• Top Ten - Characters

Gentlemen, charmers and playboys

Claire Furnell February 19, 2010
James Hunt: F1's definitive playboy © Sutton Images

James Hunt
These days F1 drivers are normally tucked up in bed early, but that wasn't the case in the 1970s when many played hard and raced hard. The biggest playboy of them all was Hunt. Tall, blond and well educated, he was a hit with the ladies and loved nothing more than to party. He got a buzz offending with his clothing, often turning up to black-tie events in jeans and t-shirt - one bore the phrase "Sex - The Breakfast of Champions." On track he was just as outrageous. He got himself so keyed up over the course of a weekend he was often sick before the race. If it ended in a crash that he didn't think was his fault, his unlucky sparring partner would often find himself dealing with Hunt's left hook. His temper wasn't confined to fellow drivers either. He punched a marshal in Canada, and threatened his McLaren team boss Teddy Mayer when he believed a mistimed pit-stop had cost him the title. He was almost never seen without a cigarette, and they didn't always contain tobacco.

Eddie Irvine
Outspoken Irishman Irvine was the Hunt of his era, although he did save the partying till after the race. He surrounded himself with the ultimate playboy toys, and the women flocked to him. He was also a godsend to any journalist after a comment. In 1996 one unsuspecting soul asked him why team-mate Michael Schumacher's helmet was an odd shape. "Because he's German, he's got an odd shaped head," Irvine replied. During his first race at Suzuka in 1993 he unlapped himself from Ayrton Senna, much to the Brazilian's annoyance. Senna accused him of almost hitting him to which Irvine quipped: "A miss is as good as a mile". The row continued until Senna threw a punch. Ever keen to get the last word in Irvine yelled: "That's an insurance claim there."

Murray Walker
He is not a rabble-rouser or playboy like some of the others on this list, but he is still one of F1's most loved characters. A true legend of the sport, Walker has legions of fans who will forgive him any mistake. Who can forget his classic Murrayisms - "That Williams is unique, except for the one in front, which is identical" and "I'll stop the startwatch". His popularity was so huge when coverage switched from the BBC to ITV, a major national newspaper started a "Save our Murray" campaign to ensure he was not banished from the air. During his commentating career, which spanned from 1948 until he finally laid down his microphone in 2001, he entertained millions with his distinctive, enthusiastic and sometimes emotional commentary style. On announcing Damon Hill had won the world championship in 1996 he famously said: "Now I have to stop, because I have a lump in my throat."

Flavio Briatore
Millions of words were written about Briatore after he was banned for life from motorsport by the FIA as a result of the Crashgate scandal. Even though the ban was overturned in court, he is nevertheless no stranger to controversy. As a young man he was convicted of various counts of fraud in Italy and sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison, but he avoided custody by fleeing the country. In his private life Briatore has romanced a string of beautiful women and eventually accepted paternity of supermodel Heidi Klum's daughter. In 2008 the then 58-year Briatore married 28-year-old Wonderbra model Elisabetta Gregoraci and they are expecting their first child.

Mike Hawthorn was one of the most striking characters of the 1950s © Getty Images

Mike Hawthorn
Britain's first world champion was a man who knew how to enjoy life. He was the image of the perfect English gentleman and his preferred attire for racing was a bow tie, which earned him the nickname "Papillion" (Butterfly) from his French competitors. His favourite game after a night's drinking in his local pub was to try to knock cyclists off their bikes with a plank of wood. Stirling Moss recounted a tale of standing under a tree near a pub where they were staying and thinking it had started to rain, only to find Hawthorn perched on a branch above him relieving himself. Hawthorn retired after winning the drivers' championship in 1958 but was killed not long afterwards in a road accident near his home.

Kimi Raikkonen
Former F1 champion turned WRC driver Raikkonen is known to enjoy a glass of vodka or two, and despite his deadpan attitude at the circuit, he has got up to some raucous antics away from it. He hit the headlines in 2005 after allegedly performing his own drunken strip show in a London lap-dancing club. His actions somewhat marred the launch of the new McLaren just a few days later and team boss Martin Whitmarsh was not amused. In March 2007, while fellow drivers were preparing for the season opener, Raikkonen raced in a snowmobile race in Finland. Seeking anonymity he entered under the pseudonym James Hunt - probably not the best of disguises.

Gerhard Berger
Although not a wild boy, he is known for his wicked sense of humour and a love of practical jokes, which led to an unlikely alliance when he was paired with consummate professional Ayrton Senna. "He taught me how to be a professional and I like to think I taught him how to laugh," Berger said. Senna needed the ability to laugh when faced with Berger's stunts, which included replacing his passport photo with a picture of a nude male bottom, thus causing his team-mate untold embarrassment when he presented the document to Argentinean border officials.

Mike Hailwood
James Hunt was said to have learnt all he knew about becoming a playboy from Mike Hailwood, who loved to enjoy parties, alcohol and beautiful women. Hailwood once arrived at Brands Hatch late for a race and still hung over from a party the night before. His excuse was that none of his companions could remember exactly where he had parked his car. He was also a big fan of emptying the contents of hotel rooms out of their windows in rock-star fashion. His innocent face often landed the blame for his antics on his companions' heads.

Sir Stirling Moss
No discussion with Moss about his former racing days can be complete without the mention of crumpet, and not the sort you have for tea. "If I dated a beautiful girl it made the front page of the newspapers, if I won a race it got buried in the middle somewhere," he joked. He was open about the fact that he did not consider modern day F1 as exciting because it lacked danger and was not short of an analogy between this and women: "It's rather like if you flirt with a girl. It's more exciting than paying for a prostitute, because with one you know you're going to get it, the other one you don't". Despite the fact that he never won a world championship and has now been retired from the sport for much longer than he competed in it, he can still attract a crowd of autograph hunters wherever he goes.

Innes Ireland
Ireland was one of the biggest party lovers among drivers in the 1960s, and was famous for his hard driving and hard drinking. The latter probably meant he did not achieve as much as he should have. Stories of his off-track antics have entered into motorsport folklore. After one race win he got so drunk that he climbed onto the roof of the hotel, firing a pistol in the air. He later burst into the bar long after it had closed and thumped the unfortunate hotelier when he tried to explain the situation. Organisers of the following German Grand Prix were so disgusted by his behaviour they announced Ireland would be banned from competing, but in the end the matter was forgotten and he was allowed to enter.