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Tuesday, 6 March 2012

How do you paint a Formula 1 helmet? Alex Wurz shows us how...

Formula 1 helmets come in a variety of designs and in the course of 2011, we saw many drivers change their helmets regularly. One would presume that there must be some computerised design process and perhaps laser-cutting of decals and shapes. Apparently not, as Alex Wurz has been showing his Twitter followers recently. They're done by hand.

Alex Wurz is an Austrian racing driver and competed in Formula 1 from 1997 to 2007 and now races in a variety of other formats, including winning the Le Mans 24 hour race twice. He's back in F1 this year as the driver mentor for Williams. And he paints his own helmets.

Wurz has always maintained a fairly specific design over the years, but regularly updates it. He recently revealed the process that he goes through. His comments are in italics. Yes, his spelling's a bit wonky at times, but it is his second language and banged out on a mobile phone.

The original design painting

Here are the blank helmets. Note the lack of lining, visors, etc. We can also see the various airbrushes, paints, brushes and masking tape that Alex will be using. The white machine in the background is the compressor used to power the airbrushes.
Starting to airbrush my Toyota #LeMans helmets (Bell). Step1 (dismantle+ sandpaper) is already done 

The helmet is covered in masking tape and the various outlines drawn on in pen and the colours marked.
Step3: the outlines. Starting by front bottom line, each segment/line grows step-by-step. 6h job :-(

Helmet paint step4: cut "red fields" out carefully& clean fields well, lot of patience's required

The red paint is sprayed on and the gaps in the masking tape cut in the previous step allow it selectively through to the helmet surface.
Step5 of helmet painting done (red fields for austrian flag), looks a mess, but that how it is
there are about 21 steps to my helmet paint job... I guess still 4 weeks until finished... (Lots of traveling to do)

Step 5B. 2nd lid red colour done, other helmet taped up again to start with step6 (yellow fields)

Helmet painting Step 6 done - the yellow on back (for sunset) very pleased with the effect ;-)

Helmet paint next step: cover yellow (see left helmet) and move to next step, cut out green & spray

Helmet paint step9: on right helmet you see white field. This will soon be green

Helmet paint step 9B: take a net, and use it to create a "carbon fibre" look....
Carbon fibre look, or snake skin, mmhh, whatever, once clear coat is on, the effect comes out nicely

Helmet paint step10a: base layer of luminous green, layers of darker green will follow once its dry

Helmet paint step11: cover the green fields. Got interrupted again, son#2 blood on lips due to fight with son#3. No drama tho.

Helmet paint step12: cut blue fields. Amazing, nothing dramatic happened, just missed phone calls
Helmet paint step12 done, painted blue filed wirth usual effect - satellite view of storm..

Helmet paint step13: take off tape monster careful. I use water base colour, v delicate but v light

Step13 done with 1 helmet. It only misses black outlines now. To brush outlines is biggest job tho

Airbrushing process completed on both helmets. Now start v hard work of brushing black outlines
Helmet paint Step 14+15 done, this was silver and light blue outlines, starting black outlines now
At this point, Mrs Wurz chimes in with her own comment:
Julia Wurz @juliawurz
To @alex_wurz followers: if you are experiencing helmet painting step fatigue I truly feel your pain - every day my shower is a new colour

On this pic u can see the effect of the black outlines. Thx for support tweets & interest

Here we go again! Still stuck at step16 of helmet paint job. Black outlines on lid#1 almost finished 

So, step16 done, only took 2 weeks! And so far only one 1 helmet! Sorry, more helmet updates to come

Helmet Paint FINISHED (well 1of 2 lids) WurzPaint signature is on! now Lid goes to BELL for assembly

So that's how much effort it is to paint a helmet. It's interesting to note that the painted helmet is then sent to the factory for final assembly. I guess for safety reasons, they don't want anyone fitting their own bits and pieces.

I found the whole process quite fascinating and I'm going to see if I can find any other helmet painting pictures. You can see on the picture above of Sebastian Vettel the JMD logo of Jens Munser Designs - Munser paints a lot of the drivers' helmets in F1. I'll see what I can dig up.

You can follow Alex Wurz on Twitter:

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