There was a time not so long ago when a Formula One driver was a true hero, a gritty individual with style, a hotshot with a side order of arrogance, a playboy with a stereotypically beautiful female on his arm and a stiff drink in his hand.
These guys didn’t care about image, sponsors, the media, their reputation or the authority figures that were team principles. They lived for the lifestyle, the rush, the money, the women and most of all, the danger.
Often turning up to the track on race days in maybe a t-shirt, a pair of jeans and some flip flops..that is if they could find them under the pile of women in the hotel room after the previous nights party.
“Sex – The Breakfast of Champions”
That was what the badge that was always on the racing overalls of Legend James Hunt read. Did he live and die by that phrase? Probably. Hunt passed at the young age of 45 from a heart attack, most say caused by the overindulgence in the more enjoyable things in life; he was always pushing his body to the extremes for his passions.
Most say that Formula One lost its Rock ‘n’ Roll when Hunt left the Formula One scene in 1979 and there have been so few drivers since that maybe tried to replicate that kind of persona in their lifestyle. So few that we can count them on one hand, and let’s face it, none of these guys came close to Hunt and the others guys in the same bracket.
So what’s so different nowadays?
Well... Everything... Formula One is no longer a “sport” in the true sense of the word; it’s a media machine, a sponsor's dream, a business, a corporate steam train.
Are these the reasons why Formula One is not as Rock ‘n’ Roll after all? Drivers have to be highly qualified to deal with the media in a face-to-face manner. Just look at how Lewis Hamilton has to conduct himself wherever he is and no matter what he is doing?
Have you ever seen Lewis wearing an item of clothing just lately that wasn’t emblazoned with Vodafone, Santander, Mercedes, Johnny Walker, Boss, Mobil 1, Aigo and Fed Ex, etc.? Even if he was out of team colours you can bet that the watch he is wearing is supplied by a sponsor as also are his jacket, shoes, trousers and underwear (Calm down ladies).
These guys who love their sport for the passion of winning at speed are just billboards ready to be plastered with the latest ad campaign for the next highest bidder.
A day in the life of a racer is no longer what it used to be...
Gone are the lazy days of the 70s where a driver would be left to his own devices. The team would have to worry whether or not he would turn up race weekend and if he did turn up, just what state would he be in?
In the modern era the team knows of the driver's whereabouts 24 hours a day because their agenda is planned out for them 24/7. Yhe drivers at best get Christmas day and New Year's day to themselves and after that, the team own them and their image to keep those money pumping big wigs happy.
A typical day in the life of Lewis Hamilton, for example, will consist of the following:
- An early morning wake-up call, and we are not talking 10 o’clock here, more like 6 o’clock, after which he will be whisked out for a run in whatever area he may be living at the time.
- After that he is home for a breakfast that will be prepared to the highest levels of dietary requirements for an athlete of this kind.
- Then it's correspondence time: checking the e-mails from the sponsors, the team and the team mates, the family, the fans.
- After that it’s back in the gym for some more workout, working on certain muscle sets to satisfy the needs for the next track he will be racing at, preparing his body to go through the forces that it will go through over the race weekend ahead.
- Then it's lunch. Again this will be another meal that will be prepared to check all the boxes in terms of “wants and needs” for the body of an athlete of this fitness level.
- After that it’s on to more exercise, maybe a long bike ride.
- Back to base for another training session in the gym, maybe another one or two hours, depending on what work was done earlier in the day.
- By then it's late evening and the day is over. Lewis will be exhausted and it's bed time only to wake up again after a good night’s sleep to start over again.
You call that Rock ‘n’ Roll? Even criminals and murderers and anyone else stocking up the cells of our prisons don’t have to go through that on a daily basis, so where do these guys get to reap the benefits of the lavish lifestyle, the money and the women? Simple. They actually don’t reap these benefits as much as they used to in a time gone by.
Many have tried since. Let’s not forget the attempts of Eddie Irvine, Jacques Villeneuve and, even more recently, Kimi Raikkonen. All these drivers had their stories about them: the playboy lifestyles, the women on each arm in the paddocks, the drunken nights aboard boats. We have all heard the stories but somehow we chose either not to believe them or chose not to embrace them as we expect something different from our drivers nowadays.
Are these boys just puppets that will do and say as the team says? Are they not allowed a life? Are they not allowed a personality? If they could be frank with the media and say what they want to say would that not inject an excitement into proceedings that would let us know exactly what goes on behind closed doors after the racing is done?
On the flipside do we honestly like how the sport is turning out? Many would say not and many would say that the drivers of today are boring, they are clones, they are an agent's dream, and a journalist’s nightmare.
This goes a lot deeper into the rules and the expectations of the FIA. Gone are the days when a driver would perform donuts after winning a race (Kimi Raikkonen, Spa, 2007), gone are the days when a driver would stop by the side of the road to pick up a flag from his home country to parade on a victory lap (Fernando Alonso, Interlagos, 2007).
Woe betide any driver who does try either of these, as it is now frowned upon by race organisers, marshals and, above all, the FIA run by Big Max...who incidentally might just be the most Rock ‘n’ Roll thing that the sport has right now. Is that a good thing? Ill leave that to the more political of you.
We could go on all night about the comparisons and just how things have changed in the world’s most glamorous sport, but I won’t. I am going to wrap it up here and put it to the floor. What do the real fans think? (That’s you guys!) Comments and feedback please people, I want to know...
- Is it a good or bad thing how the drivers are expected to present themselves?
- Should they be allowed free reign like the drivers of the 70’s?
- Are the drivers boring and cloned to a level that is required of them due to PR demands?
- What would you change?
- Will the stricter teams who keep their drivers in check be more successful?
- Would you like to see old times creeping back?
Throw some answers at me, let’s kick off a big debate, lets score this article with lots of 5 out of 5’s and shall we make it pick of the day? Yes, why not... I think this one could spark some big debates and for that I would be grateful because I have wanted to write this article for about three weeks now. Hope you enjoyed it?
Bleacher Report’s F1 community... It’s over to you! Ben, Over and Out!