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Artwork by Dina Volskaya James Hunt

Unforgettable: James Hunt 1947-1993

Artwork by Dina Volskaya James Hunt

The son of a stockbroker, James Hunt was in a rush to become Formula 1 world champion and despite incredible odds he did, his all time high came during the unforgettable 1976 Formula 1 World Championship season.

James Simon Wallis Hunt was born on 29 August 1947 and spent early years in Surrey, England. Like Graham Hill he discovered the joy of motor racing on a casual trip with friends to Brands Hatch when he was seventeen.

“He became alive,” according to his then girlfriend Taormina Rieck.

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Early in his life Hunt realized, like the Revson brothers, family support will not be available for his racing adventures. Determined to go his own way he took on jobs to finance his racing career, these included being a hospital porter, milkman, and delivery boy. Additional ‘sponsorship’ came in the form of a loan.

Racing driver James Hunt was on his way. He was fast and feisty from the moment he got into racing. Both on and off the track. The late great commentator Murray Walker on James’ behavior “he had the most frightening temper I have ever seen in my life.”

Starting in a Mini, he was soon in Formula Ford, winning his first race in 1968 at Lydden Hill circuit near Dover. Halfway through the 1969 season he moved up to Formula 3, and finished third at Brand Hatch, behind American Roy Pike and race winner Emerson Fittipaldi, in Round 13 of the Lombank British Formula 3 Championship.

Hunt the Shunt

james hunt early days

In 1970, his first full season in the British Formula 3 Championship, driving a Molyslip sponsored works Lotus 59 marked the beginning of his “Hunt the Shunt” nickname and flying punches – from Monaco to Mosport Park. In the October Daily Express Trophy at Crystal Palace, Hunt was fighting with Dave Morgan on the final lap for a podium finish. The two collided coming out of the final corner, Morgan was penalized but not before Hunt jumped from his car, ran towards Morgan, and pushed him to the ground.

Hunt’s best results were a pair of second place finishes at Oulton Park in May in the British Empire Trophy and at Brands Hatch in October in the E.R. Hall Trophy.

Hunt found success in International Formula 3 competition. Notably, winning after a close finish over Wilson Fittipaldi in the French street circuit at Rouen in Formula 3. During the race two French drivers, Denis Dayan and Jean-Luc Salomon, lost their lives. Another close victory was achieved over fellow Englishman Barrie Maskell at Zolder in Belgium.

Hunt switched to Max Mosley’s March team

james hunt f3

Staying in Formula 3 racing for the 1971 season but switching to Max Mosley’s March team, victories were scored at Montlhery, near Paris, over two future French Grand Prix winning drivers; Jean-Pierre Jabouille who was second and Patrick Depailler in third, both driving for Alpine-Renault. Hunt also took victory at the Nürburgring Südschleife over three local drivers.

In the Chris Moore Memorial Trophy at Crystal Palace circuit he triumphed over Roger Williamson, who would perish two years later in a fiery accident in the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort driving for Tom Wheatcroft. His fourth and final F3 victory of the season came at Brands Hatch.

Williamson was second. Third man on the podium was Colin Vandervell, son of Tony Vandervell of Vanwall fame. Completing the top five were two future world champions: Jody Scheckter and Alan Jones. Association with March continued into the 1972 Formula 3 season and produced only one podium finish at Mallory Park circuit where Hunt was third.

Enter The Good Lord 

Hesketh james Hunt

Lord Alexander Hesketh was a young English aristocrat who had inherited a large fortune. His Formula 3 team employed a driver by the name of Anthony “Bubbles” Horsley, who was fast in thinking but not on the track. He soon realized the team needed a fast driver, and when he met James Hunt, the decision was promptly made. Horsley hired Hunt as the driver and promoted himself to Team Manager.

The Hunt was on. After a few races together in Formula 3 in which they were unable to reach the podium, Hunt and Hesketh Racing dabbled in Formula 2. Campaigning a March 712M, they quickly reached the podium in third at Oulton Park circuit, behind two drivers Hunt would race against and fight for the championship in Formula 1, race winner Ronnie Peterson and Niki Lauda.

According to Hunt, since the team was not winning in Formula 2, Lord Hesketh, whom he called The Good Lord, decided to move into Formula 1.

