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The sex lives of Formula 1 drivers

Formula 1 racing is full of macho imagery: throbbing engines, handsome devil-may-care racers and glamorous pretty girls. Novelists would have you believe that the glitzy world of Grand Prix racing is full of sexual adventures. But is it really? Are the drivers as hungry for sex as they are for success? And are they constantly pestered by drooling pitlane popsies begging for a sound seeing-to? Or have the F1 heroes of today discovered AIDS and monogamy?

The average F1 driver does not like to talk about sex. F1 is a very uptight world where success is demanded and every effort is directed towards winning. At the recent Canadian Grand Prix the McLaren team achieved its 400th Grand Prix start. There were no celebrations.

"Taking part is not what is important," said a team member. "Winning is all that matters."

And to win you need money and sponsors and they - so goes the theory at least - do not like sex scandals.

There is no shortage of hearsay about the lurid sexual activity of the drivers. One enduring F1 legend suggests that in the early 1980s a leading driver of the day and a princess found some form of earthy gratification on the bonnet of a car in an underground parking lot in Monaco.

F1 is rarely that exciting nowadays although the rest of motorsport is a much more relaxed world where a "driver debriefing" can involve much more than talking to engineers and computer boffins.

One famous French racing driver - a charmer of Olympic standards - was famous for the speed at which he could extract a telephone number from any young lady and would boast that he had made love at different corners on different circuits around the world. And he probably had.

I once saw him and a racing pal in a hotel not far from Donington Park spending an early evening working their way through the lady guests at a wedding reception, timing one another up and down the stairs en route to the available bedroom.

Twenty-four hour races are famous locations for sexual adventures and many a caravan has been spotted rocking backwards and forwards while drivers are "resting" between stints behind the wheel.

But, in her recent book "How to Meet Interesting Men", researcher Gizelle Howard concluded that the modern sportsman is "obsessive" and advised her readers to "cultivate some interest in the sport."

In motor racing, Howard says, the men tend to go for "the archetypal model, dance-girl, actress woman. The age range of Grand Prix racing drivers is approximately 19 to 35. Fifteen percent of them are married, but from all accounts this minority tend to have bits on the side."

This isn't strictly true because today that average is changing. At the start of this season, the percentage of married F1 drivers was up to 39% - and another 40% were involved in a long-term steady relationship, leaving just 21% young, free and single.

Discreet research reveals that - with one or two exceptions - the Grand Prix drivers of today - married or not - don't put out on race weekends.

"You hear all the stories about the old days," says Lotus F1 star Johnny Herbert, "but I don't know if you can believe them. It's really not like that nowadays. We go to bed and we go to sleep."

Benetton-Ford's JJ Lehto from Finland agrees: "We are busy on a race weekend," he says. "And if you start to do things other than drive you lose concentration. I come to races and I am concentrating 100% on the racing. I want to get the maximum out of it.

And then he smiles: "You can hump like a bunny on Sunday night after the race."

Fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen, who drives for McLaren-Peugeot, reckons that JJ is right. "I want to be the World Champion and I am dedicated to that," he says. "You don't have room to play around and do crazy things as well."

Mika is one of F1's most eligible bachelors. He has hordes of adoring female fans and no sign of a regular girlfriend at his home in Monaco. Recently an enamoured Japanese girl went on a crash-course to learn Finnish, simply because she wanted to speak to Mika.

"James Hunt used to say to me: 'Go for it'," he says, "but you know everyone is different. As far as I am concerned I don't set limits. I don't have rules but I am committed to my work."

To get Lehto and Hakkinen - rivals for many years in Finland - to agree on anything is remarkable. The only thing they share - apart from blond good looks - is their manager, 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg. What was it like in Keke's day? Did he have any rules about sex on race weekends?

"I don't believe in extremes," he says with a smile. "My only extreme was to drive F1 cars. The rest of the time I am an ordinary guy. You see all these guys eating magic foods and so on to find an edge over the others, but they are always the guys who are sick! That is what extremes do to you. The best thing is to live life as normal."

