Vintage motorsport was not just racing. It encompassed everything from on-track talent and raw ability to relationships off-track and a camaraderie which has since been sterilised. The vibrant pitlane atmosphere is perhaps the sport’s greatest loss in recent years, and the presence and pivotal role of Formula 1's iconic wives and girlfriends is a sight sorely missed.
Imagery from the ‘70s expresses a particular culture and energy which has since been lost. A vibrant lifestyle where the idea of merely existing was not enough, but everything was dialled to the max; embodying a ‘Live Fast’ approach. I’ll get straight to the point when I say that modern Formula 1 has lost some of the magic it once had. There’s a reason why the ‘60s and ‘70s have been glorified as the “Golden Age of Racing”, and I would agree, despite having been born at the turn of this century.
The swinging sixties marked a time where there was a real sense of community amongst the paddock. Drivers, race engineers and chief designers stole the spotlight each weekend, but the great names on track wouldn’t have achieved legendary status without all the support they received behind the scenes; the wives of F1's greatest stars had arguably the toughest jobs outside of the car.
Most notable of all were Helen Stewart, Barbro Peterson, and of course Nina Rindt. In such a male dominated sport, their trackside presence never went unnoticed and more often than not would have thousands of eyes focussed on them. However, without fail they would attend nearly every single race to help their husbands throughout the season. One might think the wives of F1 enjoyed the attention, as do many celebrities attending todays races. However their interest in the sport was pure, and their role pivotal.
Seen each weekend in the paddock, Stewart, Peterson and Rindt would never be empty handed. Clutching an Omega stopwatch in one hand and timing board in the other, they would be hard at work each session recording the lap times of their husbands and feeding that information back to them once the session had ended.
Timing laps was not the tough part their job however. In the golden days of F1 the wives’ friendships were just as close knitted as the drivers if not more so. The ‘Dog House Club’ was the name of their circle, and where they would spend their time socialising whilst the drivers were busy with race engineers. It was always ensured that the wives would have a room to mingle in at every race weekend, as did the drivers. This was essential in an age where death in F1 was a regular occurrence, and having a supportive environment was pivotal. So when a driver was killed, the other wives could all take care of each other.
The death of Jochen was extremely hard on the paddock, and Helen Stewart was especially supportive of Nina. Jackie Stewart recalls in an interview with The Independent; “to have to go and pack the bags of somebody who had just been killed, because their wife couldn’t stand to go back to the hotel room, well Helen had to do that so many times.” This was the side of F1 which didn’t receive as much attention; the hard-hitting reality of the sport as well as the resilience of the drivers’ spouses.
Prior to Ronnie’s fatal accident at Monza, Barbro Peterson was an official timekeeper for Team Lotus
Photos of Nina Rindt trackside with a stopwatch in hand have since become iconic in their own right and remind us of a time when motorsport was about pure emotion and glory. Perhaps the most notable of the F1 wives, Rindt is remembered for her offbeat sense of style in the late ‘60s and her favourite accessory; a lime green hat. A pioneer of graphic tees and high waisted trousers which are since back in style, Rindt certainly retained an eye for fashion following her early modelling career.
It’s easy to envisage the F1 wives and girlfriends of this era as supermodels or cover girls for Vogue. In reality however they were dedicated to the sport, and more so to their husbands in pursuit of glory on track. Never seeking credit or stardom for their active participation at race weekends, the likes of Stewart, Peterson and Rindt were trackside for a specific purpose, as opposed to today’s celebrities - most of which fake an interest in the sport for social media. Despite being an unsung topic of the ‘Golden Age of Racing’ the community amongst the drivers’ wives is an iconic aspect of this bygone era, adding to the magic and vibrancy of the swinging sixties and seventies.