‘Helmetgate’ is just the latest storm in a teacup for F1


Earlier this week, the F1 Commission met in Geneva to discuss the future of the sport. Up for discussion were louder and bigger engines, new aerodynamic designs and a far more radical path for the future.

Ultimately though, none of that was actually agreed on, ratified or confirmed, with the decision being to have another meeting in one year’s time and re-evaluate the situation.

Instead, what was actually agreed on was a blanket ban on helmet design changes across the course of the season. Sebastian Vettel’s tendency to bring a new one to each race did irk a few people in 2014, and has prompted a widespread change in F1 to prevent a repeat occurrence.

There was an immediate outcry from the F1 community, with a number of ex-drivers and pundits having their two cents and making their bemusement clear. The ‘issue’ of changing helmets was more of a minor annoyance or tick than a serious problem that really needed to be dealt with.

It’s just the latest storm in a teacup to come out of Formula 1. The winter has been a particularly turbulent one, with two teams fighting tooth and nail to survive, one collapsing completely, and the big questions about the cost crisis that engulfs the sport still being asked with very little in the way of a firm answer.

The benefits of forcing the drivers to stick with the same helmet design are quite obvious. Much like a number, it makes them instantly recognizable for fans watching on TV or in the grandstands. Throughout the history of the sport, many drivers have sported an iconic design throughout their careers that has become a part of their legacy: think of Ayrton Senna, Gilles Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher, to name but three.

It is certainly something that has been lost in recent years. Lewis Hamilton traditionally ran with a bright yellow helmet during his karting and junior racing days, but dropped it upon his move to Mercedes in 2013. Vettel’s constant chopping and changing of designs mean that you cannot possibly explain what his helmet looks like – there are too many to choose from.

A very pertinent comment came from ex-F1 and now-WEC driver Alexander Wurz on the subject: “It shall remain our free right of expression”. It is one of the few things that a driver can control. Fernando Alonso traditionally has yellow and blue on his helmet, the colors of Oviedo, his hometown. Others all have certain symbols and messages that are important to them and them alone.

But for some races, they will want to make a change. Home grands prix and special events such as Monaco are particularly popular for drivers who want to make alterations to their design. Kimi Raikkonen famously ran with a James Hunt design on his helmet in Monaco a few years ago, whilst Romain Grosjean less famously paid tribute to actor Matt Le Blanc with his helmet in Austin last year. Again though, it is their freedom of expression.

It is strange that issues such as these sit on the agenda list. In reality, it is such a menial and minor thing that it shouldn’t even come into the F1 Commission’s remit or sphere. The task is to improve the show and to make F1 a generally better sport. It certainly needs improving, but fans will be more deterred from going to a race by extortionate ticket prices than the fact that their favorite driver might have a different helmet.

Yet again, F1 appears to have missed the point. Double points was another example of a storm in a teacup: a measure that was introduced as a knee-jerk response to a problem that was not fully explained or explored.

The fact that drivers are changing helmet design every other race is neither here nor there if we are to look at the big picture: it just is what it is. It doesn’t deter fans’ enjoyment of the sport; it’s merely something the cynics will moan about because they need something to slate.

After all, there’s no need to make mountains out of molehills. F1 should focus on the actual problems at hand and try to make real progress in improving the sport, instead of picking on the minor annoyances that we can quite easily live and race with.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.



Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III