Freddie Hunt: “Stress and being under pressure were the biggest things for me… and I couldn’t deliver”
Professional racing car driver and TV presenter Freddie Hunt recently explored the role mental health can play in sport, speaking to Damon Hill in a thought-provoking interview about the Former World Champion’s struggles with depression. We turned the table to explore Freddie’s own experiences in dealing with stress as part of the job, bereavement after the loss of his racing legend father and bullying.
In your racing career what has been your experience of working under pressure and stress?
Stress and being under pressure were the biggest things for me, and it was right there from the beginning. I was on the front page of Motor Sport News from day one which certainly wasn’t helpful, and unfortunately I couldn’t deliver. Behind the wheel on my own I was relaxed but as soon as other people were watching me drive, I couldn’t do it. The worst aspect was the snowball effect that the pressure seemed to have, which got worse and worse with every race. My manager sent me to Germany to meet a psychologist to help, but I was still struggling. So I decided to stop racing to give myself time out. I had a young mind and needed the time to mature before taking up racing again, 3 years later.
When your Dad (F1 racing icon James Hunt) passed away, what impact did that have on your day-to-day life and later in adulthood?
My Dad passing away has definitely had an impact on me but there were other issues that made my life quite turbulent when I was growing up. Before Dad passed away my parents divorced and the negative energy and rows affected me. Along with Mum’s alcoholism and an illness I suffered from early on, I was in a chaotic environment. It was a hazy part of my life and, as I got older, my school career wasn’t pleasant either as I was bullied throughout. Growing up with all those stresses meant I developed insecurities, and I still have some now.
People make assumptions that I’m confident because of what I do but I’m still shy. And confidence to be in front of a camera for me has come through practice, as well as my mother’s support as she always reminds me of the things I should be proud of. That has been a great influence in helping me to build my confidence and I need to keep reminding myself of the things I’ve achieved in life – we all have things to be proud of.
In your opinion how prevalent are mental health issues in the industry?
Mental health issues simply aren’t talked about in the racing industry and I’ve never heard any driver speak about mental health, certainly not to me anyway. In fact I hadn’t heard about mental health issues in our industry until I read about Damon Hill’s experience of depression in his autobiography. When I read his story, I knew I wanted to interview him about his experience for my YouTube series with Havoline Europe.
Although it’s not spoken about, there must be drivers and people in the industry who experience mental health issues. Drivers have different techniques to stay calm and I’m sure a lot of them seek professional help to cope with the pressure. I mean, we have sports therapists who are never out of work, so we need people to start talking about these things.
What advice would you give to someone experiencing issues like Damon or yourself have?
My Dad gave some advice to Mika Hakkinen (another racing legend) which was simply to ‘enjoy it’. It took a while for Mika to understand what he meant, but essentially it was to try to enjoy yourself whatever you’re doing in your life and your profession. If you don’t enjoy yourself then you aren’t going to do well, feel good about yourself or the situation in front of you. I also believe we all need to find our own way to cope with the pressures of life, talk about them and seek help if you need to. I started to see a therapist in recent years and even after the first session I found it very helpful, and the relief from doing that gives you the opportunity to enjoy life as a whole.
It takes real strength to admit you need help, whether it’s you or someone you care about who is struggling with mental health issues, but asking for support is the first step towards getting better.
For free confidential advice and support you can call our helpline or discuss your issues via our online chat. There are also tips, advice and tools on how to manage issues in our mental health & wellbeing section.