How F1 started using full-face helmets

Apart from inventing an aerodynamic device and becoming the last man to win a Grand Prix in a car of his own design, what has Dan Gurney ever done for Formula One? Why, he introduced the full-face helmet in 1968.

You’ll recognize the 1968 German Grand Prix as Jackie Stewart’s big day out in Germany. It was the race that pitted men against the cold waters of the Eifel mountains and after it was all over, after 14 never-ending-by-modern-TV-standards laps in the mountains, it was the young Scotsman with a band of Royal Stewart tartan around his white racing helmet who emerged from the acres of wet forest as the new Nebelmeister.

On Stewart’s head, like on the head of every racing driver in those days, was an open-face helmet: a reinforced baseball cap with earmuffs, to be worn with a visor or racing goggles to protect against stone chips and German insects. In this very same race, eight minutes down but finishing on the lead lap, was America’s Renaissance road racer Dan Gurney wearing for the first time in Formula One a full-face helmet.

The piece of equipment he introduced would evolve over the decades, it would turn from a sphere of wishful thinking into carbon fiber armor strong enough to decelerate subsonic springs aimed at one’s head into non-lethal projectiles, and it would save the lives of many. Back on that cold August day in 1968, few would have guessed that Formula One would one day become a non-lethal sport, back on a day when the wild forests reached all the way to a sort of tarmac which wouldn’t be fit for a strip mall parking lot these days, when Dan Gurney and Jackie Stewart drove their blue aluminum cars through all those lonely corners, the television cameras few and far between.

Photo Credit: Jim Culp


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