When F1 comes to Austin, drivers celebrate with plenty of special-edition helmets

Formula One loves Austin, Texas. That was the case long before the Drive to Survive phenomenon made the U.S. Grand Prix one of the most well-attended events in the sport's history. Last year, the Circuit of the Americas welcomed 400,000 spectators through the gates over the three-day race weekend, and this year that number is expected to rise to 440,000 (Watch the U.S. GP on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET; stream live on ABC).

A trip to the Texas capital is circled on the calendars of so many throughout the paddock. Not only is Austin home to some of the best crowds of the season, it boasts a cuisine and certain culture that resonates with the drivers, engineers and most everyone who make up this traveling circus.

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Ask any driver on the grid, and COTA will inevitably land high up the order of their favorite races, but you don't need to take their word for it. Look back at the history of this race, and every year you'll find drivers celebrating their stay in the Live Music (and BBQ) Capital of the World.

This year is no different. Drivers up and down the grid have been revealing fresh helmet designs for the U.S. GP all week, almost all of which with a local flavor that's unmistakably Austin. So let's round up each and every striking new lid at COTA in 2022.

Pierre Gasly | AlphaTauri

It doesn't matter if you grew up in the plains of Texas or the banks of the Seine, what little kid doesn't grow up dreaming of being a cowboy? The gold Lone Star State badge set against the patinaed white base lends Gasly a look that carries plenty of early-seasons "Westworld" vibes.

The 26-year-old French driver is hardly the first tourist to visit Austin and play up the aesthetic, but that doesn't mean his artists at BS Designs haven't pulled off a strong motif that will resonate with the locals.

Max Verstappen | Red Bull

There is a long, long history of racers coming to the U.S. decked out in red, white and blue, recreating the looks of Captain America and Evel Knievel, but this offering from our newly minted two-time world champion is something different. The idea behind it is fresh, new and fun.

The shapes and designs are the same as Verstappen features at practically every race he contests, but what Jens Munser Designs have done to celebrate Austin is to feature the bold red, white and blue lines that border COTA's esses and tower complex. Those features are accented by the stars that periodically appear within those painted bands of asphalt, and also happen to represent the 2021 and 2022 titles the 25-year-old Dutch driver has claimed.

Zhou Guanyu | Alfa Romeo

What's more Texan -- and by extension, American -- than blue jeans? (Although, considering the temperatures expected in Austin, it's hard to fathom wearing jeans at COTA this weekend.)

Zhou's lid takes inspiration from a staple of everyday American fashion, and the crew at KV Design earn the Alfa driver bonus points for capturing the small details like the gold stitchwork and the fabric texture of the blue jean base. The star of this helmet, though, is undoubtedly the "Zhou" belt buckle proudly displayed on the back of this brain bucket.

Esteban Ocon | Alpine

Peter Parker may hail from Queens, but there's nothing more Americana in global pop culture than superheroes, making the U.S. GP the ideal place to celebrate 60 years of Spider-Man. And in a sport so reliant on reflexes and reaction times, is there a more apt superhero to celebrate than Spidey?

Anyone who's watched a Marvel movie of late can tell you there are seemingly endless variations of Spider-Man suits, so consider us thrilled that the inspiration for Ocon's helmet appears to be the classic bright red, black webbing and royal blue accents -- even if the Spider-Man logo on top stems from more contemporary interpretations.

Lance Stroll | Aston Martin

From boots to chaps to belts, leather is everywhere in cowboy culture, and as such, you'll find plenty of it on the streets of Austin and the ranches farther out of town. So it makes sense that one of these drivers would look to that material for inspiration for a Texan special edition.

Designer Mark Antar says that Stroll's look also draws inspiration from "Yellowstone," a Western TV series set in the late 19th century. The leathered texture of this helmet looks outstanding, among the best elements of this year's lids, and the stitching has a hyper-realistic feel that necessitates a closer inspection.

Charles Leclerc | Ferrari

Anecdotally, Kansas City is the BBQ Capital of the World, but Austin (and the rest of Texas, and the Carolinas, and large swathes of Tennessee, among others) has a legitimate claim to that crown. Leclerc and the rest of the F1 grid can consider themselves lucky that their star power ensures they'll never have to wait in the hourslong line at Franklin when they come to town.

You might not know it at first glance, but Leclerc's helmet is, in fact, inspired by BBQ. More specifically, BBQ sauce. A perfect brisket might be too sacrosanct to taint with any ordinary BBQ sauce pulled off the shelf of your local supermarket, but this is undoubtedly worthy of pairing with your next order of burnt ends.

Mick Schumacher | Haas

As the unofficial anthem of the state suggests, "the stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas," and that's clearly seen in the top of Schumacher's helmet -- a beautiful night sky peppered with a galaxy of stars. What's special about this design is that it has an incredibly personal touch, on top of being inspired by the location of this weekend's race.

The Schumacher family owns a ranch 90 miles north of Dallas, where mom Corinna and sister Gina oversee a training program for show horses, and it's there where the sunset setting wrapping around Mick's helmet takes place. On the back are a pair of images of Gina, an 11-time European and four-time world equestrian champion, riding her horses. As Mick said about his sister's accomplishments, "I'm a proud little brother."

Daniel Ricciardo | McLaren

It wouldn't be a trip to Austin without a hot helmet from the Honey Badger himself, and Ricciardo didn't let us down in 2022. You could argue that there is no bigger name in American motorsport than Ricky Bobby, and that's exactly whom the Australian has turned to for inspiration.

Considering the former Renault and Red Bull man is facing a year out of a race seat in 2023, with McLaren having opted to move on to Oscar Piastri for next season, it feels quite apt for Ricciardo to adopt Bobby's "ME" livery from "Talladega Nights." And there's perhaps no greater line from the movie to sum up both Ricciardo and Bobby than "I wanna go fast," which is printed proudly across the back of the helmet.

Bonus points for all of Ricciardo's "Talladega Nights" quotes, especially the more obscure ones, in his Instagram clip revealing this year's design.

Sebastian Vettel | Aston Martin

Vettel has spent much of this season trying to raise awareness of environmental issues, from his frequent comments about climate change to his ongoing work to help save the bees, so his adoption of America's hippie past feels very on brand. With his beard and long hair, the four-time world champion certainly has the look that recalls the days of peace and love.

Beyond the theme of this lid being bang on the money, this piece of art from Jens Munser Designs is among the most beautiful in Austin this year. The bands of shaded turquoise, contrasted with mirrored bands of shades of orange, complement one another really nicely, and the metallic-flake details like the peace sign and the "peace and love" graphic properly pop against that base color.