F1: Lifestyles of the rich and famous

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Formula 1 is an expensive and exciting sport with fast cars, exotic locations, beautiful women (check out the pit babes here) and lots of money flying around. The drivers can earn huge salaries - sometimes in the region of £10m a year! There is also prize money to be won by the top 10 teams of the championship but these figures are not often disclosed. The teams need vast amounts of money in order to have the best staff and the best high-tech cars. So it's not at all surprising that the drivers live extravagant playboy lifestyles while we normal folk read about them jealously in OK and Hello Magazine.

Lewis Hamilton, last year's F1 champion, is just an ordinary boy from Stevenage whose father held down three jobs to pay for his son's interest in racing. Now, all that hard work has obviously paid off! Lewis owns a home in Switzerland (as do many F1 drivers to take advantage of the tax breaks - for him an estimated £4m+ a year!), he was also looking for a London pied-à-terre to share with his glamorous Pussycat Dolls lead singer girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger. He recently bought a 90ft yacht worth £5m that has eight bedrooms including a master suite, a VIP suite and two guest cabins and a luxury lounge with plasma TVs. The yacht is painted to match Hamilton's McLaren racing car in silver and black and is kept in Monaco.

Lewis isn't the only F1 driver taking advantage of Switzerland's tax breaks. In that country you will also find houses owned by such current and past legends as Jean Alesi, David Coulthard, Fernando Alonso, Alain Prost, Jacques Villeneuve, Jackie Stewart and Michael Schumacher. In fact, Schumacher's palatial home is a 650 m² mansion with its own underground garage and petrol station, and it's situated on a private beach on Lake Geneva.

Don't assume that these fabulously rich drivers are tied down to one country. David Coulthard also owns houses in London, Belgium and another tax-haven, Monaco. He also owns several luxury hotels in the UK and in Monaco. Monaco has long been a popular home for F1 drivers, no doubt because of the Grand Prix circuit that takes place in its streets. But surely aslo because of the casino in Monte Carlo, the first-class hotels and exciting nightlife and the leisure facilities for the rich and famous. In Monaco you will also find the houses of Jenson Button (who also owns houses in the UK and Bahrain), Nico Rosberg, Alex Wurz, Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa.

There are many more perks to being a rich and famous racing driver. For example, Felipe Massa is good friends with the Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille. Mille has dedicated several watches to the F1 driver and I'm fairly certain that he is given his own models to wear. Another brand of expensive watch that likes to sponsor F1 drivers is TAG Heuer. They have Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Räikkönen, Sébastien Bourdais and Heikki Kovalainen as some of their 'brand ambassadors' who are sponsored by the company and get to wear their stylish watches.

Apart from watches, F1 drivers are usually given a carmaker's top performance model when they sign up to race under them. Imagine being given a top of the range Ferrari, for free! Most top F1 drivers own fantastic sports cars, or - like Fernando Alonso - classic cars, and of course if asked they would all state unequivocally that the best perk of being a Formula 1 driver is driving all those super fast cars. Although, there are so many more attractions to the lifestyle than just driving such as travelling the world and staying in exotic locations.

The Grand Prix circuit visits some of the world's most exciting places such as Brazil, Japan, Italy, Abu Dhabi and Spain amongst others. Of course, all F1 drivers get to fly first class while being served gourmet meals, champagne and other complimentary drinks. Some drivers, like Rubens Barrichello, even own their own planes! His Embraer Legacy means that he can travel quickly between his races and therefore have more time to spend with his family. Having your own plane would certainly cut down waiting time at the airport! Being so well-travelled, F1 drivers know all the best places to go for luxurious holidays. They are really spoilt for choice: first-class hotels, their own boats (Giancarlo Fisichella's is moored in Sardinia), luxury cruises or even staying in one of their own many homes around the world.

To sample just a small slice of the good life, you could plan a trip to one of the Grand Prix race venues. Formula 1 tickets can cost between £50 - £470 depending on whether you want to see tests or races and where you sit. Should you want to see the races in foreign climes, you'll also need to book some flights and hotel accommodation, but it would so be worth it to be at the track, smell the burning rubber and petrol fumes and hear the engines revving and roaring. Then maybe bump into some of the drivers and discuss the best watch brands and whether flying first class or by private jet is preferable ... ok, maybe not.

Do you plan to see the Grand Prix in person? Who do you think will win this year's championship? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

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