vex·il·lol·o·gy (noun) – the study of flags. It is its own field of design – representing territories on country, county and city level and has its own subreddit with over 400.000 members. It also comes with its own set of rules and design principles. These being:
- No more than three colours
- No lettering or seals
Some of those can be applied to most disciplines of design. One they certainly intersect with is the design of racing helmets. These are usually unique and thus allow us to easily identify most of Formula One's legends at a mere glance. A yellow with a green and a blue stripe belongs to Ayrton Senna; a slanted German flag on a red background belongs to Michael Schumacher; a helmet featuring a Scottish saltire has to be David Coulthard's. Many drivers, especially in the 80s and 90s, derived their helmet design from their home countries' flags.
New Zealand designer Liam Coxon turned the story on its head and created flags based on drivers' helmets of the 1998 Formula One season. This was the year that saw the chaotic race in Spa Francorchamps and Mika Hakkinen win his first F1 championship in the silver McLaren.
A few factors inspired Liam to start his F1 Flags project. Firstly, he considers himself a “flag nerd”. Secondly, he's been making his own forays into motor racing over the last couple of years and designed his own helmet based on the rejected Red Peak flag – one of the shortlisted finalists in New Zealand's 2015/2016 flag referendum. And thirdly, he's stumbled upon the website http://www.flagsofthegalaxy.com/ a few years ago. It depicts flag designs for each planet in the Star Wars universe. The idea has stuck with Liam ever since and he felt inspired to translate the concept into something Formula 1 themed.
So why 1998 in particular? ”I'm particularly fond of that season because I had a couple of F1 video games from that season growing up.“
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The 90s were a very different ball game when it comes to helmet design. Most designs featured rather basic shapes and limited colour schemes. Even the helmet designs of most backmarkers were simple and distinct enough to draw from memory. Backmarkers like 1998 Tyrrell driver Ricardo Rosset – even though Liam doesn't like the helmet as much.
”I love Rosset as a flag, but the helmet's not quite top-tier.“
Design in Formula 1 has come a long way since 1998. Drivers tend to change their helmet designs almost on a race-to-race basis – so much so that F1 even banned helmet design changes within a season between 2015 and 2020. On top, title sponsors have started applying their branding on their drivers' helmets. As a result, modern designs are a much smaller part of a driver's identity than they used to be. Liam reckons it's a huge missed opportunity for them to miss out on the one aspect that every fan will see – their helmets. ”Despite being well before my time, I can recall and draw Jody Scheckter's helmet design from memory – but even having watched every race last season I would have no chance with the complex jumbled spikes and swoops of the likes of Perez or Raikkonen.“
However, Liam claims that some could still be translated to a project like his. ”There are a few stalwarts, like Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso who would qualify, but it would be impossible to cover the whole grid with the frequently changing designs.“
Even having watched every race last season I would have no clue what to draw for the likes of Perez or Raikkonen.
As for his own project, Liam let us know some of his favourite designs. ”From the '98 season I love Hill's, Häkkinen's and Fisichella's helmets. But, my number one is Alex Wurz. As both a helmet and a flag it's super recognisable, unique and fun.“
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You can check out Liam's entire F1 Flags project on https://www.f1flags.rocks/. Let us know on Twitter which one you like best. More of Liam's work can be found on his website http://www.liamcoxon.com/.
Vexillology is both really nerdy and really awesome. In case we managed to get you hooked, check out the following Ted Talk by Roman Mars: