During the 1950’s racing drivers did not paint their helmet. The material of the helmets was not suitable and, moreover, there was no demand for it. There was a far greater diversity of car shapes to aid identification. As helmets became mandatory, most drivers chose a single color, usually the color the manufacturers supplied. In the Vanwall team Brooks used a brown helmet but Moss and Lewis-Evans both wore white ones. So the car of Moss got a white nose band to distinguish it from Lewis-Evans. Blue was the most popular color among drivers, perhaps out of superstition. Alberto Ascari, for clearly superstitious reasons, always wore a pale blue helmet. He got killed on the only occasion he drove a racing car without his “lucky” helmet. Although only few drivers will admit to being superstitious, green is traditionally considered to be an “unlucky” color and it must be mere coincidence that it is the color least likely to be seen on a driver’s helmet. When Lotus went to Indianapolis in 1953, the car caused consternation, not just because it looked good but because it was painted green. The Lotus was the first green car ever to appear at the track.
A Personal statement
In the 1960’s, helmet livery became increasingly important as the drivers became less visible. Ultimately, the colors and patterns on the helmet became more than simply a means of identification, it was a personal statement, part of the professional approach of presenting oneself. It became, if you think of the helmet livery of legends such as Ayrton Senna and Jackie Stewart, part of a corporate image, as indispensable as a company’s trade mark. When Damon Hill began racing at the end of 1983, it was entirely appropriate that he wore the blue and white helmet colors of his father. Coats of arms are passed from father to son and helmet livery is a form of heraldry.
The secret is harmony, harmony of line and color
Through the years famous helmet artists such as Sid Mosca and Doug Eyre have created an incredibly high proportion of designs which are instantly recognized. The helmet livery of drivers such as Ayrton Senna and Gilles Villeneuve are legendary and immediately recognized. Doug Eyre’s helmets all conform to a similar shape and the design parameters are constant. He stated that “The secret is harmony, harmony of line and color. Each curve or pattern has to complement the rest. Then it must show up well in photographs, be they monochrome or color. It has to be clear at speed and sharp enough to be easily identifiable.“ Nowadays patterns and colours are so abundantly present that the principle of harmony is lost. Durng a race it has become difficult to picture any individual helmet. The livery of the helmets change every year and no longer seem to be a driver’s personal coat of arm.