I was reading up on the accolades and memories of the brilliant Formula One journalist Alan Henry recently and a story he relayed about James Hunt.
Alan would tell the story of the time he was woken in his room by Hunt, who had with him at the time a female friend.
“Come on Hens, you need to surrender your bed, I have a guest.”
This was James Hunt, the man who allegedly bedded 5,000 women and had “Sex, The Breakfast Of Champions” sewn into his racing overalls. He was a fast driving, big drinking, fast living, cigarette smoking hero to the British racing fans. They loved him. He punched a marshal, well actually he punched two marshals.
There were others, the list is long, but the most notable apart from Hunt were Mike Hailwood, Innes Ireland, Sir Stirling Moss, Juan Manuel Fangio and the person who is regarded as the last of the playboy F1 drivers, Eddie Irvine. More recently Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen have been tagged ‘playboys’ in their early careers but never on the same platform as the other drivers mentioned before them.
In one way or another they were icons. They also had their critics, but they undoubtedly had their fans. Bernie Ecclestone is apparently a fan of the playboy lifestyle, a person who can show character to the fans. This is an area where I do agree with Bernie, for a change.
I have to hold my hand up and say there were times when I would look at the television or read a news story and think to myself, ‘Lewis, what are you doing?’ – Then I would have to smile and think back to when I was growing up and no matter how much I had respect for people like Prost, Mansell, Schumacher, Lauda etc. they were a bit, well, too serious. The antics of drivers such as Berger, Irvine, Hunt, Fittipaldi, Raikkonen, Alesi etc. on the other hand made me smile.
My initial thoughts about Lewis Hamilton’s ‘reported’ lifestyle was quite probably…no definitely…my near 45 years of age kicking in. It is important to remind myself of that. Then I shake my head and smile.
Lewis Hamilton gets paid a lot of money to drive fast cars. He, like every other racer in the world, puts his life on the line in the name of motor racing. Who is any person or journalist to say he is behaving unprofessionally and inappropriately?
The reason I pose this question is because I do see a lot of hypocrisy in the way journalists report on Hamilton and his partying, lifestyle and what he does away from the racing. These are the same writers who will condemn Lewis in one article and the following week be praising James Hunt.
In the 1970’s Hunt slept with women, got drunk, visited casinos, bars, film premieres and went to parties. He is held up as a British hero. In the 2000’s Lewis Hamilton sleeps with women, gets drunk, visits casinos, bars, film premieres and goes to parties, yet he is held up as unprofessional and not a role model to the young fans who follow him.
Hypocritical. Utterly hypocritical.
The bottom line is, for years Formula One has been crying out for that ‘playboy’ world champion to come along and take the place of the more serious natured ones who followed. Hell…I’ve even grown to like the sarcastic, mischievous side of Sebastian Vettel recently. Lewis Hamilton is being that playboy Formula One driver. The shenanigans of the playboy racing drivers I have mentioned above make Lewis Hamilton look like a choirboy and just because he is involving himself with people who others do not like within the public eye, does that make him less of a world champion…no, sorry….a triple world champion? Of course it doesn’t.
Did the fact that Juan Manuel Fangio bedded women and James Hunt partied all night make them lesser world champions? No, of course not, because time and history has diluted those stories and they never had social media to contend with as drivers do now.
I was very young when Hunt was at the top of his game, but I can imagine my mum not being overly impressed with his antics, she would probably have called him a thug. Today I see on social media and in publications people and journalists calling Hamilton spoilt or irresponsible.
There are more men and women out there doing far more irresponsible things in their sport than Lewis Hamilton and simply by picking on the point that he may or may not have said this and may or may not have done that, is just simply a way of selling the news.
Formula One has been criticised in recent years, some of which rightly so. I don’t think it is constructive or warranted to criticise the drivers who take part.
As I said, there are other sports out there which are inhabited by far worse characters.
This comes to the question of my article. Has society grown tired of the F1 playboy?
I really don’t see how the answer can be a rousing yes when we’ve only really seen Hamilton in recent years choose the lifestyle that he has. I think it is more of a case that with social media playing such a big part in every walk of life, the microscopic details of a person’s life is picked up and then blasted around the world. People are influenced more by what they see and what they read instead of taking a step back and making a judgement for themselves. They also need to realise they are not Lewis Hamilton. They are not a racing driver.
Am I fan of everything Lewis Hamilton does? Not really. But I’m not Lewis Hamilton.
Am I fan of the famous people Lewis can be seen hanging with? Not all of them. But that’s up to Lewis Hamilton.
Am I fan of Lewis Hamilton the racing driver? I have other drivers currently on the grid who I favour more and others in history too, but I would still put Hamilton up there as one of the best I have seen in my 40+ years of watching Formula One.
You can’t ask for a playboy Formula One driver and then decide that what that particular person does with their life is not to your liking. You don’t drive a car at break-neck speed, risking your life on every piece of tarmac for the entertainment of others. You certainly aren’t in the position to criticise as to what a person chooses to do with their life outside of ‘their job’.
You are of course allowed to go back and worship James Hunt, Mike Hailwood, Sir Stirling Moss, Eddie Irvine, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, naturally because they are heroes.
But then that would be boring wouldn’t it?
All era’s have different tags. You could have been a cad or a bounder in the fifties, a rebel in the sixties, a hair-raiser in the seventies all the way up to a raver, a party animal or a gangster. Let’s just concentrate on the racing, shall we?
See You At The Chequered Flag.