs of appreciation in value. Another brand of 1/12 scale model helmet worth mentioning first came to my father’s attention while in Italy in the early 90s. The helmets are made in France by J.F. Creations and are in my opinion the best form of model helmet for collectors. This is because they aren’t too big, have great detail, a perfect clear coat finish, and an overall feel of genuine quality that is lacking in the mass-produced models. I’ve been fortunate to have amassed a collection of over 60 of these helmets before I ever saw one sold on Ebay which I always found very surprising. However, sure enough, in the last year these helmets have started to enter the market and are commanding prices of $20 to $60 each and I have to say they are brilliant.
Minichamps 1/8 Scale Helmet Collection
Good quality but limited detail which is needed for a helmet of this size. The boxes that Minichamps released them in were too clumsy and while they allowed for them to be stacked on top of one another, some came in special cardboard sleeves which hindered the collector. Name your price and you will pick up a bargain on these. Best 1/8 Minichamps helmet in my opinion is Michael Schumacher’s 1996 flat-back aerodynamic helmet. I’ve never seen one for sale on Ebay, not that I’ve looked hard, but it is a brilliant piece.
Onyx 1/12 Scale Helmet Collection
These are really poor quality helmets and from the pictures below it’s not hard to see why. These are easy to pick up cheap on Ebay.
J.P. Creation 1/12 Scale Helmet Collection
The leaders in this area, absolutely stunning finishes, great display boxes and detailed graphics for such a small size. At the time of writing this segment there is a 2013 Sebastian Vettel design up for sale so production of these great items appears to be continuing. If you do view sales of recent designs it does appear that J.P. Creation has changed their display boxes which appear to be a little more clumsy than the earlier versions shown in the images above, nevertheless the quality looks to have remained the same.
1/2 Scale Helmets
1/2 Scale helmets have been around for a while as a boutique collectable but have simply exploded in the last couple of years. As with anything in a larger size, the appeal of a helmet relies heavily on quality and detail. The leaders in the area are Bell Sports Europe who to my understanding have been making replica helmets since the early to mid-90s. I will address the company’s contribution to the full-scale market in more detail below however it is important to note that it was the full-scale helmets that really caught the eye of wealthier collectors, while their range of 1/2 scale helmets were less known. This appears to be until the last couple of years when both McLaren and Red Bull Racing started to include half-scale replicas of their drivers 2011 helmet designs in their merchandise. It wasn’t long before Lotus, Mercedes and Ferrari were offering their own 1/2 scale helmets some of which are manufactured by Bell helmets under the ‘Sports Mini Line’.
The seeming popularity of the 1/2 scale helmet has seen the older Bell Sports Europe helmets come up for sale and also some older designs being released. These include the 1974 helmet of Emerson Fittipaldi, the 1976 helmets of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, together with Lauda’s 1984 helmet, Alain Prost’s 1985, and Senna’s 85 and 88 helmets. Up close these helmets are surprisingly very well detailed and immaculately finished, a great item to be signed as well.
Full Scale Helmets
When considering on purchasing a full scale helmet there are some very important factors to take into consideration. Full scale helmets can effectively be placed into five different categories.
Full Scale Unauthorised Full Replica Helmets
These are the cheapest of the helmets available to the consumer as not only is the helmet a replica of those worn by the drivers, but the helmet itself is a replica. These ‘helmets’ are prolific on Ebay and are usually constructed in South America. Sellers appear quick to boast that they are ‘Replica Vettel Helmet’ but are not so eager to reveal that the helmets are not built to be worn. The easiest way to spot a full replica is by looking at the hinge on the visor. The hinge on an Arai should be a metal screw rather than a plastic hinge. The secondary hinge on the helmet shouldn’t be circular but should also extend to the top of the helmet visor. In the photos below you can see the difference between a real and fake hinge mechanism. Finally, in the event that the helmet is not being sold in South America (usually a strong indication) it’s always important to ask for a photo of the helmets Snell rating, which is located under the interior padding. The Snell rating is an official safety rating which may well be out of date but serves to legitimise the helmets construction.
I should note that manufacturers of full-scale unauthorised replicas don’t intend to deceive customers but they do imply that their helmets can be worn as protective devices which while correct in literal terms, their safety features are as limited as a fry pan.
I would never recommend anyone to spend their money on these helmets as they don’t allow for the owner to legitimately wear them in competition, are not to the display standard of the Bell Replicas or professionally painted helmets in general. Stay well clear.
Full Scale Authorised Full Replica Helmets
I have seen a few examples of these kinds of helmets, most notably is that produced by Bell Sports Europe which produced numerous limited edition sets of Michael Schumacher’s helmets between 1995 and 2001, Jenson Button’s 2000 Williams and 2001 Benetton helmets, Ralf Schumacher’s 2000 helmet, Jacques Villeneuve’s 1996 – 1998 helmets. All editions are signed by the drivers and come in beautiful display cases, but despite this their prices have come down since they were first sold. Originally around the $6,000US mark, they can now be purchased for $2,000US. Great value and awesome display piece.
Another form of these helmets which do emerge, although rarely, are those helmets with the message ‘for display purposes only’ on the rear. These helmets, like the Bell S.P.O.R.T.S. helmets are high quality productions of the real helmet but, for reasons I personally can’t specify, do not pass the strict FIA safety standards. Whether this means they do have the necessary safety standards for general use may be possible and would place them into the category below with the likes of the Bieffe helmets of the late 90s and early ’00s. What these helmets almost certainly have is the accurate paint work, carried out by the drivers artist as these helmets are usually used by them in promotional circumstances.
