As a Formula One fan here and now in 2013, imagine a driver turns up on the grid who; has good looks, long blonde hair, smoking cigarettes, a reputation for sleeping with the grid girls and air hostess’, living the playboy lifestyle, Speaking their mind, even drug taking prior to a race.
Of course, you can’t. Because here in 2013 it would never be allowed! The corporations and the sponsors would never allow that sort of behaviour to represent their brand. but of course we live in very different times, as has been said, he was ‘racing at a time when the sex was safe and the driving was dangerous’
James Hunt was the outsider who burst on to the Formula One scene in 1973 with the privateer team Hesketh, who all seemed like a lot of public schoolboys out having a party and a jolly good time!
Hesketh pulled Hunt straight from the Formula Three championship, in which he had regularly been beaten by the man tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ - Roger Williamson. At the time he was better known by the nickname 'Hunt the Shunt' because of his ability to get caught up in accidents and possibly because of the punch he threw that knocked out David Morgan after a crash at Crystal Palace in 1970. Although it must be said that Hunt was a very serious driver underneath the facade of joking and humour. He was frequently so psyched up before a race that he would wretch before climbing into the car.
Hesketh bought a March 731G, hired a young designer called Harvey Postlethwaite and they went racing in 73. No-one rated them, although Hunt did finish fourth in the British GP which did catch a few people’s eye.
He finished third in the Dutch Grand Prix, in which Williamson was killed, and ended his first season by chasing Ronnie Peterson home in the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Peterson was recognised as the fastest man in racing, yet Hunt finished only seconds behind him in an inferior car. He had arrived.
In 1975 he won his first grand prix, in the Netherlands, taking Hesketh's eponymous car to a calculated victory over Niki Lauda's Ferrari. But it was not until Hesketh's team folded at the end of the year and Hunt switched to McLaren that he had the equipment to run at the front on a regular basis.
The 1976 season is the year that inspired the ‘RUSH’ movie which we will discuss later on. The season gave us amazing entertainment and provided an unbelievable battle. A true movie story line if ever there was one!
After a difficult start to the year Hunt won the Spanish GP. Lauda then amassed a string of strong results as Hunt struggled., and then, in a bombshell decision, the governing body disqualified Hunt's Spanish triumph on a technicality. Hunt won in France, but though he subsequently had his Spanish win reinstated, his triumph on home ground at Brands Hatch was again annulled on a technicality. Then Lauda was almost killed in Germany. Hunt won that event and, as Lauda recovered, further triumphs in the Dutch, Canadaian and the US GP’s brought the title within his grasp setting up a title decider in Japan - Fuji.
Hunt appeared to have victory in sewn up after an amazing drive. Lauda had withdrawn due to the ‘dangerous’ very wet conditions and the harrowing recent memories of his accident.
But in true Hollywood style then Hunt sustained a puncture. He pitted and then drove an amzing fighting drive to the finish with such an anger, he went crazy at his team when he got out at the end of the race. He had finished third, giving him the points he needed for the title, but it took a long time before he could be convinced that he had indeed won the championship.
In his title year James gave many cause for concern, turning up with bare feet at black-tie events clad only in jeans and a T-shirt that usually broadcast an offensive message. He was a real playboy!
On the track he was still a great racer and scored another three wins in 77, but from there onwards the quality of his car’s got worse and worse. In 79 he moved to Wolf as Postlethwaite had designed a new car, but Hunt no longer had the motivation to compete.
After the Monaco Grand Prix he announced his retirement.
He then had a successful career as a commentator joining Murray Walker on the BBC grand prix programme, This gave Hunt a platform for him to indulge his love for being outspoken and controversial.
Besides his commentaries, he wrote magazine and newspaper articles, which revealed an in depth knowledge of the sport, which he also passed on to young drivers.
James left behind a legacy, of the great Formula One of the 70’s. He inspired many and is truly a great world champion.