Designing a helmet is a process that draws on the driver’s personality, combining inspiration with ambition, and dreams with creativity. In Andrea Bertolini‘s case, the design is the fruit of a flash of inspiration, connected to the colour of a Formula 1 single-seater and the helmet worn by a talented and unlucky driver, Elio De Angelis.
“My first helmet, and we are talking many years ago, was red with the chequered flag on the shell and I used it for my excursions in a pedal kart at home“, says Andrea. “When things became serious, and the karts were propelled by an engine rather than my legs, I adopted a white helmet because back then there were no professional designers, or at least we didn’t know any. When you went to the kart track, you tried to learn everything from how to take a curve to how to customise your helmet using duct or insulation tape. Like many other Italian drivers, I used Italy’s national colours. My design was inspired by Elio De Angelis’, whose basic layout I replicated, but varied chromatically with our tricolour”. The helmet of this driver who raced for Shadow, Lotus and Brabham, was one of the most famous at the time, so many tried to imitate it. However, the process that forged the identity of Bertolini’s design, included another element linked to Formula 1: the rather distinctive colour of the Leyton Houses driven, among others, by Ivan Capelli.
“When I was about thirteen or fourteen years old”, continues the driver from Sassuolo, “I bought a new helmet and decided to adopt a new design inspired by John Watson’s. Based on my drawings and with the support of a friend of mine who painted it for me, the life of my new travel companion began. I loved the aqua green used by Leyton House in Formula 1 and I still do. It’s a very particular shade. Although at first, it provoked some humour in the paddock, I wasn’t interested in other people’s comments. That colour had grabbed me and made my helmet unique, different from the other drivers and for me that was enough”.
Bertolini was personally involved in the creative process of the helmet’s design. “I began to design the shell on paper and tried to imagine its look. I drew inspiration from the helmets of the top kart drivers, but I personally worked on the design and did several trials to see which one was the most distinctive, most aggressive or just the most ‘me’. I created a variant of Senna’s helmet, but with the tricolour in place of the colours of Brazil. However, as Ayrton was a legend, many drivers had the same idea, so I decided to go for a more original solution. I’m still experimenting today to see if and how to evolve the design. I love the side profile of my helmet, and often, after working on new solutions or evolutions, we have taken a few steps back to maintain its distinctive feature. My design hasn’t changed, much, just little details. The colour inversion was the most important change, but otherwise, the design has stayed the same”.
This traditional approach continues with the 2020 version of the helmet which, reintroducing elements used in the models of previous seasons, will lead to the return of the Italian flag in a more visible position. “When we have to design the helmet for a new season, we work with the designer to come up with some small changes. For example, sometimes we include the tricolour, and sometimes we include lines with the colours of the flag. This year there will be a reference to the nation at the top of the shell. On the back of the helmet, we have added a ninth crown, a small mark celebrating my career titles”.
The Italian’s career has seen him establish himself as one of the most successful GT drivers in history, partly due to his ability to study and learn small and big secrets from real masters, including some perhaps less known to the uninitiated. “When I was racing minikarts, my hero was Mike Wilson, and when I got to know him, I even confessed it to him: he thought I was taking the mick! I’ve been privileged because over the years I’ve been lucky enough to meet and work with extraordinary drivers, Michael Schumacher above all. I have to admit, though, I’ve never seen anyone on the same level as Mike. Probably because I looked at him through a child’s eyes, but to me, he was a legend, a hero. I was glued to the fencing to see him lap the track at Parma. I have tried to pick up tips and ideas from everyone, on the track and for the helmet. Years ago things were very different from today. The drivers had their own distinct personality that was immediately visible both on the track and in their helmet designs. Look at the one worn by Elio or Nelson Piquet or John Watson. It was their helmet, no one else’s and anyone could recognise them at a glance. Nowadays this approach has been lost, and helmets are very similar“.
Bertolini sees the helmet as a special object. “A helmet is important to me because, in addition to being the tool with which I face challenges on the track, it represents me. I’m very fond of all my helmets, which I jealously guard. I haven’t swapped with other drivers, except Fernando Alonso, with whom I have a great friendship. I’ll make another swap, and it will mean a lot to me because I’ll enrich my collection with Alessandro, James and Daniel’ helmets [Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Daniel Serra, Editor’s note]. I think together they won one of the most competitive and difficult LMGTE Pro class editions ever, courtesy of a perfect, incredible performance, where everyone made a vital contribution to the final triumph. Having won this legendary race myself, I really know how difficult it is to mount the top step of that podium. So, when we get a chance to meet again, we’ll make the swap”.