We’ll all soon be returning to the tracks, so it’s time to get your car and equipment prepped and ready. Driver’s equipment is a key aspect to the FIA’s pursuit to improve safety for those in motorsport, so it’s important to get it right.
Individual drivers are responsible for ensuring their own safety, but there are set standards that need to be met. One of the most important of these is racewear - appropriate, flame resistant clothing, for heat protection against direct flame and radiant heat, is mandatory.
Choosing a race suit is one the most important decisions for a driver to make when it comes to racewear. As race suits vary considerably in price from around £200 to upward of £1.5k and with lots of different brands and features available, it’s hard to make an informed decision.
We’ve put together the ultimate racewear guide to choose the race suit best suited to you, your level and your budget.
FIA Standards for Driver’s Race Overalls
Firstly, let’s take a look at the FIA Standards when it comes to race suits. There are a range of FIA safety ratings that are required, all of which are dependent on what race or rally activity you’re undertaking. We’re looking specifically at the UK Circuit Racing Overalls (FIA 8856-2000) in this guide. If you’re looking to confirm if your garment is FIA approved, download the Technical List for homologation FIA 8856-2000 here.
Clean, Flame-Resistant, standards compliant overalls, must be worn to cover from ankle to wrist to neck.
MotorsportsUK states that, “As with any item of safety equipment, evidence of damage or excessive wear can render it unsuitable for use. In the case of overalls this could include over frequent, or incorrect washing, broken seams or stitching and worn patches. Two piece overalls should be avoided, but if worn must overlap and provide flame resistant coverage.”
Top-level and entry-level race suits generally meet the same safety protection standards. However, the cost difference of race suits often reflects the materials and technology that has been used in the manufacturing process. Let’s take a closer look…
When it comes to a race suit sizing is key. A suit that’s too tight or too short will cause discomfort, reduce any freedom of movement in the cockpit and generally lead to a miserable experience for any given length of time.
Race suits feature continental sizing and usually range from a size 44 to a size 64. Each manufacturer will have their own sizing guide such as Marina’s, which takes into consideration chest, waist, hips, height and weight, so make sure you check the guide for the specific manufacturer of your chosen suit.
If you have concerns around sizing, it’s possible to opt for a race suit with a belt, which will allow for additional improvements in fit. Suits come with and without a belt, much as the same as you can opt for no pockets or pockets inside or outside of the suit.
Some suit manufacturers also offer made-to-measure services if you are looking for something more bespoke.
Suits for Women
Over recent years, the number of women taking part in motorsports has dramatically increased (something we’re super excited about). Whereas in the past women would generally wear smaller sizes of male suits, many racewear brands now offer a collection of female specific race suits. Designed to work with the female body, women’s suits are cut to provide optimum fit and comfort.
Suit flexibility is vital for comfort, particularly when it comes to rallies, raids, and long distance races. Race overalls tend to come with stretch panels made from elasticated material at the bottom of the back, under the knee and under the arm to allow for more flexibility, so keep your eye out for these in the spec.
Our Marina ELAST1 suit is made with Elast 1® fabric which turns it into a 100% elastic suit. The elastic ensures that the suit adapts perfectly to body movements, guaranteeing perfect mobility and comfort.
The most common materials used in racing suits are treated cotton fabrics and Nomex. Treated cotton racing suits are often cheaper to buy, but the chemical treatment can begin to lose effectiveness after each wash. In contrast, Nomex itself is flame resistant so its effectiveness cannot be removed by washing, so the product will remain safe for the full lifespan of the suit. Nomex will not sustain combustion in air or melt when exposed to flame. In fact it carbonizes and becomes thicker when exposed to intense heat, forming an additional protective barrier.
Number of Layers
When it comes to layers, race suits have 1, 2 or 3-layers and that often determines how breathable the material used is, as well as the weight of the overall itself. A race suit can affect weight slightly but 2 and 3-layer race suits are the current standard for greater protection to the driver.
The MARINA Racewear overalls such as the Marina Race Suit Air is as light as 1kg and maintains the 12.1 seconds of protection against second-degree burns. Whilst being 3-layers, the Marina Racewear has antibacterial fabric to aid in the wicking of moisture whilst sitting in the cockpit.
Race suits aren’t entirely fireproof, but rather fire retardant and on average, each layer averagely allows for 15 seconds of protection.
Most modern race suits have flat seams across the material. Flat seams cause less rubbing than raised ones and threads are less likely to snag and unravel. As well as being more comfortable, flat seams are more durable, so prolonging the lifespan of the suit.
As stated by MotorsportsUK, evidence of broken seams or stitching and worn patches can lead to an overall being unsuitable and therefore redundant, so it’s well worth ensuring your chosen suit has flat seams.
When choosing a race suit, as simple as it may seem, consider the material of the collar. When sitting in the cockpit for any given length of time, with your head moving with the car, scanning the horizon for the next apex or chicane, your head is constantly moving so any discomfort or friction from a collar can be an unwanted distraction.
It's purely a comfort feature, but if you spend hours in the racing seat, you should consider a soft collar. Made from a different material from the rest of the overall, a soft collar provides additional comfort around the neck area.
Epaulettes or Yokes
Epaulettes or yokes or even ‘floating arms’ is the area where the arm and shoulder meet, and the material overlaps the shoulder area. These act as handles and help marshals to lift a driver from the racing seat after a crash or collision. Whilst a small part of the design, these handles are vital when it comes to ensuring a driver is removed from the vehicle as quickly as possibly.
Some entry level suits don’t include epaulettes, so it’s worth doing your research and checking whether your chosen suit does before you buy. All of our Marina race suits do include this feature.
Many race suits now come with pre-curved sleeves to allow for improved flexibility. Curved to the natural driving position the suit will feel comfortable for the driver whilst also giving an optimum range of movement. Suits may also come with elasticated bands at the underarm to allow for an even wider range of mobility and comfort - essential for longer or more demanding races.
All of our racing suits include pre-curved sleeves, but some entry level products available on the market don’t, so make sure you double check before you buy.
Coverage and Wrist and Ankle Cut
As all race suits must be worn to cover from ankle to wrist to neck, it’s vital that your suit covers the whole leg down to the ankle and whole arm down to the wrist.
It’s therefore important that you ensure the right fit of a new suit and that it continues to fit over time (especially important for growing drivers). If any wrist or ankle is showing at all the suit must be retired so make sure you double check the size guide of your chosen suits manufacturer.
Race suits traditionally come with an elasticated cuff that tucks beneath the lip and ankle guard of a race boot. The same goes for the sleeves which tuck to driving gloves. As well as ensuring no skin is exposed at all, this is also the most comfortable option so worth baring in mind when choosing your suit.
New Season, New Suit
We are often asked how long a race suit lasts. There is no hard and fast rule as it will depend on many factors, including material, frequency of use, amount of wear and tear and level of care when washing and maintaining.
Whilst there is technically no expiration dates on racing suits bearing FIA 8856-2000, regular drivers should consider changing their suit each season to ensure optimum fit and performance. You must retire your suit immediately if it gets any rips, tears or split seams.
We offer a comprehensive collection of race suits to suit different needs (and budgets), including entry level, mid-range and top spec products. All of our suits meet the standards of protection required by Homologation FIA 8856-2000. Shop our full range of race suits and overalls.