An example of some of these helmets currently for sale can be found at racefan.co.uk which has very reasonable prices on some brilliant helmets. I should note that despite the similar website name, I am not affiliated with racefan.co.uk in any way and have been given no incentive to plug the website.
Full Scale Genuine Helmets with Replica Paint Schemes
In my opinion this is the best way to collect helmets because they provide the ability to have the designs of the greatest drivers in the world on a helmet that is authentic and able to be worn for its true purpose. The biggest challenge is to find a quality artist or paint job. I personally hold out for pre-painted helmets to come up for sale rather than have white helmets painted in the design of my favourite driver as this can be an extremely expensive exercise. However if the price of having your white helmet painted is not a hurdle then in Australia it’s hard to go past Ant Man Helmet Design. Other massive artists include JLF Designs, Troy Lee Designs, Uffe Designs, and Jens Munser Designs. Be warned that Jens Munser Designs do the helmets for Sebastian Vettel, amongst many professional drivers, so he would be rather busy.
As with any purchase it is always important to look at whether the helmet has a Snell rating. Very rarely will it be on a carbon shell, which is possible now that they are being sold to the public, but provided it is a helmet produced by the appropriate manufacturer, is the model of helmet that the drivers design featured on (you don’t really want a Vettel design on an Arai GP5 helmet when the design only featured on an Arai GP6) and that the paint job looks appropriate.
One further point I should make is in relation to cigarette advertising. Some helmets will have all sponsor logos, including cigarette advertising, airbrushed onto the helmet. Others will have a full airbrushed helmet with the cigarette advertising stuck onto the empty panels of colour. While this may appear at first glance to be an inferior method it is actually in most circumstances a more accurate replication of the drivers helmet as teams usually wanted their drivers to be able to wear their helmets at any venue regardless of the tobacco laws. Don’t let this factor deter you away from what might actually be a very authentic paint job.
Full Scale Genuine Helmets
A common irritation I have had when it comes to Formula 1 helmets is the inability or reluctance of manufacturers to sell their helmets with the paint schemes of some of their most famous customers, this irritation is further heightened when motorcycle helmets are continually produced in the schemes of past and current competitors. For instance Arai has produced and still produces helmets with the graphics of Michael Doohan, Kevin Schwantz, Nicky Hayden, Dani Pedrosa, Colin Edwards, Freddie Spencer, and Kenny Roberts Jnr. AGV produces almost every iteration of Valentino Rossi’s helmets in limited editions for public sale while also sell Kenny Roberts helmets. Nolan produce Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo helmets. Shoei produce Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Wayne Rainey and Marc Marquez helmets.
There is one exception to the rule however and this was Bieffe, who sold numerous helmets adorned in the colours of its most famous customers. These helmets are built to legal safety regulations but were never available in full-carbon models as would have been used by drivers like Wurz, Trulli and Fisichella, but they do have official paint jobs making them somewhat more reliable in quality to a genuine helmet with a replica paint scheme. It’s just a shame that more drivers, i.e. world champions, didn’t use the Bieffe helmet.
‘Full Scale Genuine Race-Worn Helmets
This is obviously the holy grail of helmet collecting. Full scale genuine helmets are those that have been made for a driver to race with and either have or have not been raced with. By far and away the best place to source these helmets are through official charity auctions. Recent auctions include Mark Webber’s 2011 helmet sold at Bonhams for £10,000. More recently, a race-worn 2012 Webber helmet sold on an auction site called Sellebrity for £9,200. Earlier this year Schuberth conducted a charity auction on Ebay to raise funds for it’s local community, devastated by flooding. Official full scale genuine helmets of Fernando Alonso, Felippe Massa, Nico Rosberg, Michael Schumacher, Jules Bianchi and Nico Hulkenberg. To see the prices that these helmets received click on the following link. But I should worn you to brace yourself because they didn’t go for a steal!!
Aside from the obvious authenticity of the genuine helmets their construction is slightly different to the normal full scale replica helmets with replica paint schemes that go up for sale. This is because race worn helmets must be made out of carbon fibre to comply with FIA safety standards and to assist the drivers neck over the course of the race. The carbon fibre Arai helmets can be purchased but are over three times the price. This is however in contrast to Schuberth who don’t sell to the public the helmet used by its drivers.
In researching for this piece I have also discovered that both Webber and Vettel have donated helmets for the end of year Bonhams auctions, to once again raise money for the Wings For Life charity. What is most significant however is the helmet that Vettel has chosen to auction is his helmet from the 2013 German Grand Prix, his first home win. Add to this that it was the only time that specific design was worn by Vettel and the significance and authenticity of the helmet is astonishing. The auction will take place on 9 December and a link to the announcement can be found by following this link.
Sebastian Vettel’s 2013 German Grand Prix winning helmet sold for a record 72,100 pounds at the recent Bonhams auction. The price is the highest recorded price for a piece of Formula 1 driver memorabilia and may well remain so for some time to come. As a comparison, a race-worn helmet by James Hunt in his championship-winning 1976 season sold for 37,500 pounds at the same auction.