This week it emerged that Lotus’ Romain Grosjean has been seeing a sports psychologist to try and cure him of his propensity to drive into other cars during Grands Prix. This has attracted mild derision from the macho world of F1, with Martin Brundle saying it has raised a few eyebrows and he doesn’t even know why.
Of course it is possible to be a bit more touchy-feely and like cuddles and still succeed – this very week Motor Sport revisited an interview with Damon Hill where he was saying what bastards Williams were to him when he lost the plot in 1995, and how he needed to go away and pump himself up before 1996. I know what he’s talking about – every time my book (yes, that’s a shameless link to it on Amazon) gets a duff review I get a sort of prickly feeling all over my face and want to be sick into the nearest tea cup. I wouldn’t be cut out for F1. But the following five definitely were. The other five will follow as soon as I can find the time in my hectic schedule of tea drinking.
I love interviews with old Sir Stirling. The racing anecdotes are very much secondary to his tales of ‘chasing crumpet’ at racing venues around the world. When asked what it was like to win the 1955 Mille Miglia, for example, even if his brake pedal snapped when he was doing 140mph along a dirt track or he had overtaken someone on the last corner on two wheels, you’ll get a glint in the eye and a tale of him squiring some young lady about town. For a short balding bloke he sure had his fair share of the action – and I’m not talking about his 16 Grand Prix wins. Everything revolved – and still revolves – around the crumpet.
‘Stirling, your crash at Goodwood ruined your career and you were paralysed for 6 months. What happened?’
‘A cracking bit of crumpet showed me a bit of thigh from the stands when I was taking Madgwick Corner on full opposite lock and that was that’.
‘Stirling, what possessed you to campaign to have your title rival Mike Hawthorn reinstated in 1958?’
‘He promised me he would hook me up with a nice bit of crumpet from Guildford if he I let him have the title.’
‘What do you remember about your most famous victory at Monaco in 1961?’
‘There was this young thing in a blue dress, with a lovely…did I win that race? Don’t remember that.’
‘How did you cope with falling down a lift shaft at the age of 80’?
‘Perfectly okay, dear boy – the second I started falling I just thought about the crumpet awaiting me in nurses’ uniform at the Royal London.’
Eddie somehow, in my opinion anyway, managed to transcend being Michael Schumacher’s designated toilet-seat warmer at Ferrari by being at least fifty times more charismatic than his faster, more talented and illustrious team-mate. Yeah, he was a loudmouth and probably a total arsehole in most people’s opinion, but boy was he memorable. He seemed to be single-handedly trying to remind the world what an F1 driver should be – on one memorable occasion in 1997 or ‘98 Jeremy Clarkson visited the Monaco GP the night before the race and only Eddie was still in the bar after 10pm. You always knew you would get an honest answer from Irv the Swerve. And when he put his mind to it he wasn’t half bad really – four wins is a lot more than most have managed.
My admiration for Hunt the Shunt knows no bounds – even down to his no-nonsense helmet livery – ‘ Right, design, let’s see – how about ‘JAMES HUNT’? Excellent – that’s that done, time for a shag and a beer.’ Right up to his premature death in 1993 he was still showing up to the BBC commentary booths three sheets to the wind and ready to get stuck into anyone that he fancied – Riccardo Patrese, Rene Arnoux, Philippe Alliot, Andrea ‘the idiot’ de Cesaris, and so on. His sexual exploits are legendary and do not need repeated here (mainly because I need to keep this blog on one page). He also won a world title in a car that had less downforce than my cafetiere.
He may have been a skinny, buck-toothed Austrian with a receding hairline and an unflattering nickname (‘the Rat’) but he was as brave as they come. Never mind the Nurburgring – he was proving his mettle long before that. Before he even got started in F1 he told his grandfather to ‘keep the f*** out of my business’ and cut all contact with him whentold that Herr Lauda Snr didn’t want his bank to sponsor his grandson to drive around in circles. Then of course he lost half his ear, his eyelids, most of his hair, his eyebrows and nearly his life four years later. Pfft – pain? No problem. He was back two races later. His withdrawal from the Japanese race in October was arguably the bravest move of all. It spelled the end of his famous Ferrari career, Enzo being full to the brim with sympathy as usual and wondering why wanting to live was more important than a victory for his red cars.
Australian. Hairy. Sponsored by Foster’s. Didn’t look like an athlete. Didn’t matter. One of perhaps two people on record who have made Frank Williams laugh (the other is Nigel Mansell’s salary negotiator in 1992). Left the team before they could get rid of him, a rare occurrence that paved the way for Frank’s legendary ‘drivers are just employees’ mindset. His inter-team rivalry with Carlos Reutemann in 1981 was, to my mind, the first truly famous example of such a fall out. When Carlos approached him after beating him to a unscripted win in Brazil that year to ask him if he would like to ‘bury the hatchet’, Jones’ reply was ‘yeah mate, right in your f***ing back!’