Carnival comes to F1 paddock. Hesketh Racing’s grand arrival in Formula 1 came in the glitz and glamour capital of Formula 1, Monte Carlo. They celebrated their 1973 Monaco Grand Prix debut with the following passage on Hesketh Racing’s website:

The team chose a Rolls-Royce Corniche and a Porsche Carrera to get them to and from the track at Monaco, with relaxation taking place off-shore on Hesketh’s 162-foot yacht Southern Breeze – which was suitably well stocked with champagne and good-looking women.

Hesketh shock the F1 establishment by winning

F1i Look Back: Hunt and Hesketh nail it in the dunes of Zandvoort

Driving a March, Hunt was running in the points in sixth place when he had to retire on lap 73 of 78 due to engine failure. Their first podium came in the Netherlands and season’s highest place was achieved in the final race at Watkins Glen where he was only .6s behind Peterson’s Lotus.

A young Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite designed the Hesketh 308 and with the updated 308B at the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix, Hunt stunned the establishment and Scuderia Ferrari by holding off Niki Lauda for over thirty laps in changing conditions to score a memorable victory.

Hesketh Racing, the Hooray Henry of Formula 1, had just won a Grand Prix. This would also be their first and final success at the top echelon of motor racing.

After the 1975 season Emerson Fittipaldi left McLaren to join his brother’s Copersucar team. This opened the door for Hunt to join a championship winning team, then run by an American lawyer, Teddy Mayer.

In their first race together in Brazil, Hunt qualified on pole position. He crashed out on Lap 32 of 40. Lauda won the race, and the stage was set for a thrilling season, but nobody could imagine the twists and turns it would take, all the way to final lap of the final race.

In the second race of the season at Kyalami in South Africa the story was the same. Hunt on pole. The race winner Lauda. This time Hunt was able to be on the podium in second.

1976 Hunt vs Lauda one of the greatest F1 world title battles

James Hunt: Vor 30 Jahren starb der letzte GP-Hippie / Formel 1 - SPEEDWEEK.COM

His first victory of the season came in Round 4 at Jarama in the Spanish Grand Prix. This came after his disqualification for the width of the car exceeding the limit was reversed. After winning the Monaco Grand Prix, Lauda had taken victories in four of the first six races and looked set for a second successive title with Scuderia.

Hunt would take the chequered flag first at Paul Ricard and Brands Hatch but would be disqualified from his home Grand Prix. Then came the German Grand Prix at the Green Hell. Lauda was pulled from his burning car by the Italian Cowboy, Arturo Merzario, and Hunt won the race.

He also won the Dutch Grand Prix before Lauda made a remarkable recovery and raced to fourth position at Monza. Commendatore had entered a third car for Carlos Reutemann, he was ninth with other teammate Regazzoni second behind Peterson, this was third win at the Temple of Speed for the Super Swede.

Hunt: I should be getting drunk

On this day, 24 years ago, 1976 WDC James Hunt died of a heart failure : r/formula1

The next two races in Canada and the United States were both won by Hunt, setting a grand finale in the first ever Japanese Grand Prix at the Fuji circuit. The season finale was delayed due to heavy rain and was run in monsoon conditions.

Lauda pulled into the pits on second lap for ‘self-preservation.’ Mario Andretti won the race from pole position – his first since maiden win in 1971 at Kyalami – while Hunt came through in the heavy rain to be on the podium in third place without realizing he was the new World Champion.

Interviewed by a journalist in England by phone soon after the race, he was asked, ‘what are your immediate plans now?’ Hunt’s instant response was “I should be getting drunk.”

His life in the fast lane, on and off the track, caught up to him. Alcohol, drugs, failed relationships and business ventures led to sad reality of his Mercedes 450 SEL being parked on bricks to avoid paying motor tax. His great rival and good friend Lauda can be seen on a You Tube video speaking of meeting Hunt in London. The 1976 World Champion did not even have money for a cup of coffee.

Hunt passed away from a massive heart attack on June 15, 1993. He was only 45 years old.

James Hunt competed in 92 Grands Prix, started from 14 pole positions, won 10 Grands Prix and was on the podium in 23 races. A true Champion – at least on the track.

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