In the world of motorsport, racing helmet design has not just been a way for drivers to distinguish themselves from fellow competitors, it has increasingly become a means to express themselves. Progress in the materials and technology used to make them has come a long way over the decades – particularly since the 1970s, when the introduction of full-face helmets gave drivers a bigger canvas on which creativity could be let loose. But even some of the earliest examples are still celebrated today. Here are ten of the most iconic racing helmets in motorsport and the drivers who wore them.

Alberto Ascari

Alberto Ascari in light blue driver's clothing and helmet
A vision in blue from head to toe, Italian racing great, Alberto Ascari, stood out from the racing pack during the 1950sFoundation Alberto Ascari / Motorsportimages

Italian racing driver Alberto Ascari was known for his eccentricities and his style – with one usually influencing the other. One such quirk – a superstitious nature – led him to insist that all his racing gear had to be light blue. And his helmet was no exception. At a time when racing headgear was still predominantly white, his light blue number was a real eye-catcher, especially when paired with an entirely blue race uniform. Only once did he make an exception when it came to wearing a helmet – and it would have tragic results. After getting into a friend’s racing car without wearing one during private test drives on 26 May 1955, their car overturned on a lap of Monza. Alberto Ascari, double Formula One world champion, was dead at the age of 36.

Dan Gurney

Black and white photo of man wearing all-black helmet
American motorsport icon, Dan Gurney, helped popularise the full-face helmet IMAGO / Motorsport Images

Dan Gurney was an innovator in more ways than one. The American competed – and won – races in Formula One, Indy Car NASCAR. And in 1968, he popularised the full-face helmet when he wore won the Indy 500 at Indianapolis and later that year at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. A simple black number, the helmet featured his name in simple white on blue lettering on the sides. The ex-Porsche driver championed the revolutionary racing helmet because he was tired of dirt flying into his face – he was uncommonly tall for a racing driver – from the tyres of the open-wheel Formula One cars driving in front of him. All future race drivers have cause to celebrate Gurney’s decision – mind you, Gurney was good at celebrating himself. He was also the man who made popular the tradition of placed drivers spraying champagne on the podium after a race.

Graham and Damon Hill

Graham Hill in racecar wearing blue helmet with white stripes
Two-time F1 World Champion, Graham Hill, in his famous dark blue helmet. His son, Damon, wore the same colours for his F1 title win in 1996 picture-alliance/dpa

One design, two drivers, three Formula One World Championships. The simple midnight blue and white helmet design worn by two former F1 World Champions remains one of the most recognisable in motorsport to this day. In 1996, Damon Hill sported the helmet design on his way to taking the F1 title – just as his late father, Graham, did when winning the 1962 and 1968 championships. The design was inspired by the insignia of the London Rowing Club – the eight white stripes on the helmet symbolise oar blades – where Graham met his wife, the future mother of Damon. 

Jackie Stewart

Jackie Stewart in racecar, tartan helmet in front of him
Great Scot: Jackie Stewart’s trademark tartan-topped helmet amassed admirers as the F1 great racked up race wins

Jackie Stewart’s legendary helmet design was a proud display of his Scottish heritage, adorned with the Royal Stewart tartan pattern of his family clan. It was a design that became familiar to race fans worldwide over the nine seasons in which Jackie competed in the Formula 1 World Championships – a tartan ‘crown’ on a white helmet. Appropriately enough, Jackie would himself be crowned F1 world champion three times in just five seasons (1969, 1971 and 1973). Jackie explained that the predominant red colour in the tartan served a purpose as part of the Stewart clan’s battle strategy back in the 1100s. “That was because if a Stewart was injured, the enemy couldn’t see blood on it,” he explained. “I wanted something of my own and personal on the helmet.”

David Coulthard

David Coulthard wearing a blue helmet with Saltire cross
David Coulthard’s helmet was instantly recognisable, sporting the blue with white Saltire cross of the Scottish flagIMAGO / Motorsport Images

Here’s another Scottish speed merchant proudly wearing their heritage on their head. David Coulthard’s signature helmet look derives from the St Andrew’s white cross on a blue background of the Scottish flag – known as the Saltire – one of the oldest in the world. The Saltire-inspired helmet quickly became Coulthard’s calling card as he sped around the world’s top race circuits. It helped propel him to a best-ever finish of second place in the Formula One Drivers’ Championship of 2001, behind winner Michael Schumacher.

