There is a lot made of safety at motorsport events. Competitors sign a waiver acknowledging that motorsport is dangerous and the same statement is printed on every ticket sold. Crashes such as Fernando Alonso's in Melbourne a few weeks ago, Robert Kubica's hand injuring rally crash in 2011 or Simone De Silvestra's 2010 IndyCar inferno amongst many others serve to reinforce that message.

It is not surprising then that safety is emphasized for those officials working at a motorsport event, whether at the side of the track or in pit lane. The safety mantra is trotted out in the official's handbook and at every briefing. It even turns up on posters in the portaloos.

And fair enough. Who wants to get injured? Especially while pursuing an enjoyable interest as a volunteer.

In Australia, we are fairly lucky in that working as a volunteer under a CAMS licence comes with insurance protection, but who wants to have to actually use it? Not I.

The medical team members who work out on the track have increasingly adopted environment-specific clothing and equipment for their own safety. When I started out in the mid nineties, I turned up to circuits and rallies wearing jeans, a t-shirt and a raincoat. As time went by I built up a set of gear that I would tailor to the event I was covering, largely sourced from tradie and outdoor lifestyle stores. For the past few years, regardless of whether the race is a circuit based, rally or off-road event, the personal protective equipment is usually provided by the contracted medical/rescue team and consists of:
  • Overalls, sometimes a proper dual or tri-layer racesuit (fire retardant), sometimes a paramedic-style jumpsuit (variably fire retardant and generally single layer)
  • A few pairs of clinical gloves
  • A set of ear plugs

After that it gets a bit patchy. I bring my own:
  • pair of trademan's gloves which protect my hands from sharp edges and carbon fibre shards but give me enough dextrity to work. Similar gloves with the index and middle finger tips cut off are also available.
  • Sturdy boots,  with a capped toe. For Formula 1 and the ePrix these have to be antistatic because of the ERS and battery systems. I have my own pair, again sourced from a tradesman's store, which are antistatic, oil and pH resistant, have a steel capped toe and, most importantly, are really comfortable.
  • safety glasses which are UV protective and wrap-around. They also have a white LED at the angle of each stem for night work.
  • pair of workman's kneepads (I'm just getting too old to sacrifice my knees any more)
  • race balaclava, though I don't always wear it
  • I also bring some comfort equipment, such as suncream, but I won't get in to that here
So I'm fairly covered from the neck down.

There has been a long running to and fro over the place of medical team crew wearing a helmet at motorsport events. I've been in chase cars and intervention vehicles both with and without a helmet at circuits, rallies, hillclimbs and off-roads. And there are a variety of arguments for and against, including:
  • Well, it's your head. It is sort of important.
  • The competitors must wear helmets.
  • We are travelling at speed and accidents do happen. In 2012 a V8 Supercar hit the medical chase car at Sydney Olympic Park.
  • Even when not travelling at speed, accidents can happen. A camerman was struck by loose wheel in F1 pit lane in 2013

Counter arguments include:
  • You shouldn't be travelling so fast as to need a helmet
  • By the time you are approaching the scene there should be no moving debris
By comparison, most if not all FIA doctors who respond on track at events such as F1, WEC and the ePrix all wear race helmets (usually open face). The pit crew who work on the cars during a race at the F1, V8 supercars and NASCAR, amongst others all wear helmets (often ski helmets, or modified versions).

Amongst medical teams around the world, wearing a helmet is variable. The Japanese and Monegasque crews wear safety helmets. In Australia we wear baseball caps.

If helmets were to be mandatory for medical crews, there are some practical considerations:


A race helmet can cost from AU$200 to several thousand dollars. A ski helmet similarly can cost AU$150-$1000. Ian Roberts, who is the Formula 1 doctor in the FIA Medical Car emailed an interesting site to me that sells reinforced baseball cap style hats (Hardcap A1 Note: This is not an endorsement) for about UK£20.

Who covers the cost? The user, the medical team director or the race organiser? If the team or event is supplying the helmets, especially the expensive ones, they will want to make sure that they get each one back at the end of every event.


A an average modern race helmet weighs a couple of kilos. In a sudden stop this can accentuate forces on your neck. In a competition car, the helmet, FHR (eg. HANS, Simpson Hybrid), harness and seat all work together to limit neck movement and the forces sent through the person's neck. Aside from high end response vehicles such as the FIA F1 Medical Car, most medical response vehicles are standard road-going versions with a standard seat and three-point lap-sash seatbelt. And none of the crew are wearing an FHR. So in this scenario, a weighty helmet might sacrifice your neck to protect your head. Not such a good trade.

Worksite safety helmets, ski helmets and something similar to the Hardcap would arguably be better as they are much lighter.


A race helmet provides great protection against objects striking your head, but there are some context-specific design flaws where the medical team is concerned. A full face helmet will give maximum protection, but unless your comms are transmitted to every other crew member, it makes it a bit tricky to communicate with eachother and the injured competitor.

An open face helmet would work better, but put a modern helmet on and immediately there is another communication problem. There is usually padding around the ears making it very difficult to hear anything, especially over the noise of passing cars.

Again, safety helmets, ski helmets and reinforced baseball caps seem to have the advantage here.

The ski helmets and reinforced baseball caps also have a much lower profile than the safety helmet or race helmet making them much less likely to get caught on or bump against things. It also keeps your field of vision wider, which matters a lot in an environment where there is a high level of noise and constant danger.

Real world use

While I have left this to the end, it may be the most important. I don't have the numbers to back me up, but I suspect that the incidence of serious head injury in trackside medical responders is fairly low. I don't much enjoy clanging my head against rollcage elements while moving about, but aside from some cuts and bruises they are hardly a serious head injury. If anyone has data on this, I'd be grateful to hear from you; pop me an email and I'll get in touch.

So is the consideration and expense worth it?

No one wants to be the test case.

I'd love to hear what motorsport medical teams around the world are doing with regards to their crew wearing helmets. Is it warranted? What is the best choice or design? Who forks out for it? Has a helmet made a difference to anyone?

Stick your opinions and responses in the comments section below.