It's is interesting that, even if they are not doing it all the time, racing drivers seem to feel the need to joke constantly about sex - often with the PR girls from their teams. In one current F1 team before every session the two drivers find the PR girl and beg to fondle her breasts.

"We may never have the chance again," they joke. "We may be killed."

Macabre it may be, but the lady's breasts remain molested - she cannot risk indiscretion. Professional girls in F1 have a difficult enough time being taken seriously to allow for any indiscrete behavior. Credibility is vital and getting caught bonking the wrong person can ruin an F1 career.

But - feminists rejoice - it is not only the girls who are affected. There have been cases when a driver has suffered for his excesses. One very famous racing driver - who must remain nameless - was revered, respected and trusted by the press corps. He was seen as a totally honest good bloke.

And then one day it became clear that he was having an affair with his best friend's wife. This information never appeared in the newspapers, but overnight attitudes changed as reporters asked themselves if they could really trust a man who does that to his best friend. That particular racer never again had the same good relationship with the press. His motives where always questioned and he had a reputation for being underhand.

Some would argue that private life is not the business of journalists - and many F1 journalists would agree. But there are serious questions which one can ask about sexual activity. This is, after all, a sport where a tenth of a second is vital and in which teams will spend zillions to pare off a kilogrammes or two. In the same car the difference between a top driver and a second-string one is probably a tenth of a second and F1 is full of nutritional experts who reckon they can make drivers faster by making them eat pasta and drink specially-prepared fluids.

So what effect does love-making have on a driver's performance? As usual medical experts are no help. Some argue that sexual intercourse is a disaster for athletes; others say there is no evidence to back this up.

One has to examine not just the physical needs but also the body chemicals and the psychology. At this level of the sport the mind is all-important. The talents are so finely-matched that confidence is everything.

Boxing trainers would have you believe that boxers should be denied sex in the build-up to a big fight. To make them meaner. This is a theory which has been used by racers in the past. Back in the 1950s the great Stirling Moss had a personal rule that he would have no sex 48 hours before a race.

And when he was racing in the late 1960s Jackie Stewart always insisted that 48 hours before the race he would not indulge. He would lean over and kiss his wife Helen goodnight.

But the modern generations don't agree.

"The question," says Keke Rosberg, "Is who said 'No'? Was it Helen or was it Jackie!"

Damon Hill of Williams-Renault says it does matter what you do.

"You cannot prove one theory or another," says Damon. "It's not made any difference to the way I have performed. If boxers claim that not having sex makes them hungrier, what are they hungry for? Is it sex or is it success? I would question whether the desire to have sex make you more aggressive. It seems to me that the less sex you have the less you want and the more you have the more you want.

"Either way it makes no difference to me. I don't have any rules."

McLaren-Peugeot driver Martin Brundle agrees: "I have no restrictions. As far as I am concerned it is what you need when you need it."

And it doesn't seem to make much difference if you are driving for top F1 team or struggling at the back of the grid - the view is the same.

"I don't have any rules," says Bertrand Gachot of the small Pacific GP operation. "Back in Formula Ford days my team used to send girls my way the night before the race so that I would be relaxed for the race and would not crash at the first corner!

"That was before AIDS and before I started going out with Kate."

Nowadays Bert is a one-woman man and he's happy. So is Johnny Herbert, one of several drivers who leave their wives and girlfriends at home on race weekends. Girls add stress to a working weekend. You cannot spend time with them AND keep your engineers and sponsors happy.

"I never do it on race weekends," says Herbert candidly.

More than ever, it seems, F1 drivers are settling into monogamous relationships. Even Gerhard Berger, who was a famed philanderer, now seems to have settled down.

Is that because of AIDS? Has the disease scared racing drivers into giving up casual sexual encounters?

"The risk is big for everyone, not just racing drivers," says Hakkinen. "Whoever you are you have to be careful."

When you ask him what happens between races, Mika says he trains himself, tests his car and spends time on the telephone. Like most other racers he gets bored very quickly with a humdrum existence.

Lehto injured his neck in a crash in January and - after surgery - spent several weeks pacing up and down in his flat in Monaco. A few months later his girlfriend Satu announced she was pregnant.

"Well, I had nothing else to do," smiled JJ with a shrug...

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