Hans-Joachim ‘Strietzl’ Stuck

Race driver Hans-Joachim Stuck in blue helmet with white stars
Written in the stars: originally hand-drawn by Hans-Joachim Stuck’s girlfriend, this blue and white helmet design became his signature lookIMAGO / Motorsport Images

Hans-Joachim ‘Strietzel’ Stuck is a living motorsport legend, with a long relationship with Porsche, who has succeeded in just about every top category in four-wheeled motorsport. No wonder, then, that his helmet design has attained star status too – quite literally. The celestial pattern that the German racer sported on his ‘lid’ was born in 1969 in a Hockenheim hotel room, thanks to his then-girlfriend, Annemarie ‘Mucki’ Buchner. Buying adhesive foil at a paper shop near the racing circuit, she created pencil-drawn stars, cut them out using nail scissors, and then glued them around the visor. And just like that, one of the most striking helmet designs in motorsport history was born.

James Hunt

James Hunt wears black helmet with coloured stripes on sides
The helmet of James Hunt, whose all-action style earned the 1976 F1 World Champion the nickname ‘The Shunt’, featured the colours of his old school IMAGO / Motorsport Images

Bon vivant, defier of conventions and lover of the party lifestyle, British driver James Hunt’s approach to life both on and off the track was the antithesis of the more pragmatic approach of his great Austrian rival, Niki Lauda. Although notorious for his excess, he was also loved for his easy-going charm and revered for his driving skills. A big personality, in other words – which was perhaps reflected in the choice of the huge font size used for his name on the side of his black race helmet. Added to it was a simple design of three red, blue and yellow stripes, a tribute to the colours of the 1976 Formula One World Champion’s school, Wellington College in Berkshire, England.

Michael Schumacher

White helmet in German flag colours; ‘M Schumacher’ on side
Fit for a king: the helmet worn by future seven-time F1 World Champion, Michael Schumacher, on his debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand PrixIMAGO / Motorsport Images

As we’ve discovered, distinctive and very personal use of colour have played an important role in many a memorable race helmet. And the great Michael Schumacher’s was no exception. Over the years, Schumi showed himself to be open to mixing up different designs with recognisable constants – like a blue (later red) star design on the top of the helmet, complemented by the black, red and yellow colours of the German national flag on the sides and back. As a gesture to the teams he raced for, the US or Italian national colours were also sometimes featured on Michael’s headgear. More often than not, drivers who saw it coming up behind them in their mirrors knew they had a battle on their hands.

Eddie Cheever

Driver wearing race helmet combining US flag with Arizona flag
Eddie Cheever’s headgear combined elements of the US and Arizona state flags to create a helmet with real star powerIMAGO / UPI Photo

In a top-class motorsport career that lasted almost 30 years, Eddie Cheever had a striking helmet design that went the full distance with him. The Phoenix-born racing driver sprayed his first helmet on the kitchen table at home as a teenager, with the help of his father. The design incorporated features combining the US flag, as well as that of his home state of Arizona. Cheever liked the design so much that he kept it throughout his career. It became his trademark during 132 Formula One Grand Prix starts, four 24 Hours of Le Mans races and countless Indy Car and CART races – including perhaps his greatest ever achievement, when winning the 1998 Indy 500. When his father, the man who designed the helmet with him, died at the age of 74, Cheever decided it was time to retire the helmet design, and never used it again.

Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna wearing yellow helmet with green stripes
Senna’s beloved helmet design, in the colours of the Brazilian flag, accompanied him throughout his career Oleg Konin / Alarmy Stock Photo

With his three Formula One World Championship title wins in four seasons between 1988 and 1991, Ayrton Senna cemented his status among many competitors, experts and fans alike as arguably the greatest, most fearless racing driver of all-time. Ayrton’s helmet design harked back to his motorsport beginnings. As a teenager, the then rising star of motorsport represented Brazil at the 1978 Kart World Championships at Le Mans. His helmet featured the Brazilian national colours of yellow and green in broad stripes, and a thin blue stripe under the visor. He loved the simple design – created for him by the famous helmet designer, Sid Mosca – so much that Ayrton kept it throughout a brilliant career cut tragically short by his fatal accident at Imola in 1994.

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