How does one prepare for the deciding round of the Formula One World Championship? If you're 1976 World Champion James Hunt, you embark on a rampage of alcohol, cannabis and cocaine. You might also have sex with 33 flight attendants in two weeks.
James Hunt was the epitome of the playboy driver. After winning the British Grand Prix earlier that year, he famously smoked a cigarette on the podium, and former F1 chief Max Mosley even witnessed Hunt snorting two lines of coke in Rio de Janeiro, stating that he wouldn't be surprised if the British driver arrived at the starting line high as a kite.
Can you imagine Sebastian Vettel banging a bunch of British Airways chicks, downing a keg of Dos Equis, and leaping into his Red Bull racecar?
This is not to say that drivers should be doing drugs and causing trouble, but it'd be nice to see a bit more passion, rather than the robotic monotony we endure today. The exception that proves the rule is Kimi Raikkonen, we all remember the Fin hammered drunk, falling head-first off a yacht in Monaco, don't we?
Yes, Kimi is the man, and his return to F1 this past year has only emphasized how much we've missed him. Today's drivers are chained in corporate cuffs and made to dance like a bunch of South African puppets — only way less entertaining.
Sir Stirling Moss put it this way: "That's what you get when money takes over. When the race finishes, instead of chasing girls like we did in my day, now they go and say thanks to Vodafone."
F1 World Champion Alan Jones added,
"They're all a bit precious now, aren't they? When I was racing, if someone did you wrong, you'd put his name in your little book and get even later on. Give him back something to think about. Now they moan about having their lap messed up or being blocked –- well, we used to make our own arrangements, you know?"
It's not always doom and gloom, of course. Remember IndyCar driver Will Power giving the bird to the steward's office live on national TV? Now that was awesome, although I'm sure Verizon Wireless and team owner Roger Penske found it somewhat less awesome. Still, it got tongues wagging.
NASCAR's "have at it" rule allows drivers to express their inner Jackie Chan more readily, but even there, it's a fine balance between the show and the corporate nunchucks that threaten to punish a brave driver who ventures too far.
Of course, you have the Busch brothers who willingly ignore these rules, but rather than break them in a manner that screams badass, they act like a pair of jumped up jackasses, instead.
This problem is not limited to motorsport — it's become the norm across the board. Look at today's rock stars. Could you imagine Joe Jonas entering his dressing room before a show by crashing through the ceiling, having smashed his way through a corrugated iron roof, like Keith Moon once did? What about Phillip Phillips staying up for 72 hours, high on cocaine, like Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards?
Again, I'm not saying we should all be crashing cars into swimming pools (although that particular incident is kind of badass); rather today's superstars are bound and gagged by society, and stifled by a wealth of corporate expectation. It makes exciting extroverts off-camera appear like comatose robots on-camera. Money talks, and the fear of losing it is enough to squash any hint of noteworthy presence.
We need more Jeremy Clarksons in this world. Guys that don't give a crap what anyone thinks. Those who speak first and think later. Or perhaps JC does think first, but decides to "fuck it." It's fair to say, however, that if Top Gear wasn't such a megahit worldwide, the BBC would have thrown him to the lions years ago.
I don't want to see Vettel doing a line of coke before a race, or Kasey Kahne arriving in Daytona wasted with a gaggle of hookers on each arm, but I would like to see drivers grow a sack and be a touch more like James Hunt, A.J Foyt, Eddie Irvine and even Kimi Raikkonen. We see glimpses of it from some, and when we do, fans eat it up. NASCAR certainly shows more personality than either F1 or IndyCar, but million-dollar sponsorships will always talk.
We know that sponsors need thanking, and appreciating the vast sum of money on the line is prudent. But sponsors want fans to justify their funding, and fans want a driver who speaks his mind. You think Mobil One was happy when Kimi told Martin Brundle that he "Was taking a shit" live on British TV? Hell no. But after they saw the love and attention it garnered, I bet they changed their tune (at least a little).
One must appreciate that there is a fine line for drivers to tread. But we need more guys willing to push the boundaries, bend the rules, and moon society. Perhaps the fan appreciation of such an act would cause the corporate walls to give way somewhat?
People say that racecar drivers are boring. They're not. They're just boring on TV. I'll be the first to admit that I'm no James Dean, but perhaps if a few guys showed their inner Hunt, TV ratings might swell, attendance figures might soar, and we might not be left bored by a bunch of puppets performing the corporate pantomime.
About the author: @Alex_Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006. He won the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He's competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice and the Indianapolis 500 four times — placing fourth in 2010. The native of MADchester, UK began racing karts at age 8, open-wheel race cars at 16 and finished second to Formula One World Champion - and close friend - Lewis Hamilton, in the 2003 British Formula Renault Championship, followed by a stint representing Great Britain in A1GP and winning races in Formula 3000. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife Samantha (also from England) and three young "Hoosier" children. He also enjoys racing in triathlons and is rather partial to a good old English cup of tea. But not crumpets.
Photo Credits: Getty Images