Unveiling the Shield: Understanding Automobile Racing Helmets Homologations

Tech: Automobile Racing Helmets Homologations

In the world of motorsports, safety stands as an unwavering cornerstone, and at the heart of this commitment lies the racing helmet. Beyond being a mere accessory, modern racing helmets are meticulously engineered pieces of protective gear, crafted to safeguard drivers in the event of high-speed collisions and impacts. As technology evolves and safety standards advance, understanding the nuances of helmet homologations becomes paramount for both professional racers and amateurs alike. Join us as we delve into the realm of automobile racing helmets, exploring their significance, construction, and the various homologations that govern their design.

The Essence of Racing Helmets

A racing helmet is more than just a shell covering the head. It serves as a crucial barrier between the driver and potential hazards on the track, offering protection against impacts, debris, and fire. Constructed from advanced materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, and Kevlar, these helmets are designed to be lightweight yet incredibly strong. Additionally, they feature interior padding and ventilation systems to ensure comfort and airflow during the intense rigors of racing.

Understanding Helmet Homologations

Helmet homologations are certifications that signify a helmet's compliance with specific safety standards set forth by regulatory bodies such as the Snell Memorial Foundation and the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). Each homologation dictates criteria related to impact resistance, flame retardancy, visor strength, and more, ensuring that helmets offer the highest level of protection to drivers.

Let's break down some of the most notable helmet homologations:

1. Snell SA: Issued by the Snell Memorial Foundation, and the most common approval in North American motorsports, the Snell SA (current: SA2020) standard is designed specifically for use in motorsports. Helmets bearing this homologation undergo rigorous testing for impact resistance, flame resistance, and peripheral vision, among other tests. They are a popular choice among professional and amateur racers alike, offering a high level of protection and performance.

2. FIA 8859-2015: Endorsed by the FIA, this homologation is a global standard for racing helmets across various disciplines, including sports car, formula and touring car racing as well as rallying. Helmets meeting the FIA 8859-2015 standard are subjected to stringent tests for impact absorption, shell integrity, and visor strength, ensuring maximum safety for drivers competing at the highest levels of motorsport.

3. FIA 8860-2018 and FIA 8860-2018 ABP: Representing the pinnacle of helmet technology, the FIA 8860-2018 homologation sets the gold standard for Formula 1 and other top-tier racing series. Helmets meeting this specification feature advanced composite constructions and undergo exhaustive testing for impact resistance and fire resistance, and ballistic protection. 

Advanced Ballistic Protection (ABP) integrated into helmets meeting the FIA 8860-2018 ABP standard is a revolutionary feature designed to mitigate the risk of ballistic injuries in high-speed racing incidents. It comprises specialized materials and construction techniques aimed at bolstering the helmet's ability to withstand projectile impacts, such as flying debris or parts from other vehicles. This additional layer of protection underscores the FIA's commitment to advancing safety standards in motorsports, particularly in open cockpit cars where the potential for such hazards is heightened.

4. Snell/FIA CMR (Children's Motorsport Racing): Specifically tailored for young racers, the Snell/FIA CMR homologation ensures that helmets provide optimal protection for children participating in karting and other junior racing categories. These helmets undergo testing for impact absorption,  and chin bar strength, prioritizing the safety of the next generation of motorsport enthusiasts.

5. Snell M2020 (and ECE):

While the Snell M2020 and ECE is allowed by most sanctioning organizations for autocross, lapping, drifting and karting, this standard is primarily intended for motorcycle use, including both street riding and track racing. Helmets meeting the Snell M2020 and ECE standards undergo extensive testing for impact resistance, and overall durability, with a focus on scenarios relevant to motorcycle crashes such as linear impacts from falls or collisions, as well as angled impacts that mimic slides or glancing blows. These tests aim to evaluate the helmet's ability to protect the rider's head under real-world motorcycle riding conditions.

Unlike some other standards, such as Snell SA (motorsports) or FIA homologations, the M2020 and ECE standards does not include specific testing for fire resistance. Nor does it  include testing for multiple impacts against a rollbar. Furthermore, Snell M2020 and ECE helmets are not designed or certified for use with Frontal Head Restraint (FHR) devices. FHR devices, also known as head and neck restraints, or simply "Hans" devices, are commonly used in motorsports to reduce the risk of head and neck injuries in the event of a crash. This type of testing is more commonly associated with standards intended for motorsports helmets, such as the FIA 8859, 8860 and  Snell SA (motorsports) standards. 

How often should a racing helmet be replaced?

Auto racing helmets should be replaced periodically to ensure optimal safety and performance. The frequency of replacement depends on various factors, including usage, exposure to environmental conditions, and any impacts the helmet may have sustained. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, here are some general guidelines:

  1. Every 5 Years: As a rule of thumb, auto racing helmets should be replaced approximately every five years, even if they haven't been involved in any accidents or sustained visible damage. Over time, the materials in the helmet, including the protective foam liner and shell, can degrade due to exposure to UV rays, moisture, and temperature fluctuations. This degradation can compromise the helmet's ability to absorb impact energy effectively, reducing its overall effectiveness in protecting the wearer's head.

  2. After Significant Impact: If a helmet is involved in a significant impact, whether on the track or during transportation, it should be replaced immediately, regardless of its age. Even if there are no visible signs of damage, the internal components of the helmet may have been compromised, increasing the risk of injury in the event of another crash.

  3. Visual Inspection: Regularly inspect your helmet for any signs of wear and tear, such as cracks, dents, or delamination of the shell. If you notice any damage, no matter how minor, it's best to err on the side of caution and replace the helmet.

  4. Helmet Standards Updates: Stay informed about updates to helmet safety standards and certifications set forth by organizations like FIA and Snell. As technology evolves and new standards are introduced, older helmets may become obsolete or less effective at providing adequate protection. Upgrading to a helmet that meets the latest safety standards ensures you're benefiting from the most advanced protective features available.

Ultimately, the primary reason for replacing an auto racing helmet is to maintain its effectiveness in safeguarding the wearer's head in the event of a crash. By adhering to recommended replacement intervals and conducting regular inspections, racers can ensure they're equipped with headgear that meets the highest safety standards and provides the best possible protection on the track.


Expiration Dates

1. Snell SA - Most North American racing organizations allow the current and the previous Snell SA rating, with some organizations allowing previous two. But generally speaking Snell SA ratings are valid for ten years, with new Snell ratings released every five years. If you have an SA2015 helmet, it will expire at the end of 2025. If you have an SA2020 helmet, it will expire at the end of 2030. You should always refer to the rule book of the track day/race organization you drive with.

2. FIA 8859-2015 & FIA 8860-2018 - Presently, these FIA homologations do not have expiry dates. Nevertheless, with the impending launch of the FIA 8859-2024 homologation, it is anticipated that the FIA will designate an expiry date for the 8859-2015 homologation, likely extending it until 2034. We will promptly update this article once this information is confirmed by the FIA.


In the world of automobile racing, the racing helmet is perhaps the most important piece of driver safety equipment. It's essential for motorsport participants to use helmets that are certified to appropriate standards and compatible with the safety equipment mandated or preferred in their chosen discipline to ensure maximum protection in the event of a crash. Whether you're a seasoned professional or an aspiring racer, choosing the right helmet with the appropriate homologation is paramount in ensuring your safety and success on the track. From the demanding standards of the Snell SA2020 to the cutting-edge technology of the FIA 8860-2018 ABP, each homologation represents a commitment to safety in motorsports.

So, the next time you don your racing helmet, remember that it's not just a piece of equipment—it's your shield in the pursuit of speed and glory.