Here’s a rare thing: A British F1 champion with wit, charm and charisma. No honestly, they did used to be fun to watch both on-and-off the track. Of course, since Nigel, Damien, Lewis, Jenson and the like arrived, you could be forgiven for thinking that we only produce motor racing drivers as dreadfully boring as the races themselves, or perhaps an afternoon grouting the bathroom. But once upon a time, they were spontaneous, humorous and with just that tiny little bit of class. So anyway, to mark the end of yet another season of dull and tedious processions around the asphalt circuits of the world, below is just a snippet of when Dick Dastardly ruled the roads, and everyone’s mum went gooey in the middle when he flashed his choppers, looked the camera in the eye and spoke in those magnificent clipped tones. Have a look at these few seconds of Hill, laid up in hospital after a crash, just one of many clips of his naughtiness you can find on Youtube. And check out that tash.
A loveable rogue, a cheeky chappy with a glint in his eye, Graham Hill was unmistakeably one of those chaps who you’d be proud to shake warmly by the driving gloves and by a warm pint of beer (or a cold bottle of poo) in the local village pub. As kids, when we played Scalextric on the front room floor, everyone wanted to be Hill. As we wedged our plimsoles and mum’s shoes under the the corners to hold up the banking, we mimicked Murray Walker commentating on numerous dogfights betweeen Hill and Stewart or perhaps Rindt (extra shoes were used when Jochen was on the track).
It was a time of heroes and feats of derring-do, of flat caps, pencil moustaches and men reminiscent of Spitfire pilots, rather than boys who pretend to be Airfix models in TV adverts and no-one spots the difference. Lewis wanders around in his dull way, with his dull, identikit dad, and they’re all very-nice-and-all-that, but I get no indication that they have any sense of fun, enjoyment or achievement from their titles and riches, or the wish to contribute anything more to the social fabric or culture of society than driving around Monza or Monaco.
Is there a spark of of the boy-racer left? or are they the driving equivalent of Yul Brynner in Westworld, plodding automaton-like between one scene to the next? (to be fair, Brynner spent the whole of his acting like plodding between one scene to the next, he didn’t need to play a robot). They go from corporate sponsor’s event, to press photocall, to TV appearance flashing their perfect sterile grins and their faultless thumbs, before the PR girl whips them off to the next function. Maybe the enormous G-forces have sucked all personality out of them.
Yes, they enjoy a fine line of beautiful girls on their arms (Jenson seems to have a conveyor belt of them), which all rich young sportsmen seem to have at their disposal, but what else do they bring to the table? A naughty smile at the camera? A feeling that they are enjoying life, reaping the rewards of their craft ? That sense of a Lucky Jim? Not a bit of it. They’re more like accountants, less interesting than merchant bankers. And that’s a real shame, cos they’re probably very nice chaps and don’t deserve such an attack on their characters (not that they probably care one jot- they’re not Stephen Fry, after all).
Now as you will understand, I know sod all about F1 and care even less about it, but if I could walk into a pub and at one end of the bar was Mansell, Button and Hamilton (and even Damien Hill) and at the other end of the bar was Graham Hill having a quick snifter with James Hunt there’s no doubt who I’d go and join, and yoiu’d be with me. And I bet Hill and Hunt would hang around for more than just-the-one.