Fortune And Glory In Formula One


Formula One drivers may not lead lives of quiet desperation, but it’s not all wine and roses either.

The majority of F-1 drivers are young, usually rich, and have apartments or chateaus around Europe.

They are thrust into the international spotlight and everything they say and do are magnified and analyzed by nosy reporters of websites and newspapers. When drivers gain five pounds they are blasted in the media by their team owners and are told “lay off the cheeseburgers.”

Drivers party like rock stars, and often with rock stars, in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Spa, and Paris.

But when the music stops and all is said and done, the drivers wake up every other Sunday morning and drive wheel-to-wheel at over 160 mph around hairpin turns in the rain. At times both worlds collide and drivers often reach a point in their career where they have to decide what they want; their names atop the points standings or the VIP lists.

While Williams BMW owner Frank Williams directly credits Ralf Schumacher’s change of attitude for his first career win in San Marino last month, some veteran drivers like Eddie Irvine insist the two lives have nothing to do with each.

“Ralf has stopped playing with his toys and concentrated on his job,” Williams said. “He is far more together this year. He had an outstanding year for us in 1999 but last year he was less effective. He had a long talk with himself and is much more aware of what he has to do.”

Among Schumacher’s changes include a move from his luxurious apartment in Monaco to a house in the Austrian countryside. Shortly after his win in San Marino, Schumacher also proposed to long-time girlfriend Cora Brinkmann.

At the same time, however, Jaguar Racing driver Eddie Irvine has embraced the playboy lifestyle.

“I like girls, I like having a nice life: guilty of all charges and I'm very happy I'm guilty of all charges as well,” Irvine said. “To be honest, journalists have pages to fill and some people fill it better than others. Sometimes, it's very easy to make a headline by writing things that aren't true and some people go down that route and some people go down the route of trying to be honest, hardworking and investigate journalists.

“It doesn't affect me, it's great, I love being in the newspapers, it makes me more famous.”

When Jaguar Racing test driver Thomas Scheckter was fired last week after he was convicted of soliciting a prostitute in England, Irvine was quick to defend the 20-year-old.

“I think he should live with me now, it's a lot cheaper - and there's a lot more selection as well,” Irvine said. “It's a shame for the boy, it's a big penalty to pay for something which, in the 21st Century is quite ridiculous really. But I think the cream always rises to the top and I think he's good enough, if you look at his record in the lower formulas he's a talented guy. He's going to make it, this is a setback but I think overall in ten years time he'll look back and have a laugh. He might be a bit upset now but in the long run it won't even be a blip.”

Irvine’s party-boy attitude has garnered much attention, a lot of which has been negative, calling the Irishman ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated.’

Last week Irvine called that ‘comical.’

"Look at how much testing I've done in the last two years,” Irvine said. “I have tested every winter, all winter, ever since I came to Jaguar. Compare that to Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen or Jacques Villeneuve. I've done more tests than any other team leader.”

That same ‘lazy’ and ‘unmotivated’ tag was thrown on Jenson Button when he came to Benetton this year.

Five Top 5 and 10 Top 10 finishes gave Button an eighth place points finish, but even more importantly it earned him appearances on magazine covers blazed as the ‘next Michael Schumacher.’

He brings fame and fortune into just his second year of Formula One racing, but has put in a miserable season. He has no points this year and has finished no higher than 10th.

For Button, the material things don’t make up for running at the back of the pack.

"I would give up my apartment, my cars, all that material stuff if I could be world champion, or even just be competitive in races," Button said. "That is much more important to me. I'm not winning at the moment and that is what I want to do."

On the other end of the spectrum, however, there are drivers like Juan Pablo Montoya, who shuns the public eye and just wants to drive race cars.

"I'm not a guy to go out and party," said Montoya, whose law student girlfriend lives with her parents in Madrid. "I like a lot better to go to a nice restaurant and stuff like that."

In fact, Montoya said, he would much rather sit at home in front of a computer.

“I am a bit of a computer freak," Montoya said. "I love computer games.”

Even his love for computer games helps him adjust to Formula One.

“(Racing games) actually give you an idea that you've got to turn left, turn right, whether its a slow corner or a fast corner," he said. "You get an idea of where you have to go. In the computer games, I'm pretty good. If I can drive a race car like I drive the computer, I'll do OK."

Similarly, Michael Schumacher admitted last year that his idea of a good night is sitting at home with a glass of wine in front of the fire, reading a good book.

As boring as that may sound, Schumacher is the defending world champion and may be around to repeat, while Irvine hasn’t won a race since 1999.

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