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GP Week : Issue 169
J ames Hunt would be rolling in his grave. For Hunt the Shunt, sex was the breakfast of champions. The 1976 Formula One World Champion spent less time in those eponymous shunts than he did in an unprintable word which rhymes with that synonym for crashes... Fast-for ward to the 21st century, and Jenson Button spent the first part of the current millennium being lambasted by the press for his playboy antics, while McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton over the summer received a similar battering from the media for having the audacity to spend the night in a hotel room with no fewer than 10 young women. Whatever happened behind the closed doors of that hotel room is none of our business. But it is a sad fact of modern motorsport that Hamilton and his colleagues are more concerned with staying on the right side of their clean-cut sponsors than they are with enjoying the fringe benefits traditionally associated with being young, rich, and good-looking racing drivers. There’s an old ‘Fry and Laurie’ sketch in which Stephen Fry is interviewing a taciturn young racer. Growing increasingly frustrated with his interviewee’s lack of enthusiasm, Fry eventually screams "you do a job that half of mankind would kill to be able to do, and you can have sex with the other half as often as you like – I just want to know if this makes you happy!" before decking him. While that was certainly the case when Hunt was picking up air stewardesses by the baker’s dozen, times have changed. The modern female Formula One fan is more interested in following her favourite driver via an on-board television feed than she is in following him back to his hotel room. At least, that’s what the drivers will tell you. “To be fair, I’ve never thought about [being a sex symbol],” Jenson Button said. “[Our fans] treat us like racing drivers, because that’s what we are. We’re here to race cars, and that’s what we’re here to go, and I think that these guys who are sat out here in the pouring rain are here to watch us race cars, and not take photos of us in our under wear. No special poses.” So no fans are throwing their knickers at you, Tom Jones-style? “Not yet,” Button said. “Not this weekend, anyway!” “That would be great!” Lewis Hamilton interjected. “I wouldn’t want Tom Jones’ knickers,” Button retorted. “Do you?” “When we meet the fans, they’re just like us when we were younger,” Hamilton said, “watching grands prix and getting inspired by the guys that are there, working all the time, always being positive, overcoming good and bad times. So when we meet the fans they’re literally just... The majority of fans, they say they’re inspired – ‘you make my Sundays’, or something like that.” It wasn’t always so. When Formula One raced in Detroit in the late 1980s, Ayrton Senna checked into the hotel he’d stayed in the year before. Enquiring at the front desk as to whether there had been any messages for him, he was confronted with a mailbag filled to bursting with notes from female fans inviting the Brazilian racer on a private tour of the town. But Senna was one of the catalysts for this change in attitudes in Formula One, one of the first drivers to really concentrate on physical fitness as a means of gaining advantage on track. Sports fitness and nutrition were growing fields in the 1980s; now no professional athlete would dream of devising their Them days: George Harrison, Beatles guitarist and F1 fan, enjoys a cigarette and a chat with James Hunt in the Marlboro motorhome as Jane Birbeck, James' girlfriend, plays backgammon. The modern day F1 star is squeaky clean ... well, relatively ... Senna ... focused on the job 29 GPWEEK.com // F1 >>> SPA 29 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: