What do you get when you have a wealthy young man involved in a glamorous yet extremely dangerous profession that sends him around the world to race the finest cars and rub shoulders with royalty, business tycoons, politicians, rock stars, Hollywood glitterati and throngs of beautiful women? What happens when a young man becomes a hero to his countrymen and is asked to demonstrate incomprehensible courage by strapping back into a car after witnessing one of his colleagues or friends perish? My answer, of course, is some really cool facial hair.
Here is a brief look back at some of the drivers who took personal grooming to a whole new level from the swashbuckling 60’s and 70’s to the impeccably clean corporate image of the 21st century.
Clay Regazzoni: I have to admit that I never got to see Mr. Regazzoni drive a car in person but I’ve always been a fan based on the pictures. I mean, is the man in the photo below a factory Ferrari F1 driver or Brando in the Godfather? That ‘stache and steely glare would drill holes into back of the helmet of the driver trying to keep him at bay. And after a day at the track I envision Clay driving his Ferrari up to the front of a fine restaurant with a beautiful companion on his arm and entertaining the patrons with stories over fine cognac and Cuban cigars late into the evening.
Keke Rosberg: The casual observer may look at the picture below and mistake it as a promotional poster for a new porno movie titled, “Formula Wonderdong”, but it is in fact 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg chilling in Rio. When Keke wasn’t taking a drag off a Marlboro he was pushing his car to the limit as I witnessed at The Peraltada 180 degree corner in Mexico City. Lap after lap he would make me flinch as he dealt with 150mph oversteer while hurling right at our grandstand. Study the photo! He was the epitome of cool!
Nigel Mansell: The Peoples Champion! The Isle of Man Iron Man! Il Leone! Nigel had the look of your next door neighboor but don’t let those bushy brows and woolly stache fool you. When he put his visor down he drove like a man posessed and could wring a cars neck with the best of them. He was one of the few drivers whose emotions in the cockpit were evident for all to see and when he had the team and the crowd on his side, he could produce charges and results that seemed unfathomable. Also prone to public whining and theatrical displays of pain, Nigel was sublime entertainment.
Graham Hill: Another driver before my time but I would place Graham, an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, on the “Most Interesting Man” list every day of the week. A two time world champion, Indy 500 and Le Mans winner, Graham always looked like he had his audience captivated with his wit and stories of danger and hi jinks. Oh that and a beautifully manicured mustache!
Honorable Mention: Fernando Alonso- Fernando is one of the all time great drivers and arguably one of the all time fastest growers of facial hair. He can be standing on the podium clean shaven in Barcelona and a fortnight later can be seen sporting a solid stache in the Royal Box in Monaco. The problem is he just doesn’t have the courage to keep one for long when that may be just what he needs to finally cause Vettel to crack.
John Watson: Watson was always a personal favorite of mine after watching him win the 1983 Long Beach GP from 22nd on the grid and later that summer I was lucky enough to witness his charge from 15th on the grid to 3rd at Zandvoort with a normally aspirated Cosworth! Looking at this photo, if somebody told me that this was the former bass player for Jethro Tull I wouldn’t have doubted it. Sadly, Watson had to shave this beauty after losing a bet with his team owner Roger Penske after winning the ’76 Austrian GP.
Harald Ertl: I have to admit I know next to nothing about Harald Ertl the F1 driver but that beard elevates him to the top of the Formula Facial Hair list. He looks like a man that would be more at home in the beer halls of Munich sporting lederhosen than trying to stuff all that hair into a balaclava. But the records show that he did score 6 top 10 finishes and was one the brave men on the scene who pulled Niki Lauda from his flaming wreck at the Nurburgring.
Honorable Mention: Nick Heidfield- I always thought that Quick Nick was an underrated driver who held his own against teammates such as Raikkonen, Alesi, Kubica, Webber, Massa and Frentzen. In fact he has the dubious record of scoring the most points without a win in F1 history. Towards the end of his career when it was clear that he was never going to win a title, Nick went a little hippie-grunge and let it all just grow.
Jackie Stewart: Everybody knows Jackie as one of the all time greats, a successful team owner, ABC Wide World of Sports announcer, corporate pitchman, and one of the pioneers of the safety movement that led to major track improvements, but few speak about Jackie the fashion maven. Back in the day Jackie was as cool as anybody on the grid and I still quote an old GP VHS tape where he states,
“A race car is like a woman. It’s very sensitive. It’s very nervous. It’s very highly strung. Sometimes it responds very nicely. Sometimes it responds very viciously. Sometimes, to get the best out of it, you have to coax it and almost caress it to do the things you want it to do. And even after you’ve done all these things and the car is doing exactly as you want it to do, it will immediately and with no warning change its mind and do something very suddenly and very abruptly.”
Francois Cevert: Francois had the world at his fingertips. With his silver screen looks, French accent and top notch driving skills, Francois was the very essence of a playboy. Tragically his life was cut short at Watkins Glen in ‘74 but a few friends and I honored him by inventing a cocktail in his name and had it served at the Royal Oak in San Francisco, CA back in the late ‘90’s. It felt pretty damn cool to walk up to the bar and say, “I’ll have 3 more Francois Cevert’s please.”
Emerson Fittipaldi: I was too young to witness Emmo’s F1 years when he looked like a character out of Planet of the Apes and scooped two titles but I did get a heavy dose of the legend in his CART years. He was the man who inspired a generation of Brazilians to become race drivers and built an empire back home in Brazil. I still laugh over Emmo refusing the ceremonial milk in the Indy 500 winners circle so he could drink orange juice to promote the citrus industry back home. “No Milk, no Milk!”
Honorable Mention: Heinz Harald Frentzen- I’ve always been a fan Frentzen, the son of an undertaker who rose up the ladder as Schumacher’s main rival on and off the track. Schumi may have beat Heniz to land a GP drive and had a bit more success in the premier category, but HHF did manage to beat Michael to win the love of Corinna Betsch, who eventually became Corinna Schumacher. Frentzen was always a cool customer and had a great year with Jordan in 1999 when he unexpectedly took third in the championship, sideburns and all.