Ron Howard’s Formula One biopic Rush is a re-telling of the 1976 battle between Austrian driver Nicki Lauda, and Britain’s James Hunt for the F1 Driver’s Championship, such a battle which was only settled on the final day of the season. For the benefit of those who have not seen it, I shall remain silent as to the outcome.
What the film depicts is the polar opposite in attitude and behaviourisms of the two respective drivers, and in fact how they draw comparison between their fellow drivers circa 1976, and the drivers of contemporary racing.
Lauda represents today’s drivers. His focus remaining solely on his track performances. Fastidiously private and mechanically astute, he avoids the camaraderie surrounding the sport, intent on being the best he can be. James Hunt – on the other hand – is very much a rock star from a drivers seat. He simply drives the fast car, leaving the details of racing to his faithful engineers. Meanwhile he engrosses himself in endless champagne, pretty ladies, TV interviews, seemingly intent on making the best of the situation he is in while he can. He represented what was very much a jet-set lifestyle, glamorising motor racing for its dangerous edge, its high monetary gains and the sheer attraction its drivers garnered from fans far and wide.
In the modern day when Formula 1 drivers are keeping their heads down, completely immersed in the driving, as Lauda was, Lewis Hamilton remains the figurehead of British motorsport. The three time Championship winner seems to be leading a one man crusade in making motorsport as inviting as Hunt made it forty years previously.
Since bursting onto the scene in 2007, Hamilton has provided an array of scintillating track performances, mixed with off track antics and incidents of a public nature that he almost invites. The 31-year-olds latest mix with the media is to have allegedly taken a selfie whilst riding atop a motorbike on the New Zealand highway. Although the incident brought no repercussions for Hamilton, it is the kind of stunt one can shake their head at in amusement, as though no other decorum could be expected of the Mercedes driver.
Other antics have included his much publicised relationship with chic chart-topper Nicole Sherzinger, writing off a £1.6million supercar because of partying fatigue, and the near catastrophic disintegration of his relationship with childhood buddy and teammate Nico Rosberg, to name but a few.
One could definitely argue that Hamilton’s incidents are detrimental to his image, particularly as an example to youngsters who idolise him. Partying hard for ten days before crashing a rare car is not something to be endorsed by the masses. The suggestion is that his antics could land him in serious trouble one way or another. Should he therefore be worshipped for taking the dangers of his exuberant lifestyle and embellishing them for the media to see?
On the other hand, maybe he’s just having fun! The publicity he receives for particularly hazardous incidents only really seem to embroil himself, whilst his relationships are the nominal cause of any other figures involvement.
His image goes beyond acting the clown in town. He did not win the 2014 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award simply for driving a car very fast around several tracks. He did not become the cover of a Men’s Health issue simply by hiding away in his gym. His brash personality and competitive temper draw such a response from his ever increasing fan base, who see him as more than just another driver; and this is exactly what he thrives upon.
Hamilton therefore will continue to be standout performer and the headline act in motor racing for now, his ultimately diluted party-boy antics symptomatic of someone who is simply basking in every high on offer in Formula 1 – and I think James Hunt would be proud.