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Dressing the red knight

02 agosto 2016

In the Middle Ages, dressing a knight was a ritual undertaking. It took at least 40 minutes, during which time the warrior tried to focus his mind on the challenge ahead, whether a joust, tournament or battle. He came to terms with his fears in that metal protective suit that restrained his movements and, if things went wrong, would make any escape attempt nigh impossible.

Modern knights. Professional drivers, such as those of Formula One, repeat this ritual in a modern key, significantly faster and in order to be as safe as possible, so they can return safe and sound after every challenge. A driver is dressed in two stages, the basic outfit and the clothes they wear specifically for racing on track. In their room, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen take around three minutes to put on their undersuit shirt, socks, suit and shoes before entering the pits for a practice session or a race.

Undersuit and socks. The shirt, usually white, is mandatory for all drivers under their suits. By regulation it is long sleeve and high neck, because it has to protect that part of the body as much as possible, along with the torso and arms. Research never ceases in F1 and the aim is to develop durable, yet also breathable, fabrics because the temperature in the cockpit can exceed 70 degrees Celsius. The same rules apply to socks as to the undersuit: they must reach to the calves at least and be made of fireproof fabric.

Suit and shoes. Since 2005, the suit, the driver’s second skin, complies with regulations that seek to improve the degree of protection against heat and flames. The fabrics used must be approved and an embroidered trademarks must only be on the outside of the suit, which consists of two or three layers. The shoes, the size of boxing boots but much more sophisticated, have to cover the foot and ankle. They are made of fire and hydrocarbon resistant material and are usually made to measure so mould perfectly to the foot, essential attributes for an F1 driver. Depending on the model, the ankle may be more or less mobile while the heel is reinforced.


The second stage. When the time comes for the driver to go out on track other items come into play. The driver has around two minutes to put on his earphones to listen to the radio connected to the pits and then, soon after, a balaclava, which protects his head in the event of fire. Under the regulations the overall shape of the face can remain uncovered, so much so that the true balaclava, which left only the eyes uncovered, has fallen into disuse. The driver then puts on the helmet, weighing about 800 grams, and the Hans collar device, which prevents lateral movements of the neck, limiting the risk of injury to the upper part of the spine.


The final touches. Usually the gloves are the final garment to go on. This is for at least a couple of reasons. They are tight to ensure maximum sensitivity and are very enveloping, with a mandatory 8cm cuff to ensure maximum protection in the event of fire. Drivers hate to have sweaty hands and that is why they prefer to cover them only when it's time to drive. For many, however, the very last touch before getting in the car, often always with the same foot and from the same side, is to close the upper part of the suit which is made of Velcro. That’s it. The session has begun: the mechanic signals that it’s time to go out and race, the car leaves the garage and the visor is lowered. Off he goes!