Following a groundbreaking project to develop of a racing helmet specifically for young drivers, the FIA Foundation and FIA Institute are working with manufacturers to make these helmets even more affordable for drivers across the world.

Prior to this project, it was thought that a young driver helmet should just be a smaller version of an adult one. But through key research funded by the FIA Foundation, this established thinking was challenged.

Researchers found that smaller versions of adult helmet designs – all that were currently available on the market – were of inappropriate geometry and mass. These researchers collected size and mass data using young volunteer subjects and the FIA Institute used this data to build 3D surface models of the heads and shoulders of young karters.

“Young heads are lighter than adults so their helmets should be softer,” said FIA Institute research consultant Andy Mellor. “Also, relative to their bodies, kids’ heads are big but their necks are thinner and weaker so their helmets need to be lighter. Their necks are also shorter so a miniaturised adult helmet tends to rest on their shoulders, creating a gap at the top and also potentially putting impact loads through the wrong path, the neck providing a pivot point.”

Previous research had established that although a four year old’s head size is typically 90 per cent of that of an adult’s and a 12-year old’s 95 per cent, their necks are not equivalently sized. A typical four-year old neck is only around 75 per cent of adult size, with a 12-year old’s typically 85 per cent. Combined with their weaker muscles, it means that their necks are more susceptible than adults to injury from tensile, compressive and bending loads.

The mass of the helmet is therefore critical. A delicate balance is required between impact protection and helmet mass.

The FIA Institute conducted in-depth research into children’s head mass, head geometry and changes that occur with growth was undertaken with the results collated and analysed.

Following this thorough investigation, three-dimensional models representing the average size, shape and mass of a youth’s head, were created and then sent to technical partner and helmet manufacturer Osbe, which styled them into full working prototypes. A number of shells and liners, to FIA Institute specification, were tested to find the safest helmet specification for young drivers. This was agreed upon together with the principles for joint FIA-Snell certification.

In just two years, a new youth helmet standard was developed, designed for the physique of two age groups: seven-to-11-year olds and 12-to 16-year olds. In partnership with the Snell Memorial Foundation, a variety of motor sport stakeholders were brought together to share research and knowledge on the issue.

The helmet takes the FIA 8860 helmet as its basis for safety. Developed over an eight-year period by the FIA and the FIA Institute, the 8860 standard is the highest in terms of helmet design and provides drivers with increased protection in all key impact areas. The helmet developed for young drivers incorporates a similar level of safety. Now the FIA Institute is working to make it even more affordable for use by young drivers across the world.