As we all know, racing is a pretty extreme and dangerous sport. So fashion for the drivers must reciprocate the potential dangers. But it wasn’t always this way.
Since the beginning of racing, there have been definite dangers at every turn and corner of the race. Broken bones, fire, and even death can occur in these Formula One races (the last death being 1994.)
However, looking snazzy was often the priority.
In the early years of Formula One (1950s-1960s), the dress code was all about elegance, glamour, and comfort. We had scarves, brightly coloured shirts, and even a day-to-day t-shirt (enjoy skin grafts in that!).
Racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio was known for his polo shirt and trousers. He also sported a balaclava which was probably more for his sunburn than the possible third-degree burns of a racing accident.
Thankfully since 1975, the FIA (Federation International De L’Automobile) have inducted safety precautions to reduce the risks of racing Although, the early ’70s were still fairly loose with inflammable cotton clothing being the go-to. It was only after 1976 that things changed after the Niki Lauda fire.
Since the introduction of these safety rules, drivers’ suits have been required to be flame retardant. Before, suits resembled that of an astronaut, NASA style, with five heavy layers. Thanks to technology, drivers can now take comfort in ‘Nomex’ which is a polymer material that resists chemicals, flames, and radiation.
The substance lacks strength comparable to the likes of Kevlar. However, it is lightweight and flexible, making it perfect for Formula One drivers.
Nomex is also subjected to intense thermal testing before it is put to use. The material is exposed to an open flame and heat of 300-400 degrees Celsius (preferably not while being worn). If the material does not ignite within a time frame of 10 seconds, then the material is safe to use within the driver’s overalls.
Drivers, as well as pit crew, are required to wear jumpsuits which have elastic wrists and ankles with two to four layers of Nomex. Zippers and threads must be fire-retardant and cannot melt or transfer heat to the driver’s skin.
The suits are washed and dried 15 times and then re-tested at a temperature of 400-600 degrees Celsius. The suits also may not reach an inside temperature of 41 degrees for longer than 11 seconds. It’s a pretty lengthy process to ensure drivers and their crew are safe at all times.
Sponsor patches must now be printed onto the clothing, which cuts the weight of the suit by half a kilogram. As well as being light-weight (thanks to the printed sponsor patches), the clothing is also ventilated and breathable to allow sweat to escape throughout the race.
A driver’s suit must also have two strong handles on either shoulder which can support the combined weight of a driver and their seat in case of an emergency where mechanical evacuation is required (or in case of a Mission Impossible parachute stunt).
And it probably comes as no surprise to you that in a sport as glamorous as F1, the drivers have impeccable taste off-the-track as well.
Lewis Hamilton is ALWAYS impeccably dressed, down to the finest detail, and is on the record saying he can’t get enough of luxury designers, Roberto Tisci and Olivier Rousteing.
The fiery driver has a distinct luxury/street style which he’s made his own.
Affirming his fashion credentials even further, he’s even done some modelling for Mercedes Benz with fellow driver, Nico Rosberg.
To hark back to the old school, British F1 superstar David Coulthard was renowned for his love of beautiful women and beautiful clothes.
Like Hamilton, the chiselled Brit has the credentials to back it up – once modelling threads by Petra Ecclestone at the Amber Fashion Show.