While waiting for the next round of the season, the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix in Imola, I dug up a little bit into vintage Formula 1 photographic archives. I think there is always been and often still is fascination around drivers’ lifestyles, with a special interest for their wives and girlfriends. Women daring to be aside of men risking their own life almost everyday for passion; stunning and incredible female figures who played fundamental roles in every pilot’s story.
Behind every great man, the story so far. Meryll Frost was a Canadian-born football player and after an halfback role in the Wellesley High School moved to Dartmouth Indians in the fall of 1940. He played here in 1941 and 1942 before – as a naturalized American citizen — serving his country in the Air Corps during World War II. Frost became a ball-turret gunner on a B-17 bomber, and one day his plane crashed during take off while in Italy: Frost barely survived, yet made valiant efforts to save other crew members. He later underwent six surgeries and skin grafts in Army hospitals to repair his wounds until being back to the green field at the end of the war. He was then elected captain of the 1945 team playing as triple-threat quarterback, and attended the East-West All-Star game as well.
As he received the Most Courageous Athlete of 1945 trophy, the fearless quarterback unfolded the story of how he ‘came back’ and said:
They say behind every great man there’s a woman. While I’m not a great man, there’s a great woman behind me.
Frost was certainly right, but his phrase certainly hasn’t aged well. Today, luckily, there are many great women who make it on their own; great women with men supporting them and great women with a woman behind them. And we are very happy for it, every single day of the year.
We truly believe that some of vintage Formula 1 wives and girlfriend stories must be told, maybe with few words and some amazing film portraits.
Helen is Jackie Stewart’s sweetheart since childhood and they got married in 1962. A lifetime love. She has been his stopwatch forever, a razor-sharp mind that timed every single of Jackie’s laps to the millisecond with unfaltering accuracy. Helen did not enjoy racing tho and this may come as a surprise for the wife of one of the greatest drivers of all time. She revealed in an interview that she used to get scared whenever Jackie stepped up to the track, but she adored the people and friends she made while following him everywhere around the Formula 1 season calendar.
Jackie and Helen had two children, Paul – who followed his father’s footsteps and entered motorsports and Mark Stewart – who made a career for himself in film and television producing.
Nina Lincoln was born in 1943, daughter of top Finnish racing driver and tennis player Curt Lincoln. She was sent to a boarding school to complete her education, in Montreux in Switzerland. Her extraordinary beauty allowed her the opportunity to become a fashion model and in the 1960s her career took her to Paris, London and New York. Nina’s connections in the motorsport world, together with her status as a top fashion model made her one of the most glamorous women of the period. It is no surprise, then, to learn that in 1967 she married a top racing driver.
Jochen Rindt had already established himself as one of the best young racing drivers at this time: they were a golden couple, and the newspaper society columns followed their lives with great interest. The couple lived on the shores of Lake Geneva, in 1968 their daughter Natasha was born, but happiness was short-lived.
In 1970, at just 28 years of age, Jochen crashes heavily while practicing in Monza for the Italian Grand Prix. Nina was at the Lotus box, waiting for his husband to pass one more time. Rindt had won enough races that season to be named World Champion and he remains the only posthumous Grand Prix champion in Formula 1 history. Nina accepted the award on his behalf, the ceremony was held in London and the trophy was presented to Nina by Jochen’s great friend, Jackie Stewart.
Marlene Knaus is a former Austrian model, but she is probably best known as the ex-wife of three-times Formula 1 World Champion Niki Lauda. Marlene began her career as a model in the 1960s. Over time she became popular due to her successful modeling profession, which led to many famous brands seeking her skills. She was known as the ‘it-girl’ for her signature loose hairdo and impeccable sense of fashion. She appeared on the covers of several magazines and became very active in the fashion industry, then later worked as a designer, and became a socialite.
Before getting into a relationship with Niki, Marlene had dated Curt Jurgens, the German-Austrian film and stage actor; Marlene actually met Niki in 1975 at a dinner party that Curt was hosting at his house. After dating for a couple of months, the two got married one year later. They were considered one of the most prominent celebrity couples of the time, which put them on the media radar, and led to their love story making page three headlines. As per some reputable sources, Marlene is said to have fainted once she saw her husband’s damaged eyelids and burns after his almost fatal German Grand Prix accident at Nürburgring’s Nordschleife.
Barbro Edwardsson met Ronnie Peterson while dancing in a club in Örebro, Sweden, spring of 1969. After one year the couple moved together in London, a nice house not far from Heathrow airport: Ronnie was a Lotus Formula driver and Barbro became his official timekeeper.
In 1978, during the Italian Grand Prix, Peterson’s Lotus 72 crashed hard into the barriers hard and caught fire before bouncing back into the middle of the track. He was trapped in the burning wreck, but Hunt, Regazzoni and Depailler managed to free him before he received more than minor burns, while track marshals were extinguishing the car.
Peterson was taken to Niguarda hospital, and having 27 fractures diagnosed, worsened through the night and died the morning after. Barbro never got over his premature death.
Suzy Miller grew up in Southern Rhodesia – Zimbabwe nowadays – with her parents, a twin sister and a brother. By the age of 24, she was a successful fashion model in Britain. She was known for being one of the ‘beautiful people’ and for getting whatever she wanted easily. In 1974, she met Hunt in Spain: he proposed to her only weeks later, and they got married the same year. The wedding, which took place in Kensington, was considered the “society wedding of the year”, and the two were considered “one of the sporting world’s most happily married couples.”
The couple spent their honeymoon in Antigua with one of Hunt’s close friends, also newly married, and then settled in Spain for tax reasons. Later, Miller described feeling that Hunt’s career came ahead of everything else in his life. He was also frequently unfaithful and the marriage floundered.
In December 1975, Suzy met Richard Burton in Gstaad and he invited her to return to New York with him. Their relationship developed quickly and Burton left Elizabeth Taylor, he then allegedly paid Hunt one million dollar as part of the divorce settlement between “The Shunt” and his wife. Suzy always claimed that part of the reason she initially became involved with Burton was so that she could make Hunt jealous. In June 1976, Suzy divorced Hunt in Haiti and their love story ended forever.