A mere stones throw from the Bahrain International Circuit is the Bell Helmets HQ, but you wouldn’t know it. At just two years old, Bell’s global R&D and manufacturing centre now produces over 30,000 racing helmets each year, to be distributed across the world to racing drivers of all levels and disciplines.
While out in Bahrain for the WEC finale, DSC was handed the opportunity to visit the new facility, to learn about the helmet making process with with Bell Helmets’ CEO Martina Kindt.
A motorsport maze
Bell’s facility is home to around 130 employees, and is a collection of enormous manufacturing rooms, all dedicated to a specific stage of designing and crafting each helmet. From miniature replicas to full-size race-ready helmets, all of Bell’s Helmets are now designed and manufactured in the Kingdom of Bahrain after a lengthy stint based in China.
Getting the chance to see inside and get a flavour of just what goes into each helmet was a fascinating experience, because helmets are an often overlooked part of motorsport safety in regards to recent advancements. And it was made clear while on the tour, just how modern some of the technology and materials used to manufacture them is.
Kindt explained to DSC that helmet development is an incredibly progressive area of motorsport safety, and that FIA regulation changes every half decade dictate the direction of their future product lines frequently. What’s the main areas which Bell is looking at for the future? Not necessarily just robustness, as weight, aero and ventilation are now just as much of a priority for Bell going forward.
From miniature replicas to full-size race-ready helmets, all of Bell’s Helmets are now designed and manufactured in Bahrain.
Its location as it stands is pretty secluded, though Bell’s factory is just the beginning as part of a wider new development plan which aims to attract major motorsport related businesses. A million square-metres of land around Bahrain International Circuit has been set aside for a future technopark which will continue develop over the coming years.
There’s plenty of industrial machinery at work, but what’s staggering is the amount of steps which are completed by hand, adding a personal touch to each helmet which leaves the building.
The process begins in the Foam Plant and Plastic Injection centre, where the form for the interior parts are created. Here carbon gas beads – which are specially made for Bell – are expanded, compressed and moulded into shape.
From there, the Fabric Department got to work on cutting the pre-pregnated fabric which is stored at 21 degrees. The fabric is then cut to shape and ready to form the shape of the outside of the helmets.
Once the moulds are made, then the hands-on work really starts, as the helmets are separated into male and female moulds before multiple layers of carbon fibre are wrapped around them by the workers to strengthen their main frames. This process takes about an hour for each helmet.
The next room DSC ventured into was the Trim, Drill, Sanding and Painting room, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s an enormous facility, split into sections, surrounded by racks and racks of half-finished helmets.
Each worker has a specific job, even down to just drilling the holes for the visors. But each one has to be precise, and specific to the model being made. It means there’s detailed instruction manuals all over the place, to ensure that the end product is perfect.
Once the holes are drilled into the helmets, the edges are trimmed and the outside it sanded, they finally begin to look like helmets you’d see on store shelves. But obviously, helmets are known for their aesthetics to most, and for Bell that’s a huge part of the process. Bell doesn’t just manufacturer the helmets, they design and paint them too.
Bell doesn’t just manufacturer the helmets, they design and paint them too.
Standard helmets will have layers of white base coat for aftermarket customisation, but many are commissioned by the buyer to be fully decorated with designs and stickers.
The final room is where mere shells are transformed into fully operational helmets. With the paint applied, the workers in the Final Assembly area fit the rear fins, visors, radios, clips and straps onto the helmets, before they are sent off to stores and customers.
While DSC was in there, a table of four was dedicated to applying visors to Kevin Magnussen Renault F1 helmets. All of them were being sent to Renault and Magnussen, not necessarily for use. All of them though, were designed and made to be raced with, whether they are for display purposes or not.
Further into the room, replica helmets of current F1 drivers were also on show, racks and racks of fully finished as well as defected ones.
At first glance you’d expect hundreds of thousands of helmets to leave the factory each year
At first glance you’d expect hundreds of thousands of helmets to leave the factory each year, but because it’s such a hands-on process and because so much care is needed to ensure that each helmet meets the safety regulations, it’s staggering that the number is just 30,000 including miniatures.
There’s a reason Bell Helmets has such a lengthy history, and a wide selection of world-class drivers choosing its helmets for competition each year. A healthy combination of using cutting-edge machinery and hand-crafted precision goes into each helmet, and when you’re producing something which could save someone’s life getting the balance right is paramount.
That’s why at Bell Helmets, every product is tried, tested and inspected before it leaves the factory doors.