James Hunt 1 1976
James Simon Wallis Hunt (29 August 1947 – 15 June 1993) was a British racing driver from England who won the Formula One World Championship in Template:F1. After retiring from driving, Hunt became a media commentator and businessman.
Beginning his racing career in touring car racing, Hunt progressed into Formula Three where he attracted the attention of the Hesketh Racing team and was soon taken under their wing. Hunt entered Formula One in Template:F1, driving a March 731 entered by the Hesketh Racing team. He went on to win for Hesketh, driving their own Hesketh 308 car, in both World Championship and non-Championship races, before joining the McLaren team at the end of Template:F1. In his first year with McLaren, Hunt won the World Drivers' Championship, and he remained with the team for a further two years, although with less success, before moving to the Wolf team in early Template:F1. However, following a string of races in which he failed to finish, Hunt retired from driving half way through the 1979 season.
He is latterly remembered for his commentary career for the BBC, which he took up following his retirement and maintained until his death in 1993.
The son of a successful stockbroker, James Hunt was born in Belmont, Sutton, Surrey and educated firstly at Westerleigh School in Hastings, East Sussex and later Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire, and originally professed the intention of becoming a doctor. But just before his 18th birthday he was taken by a friend to see a motor race and Hunt was instantly hooked.
Hunt's own racing career started off in a racing Mini, before graduating to Formula Ford and Formula Three. Hunt was noticed as a fast driver with an aggressive, tail-happy driving style, but one prone to spectacular accidents, hence his well-earned nickname of Hunt The Shunt. Hunt was involved in a controversial incident with Dave Morgan during a battle for second position in the Formula Three Daily Express Trophy race at Crystal Palace on 3 October 1970. Having banged wheels earlier in a very closely fought race, Morgan attempted to pass Hunt on the outside of South Tower Corner on the final lap, but instead the cars collided and crashed out of the race. Hunt's car came to rest in the middle of the track, minus two wheels. Hunt got out, ran over to Morgan and furiously pushed him to the ground, which earned him severe official disapproval.
Hunt's career continued in the works March team, but in May 1972 it was announced by the team that he had been dropped from the STP-March Formula 3 team and replaced by Jochen Mass. This followed a period characterized by a series of mechanical failures, and which culminated in a decision by Hunt, against the express instructions of March director Max Mosley, to race at Monaco in a March from a different team, unexpectedly vacated by driver Jean-Claude Alzerat, after Hunt's own March had first broken down and then been hit by another competitor in a practice lap.
After the termination of his racing relationship with STP-March, Hunt joined the Hesketh team, where he was seen as a kindred spirit. The team initially entered Hunt in Formula Two with little success but Lord Hesketh announced that they might as well fail in F1 as in F2, as it wasn't significantly more expensive.
Formula One career
Beginnings with Hesketh
Hesketh purchased a March 731 chassis, and it was developed by Harvey Postlethwaite. The team was initially not taken seriously by rivals, who saw the Hesketh team as a party goers enjoying the glamour of Formula One. The Hesketh March proved much more competitive than the works March cars, and their best result was second place at the 1973 United States Grand Prix. For the Template:F1 season Hesketh Racing built a car, inspired by the March, called the Hesketh 308, but an accompanying V12 engine never materialised. The Hesketh team captured the public imagination as a car without sponsors' markings, a teddy-bear badge and a devil-may-care team ethos, which belied the fact that their engineers were highly competent. Hunt's season highlight was a victory at the BRDC International Trophy non-Championship race at Silverstone, against the majority of the regular F1 field.
Hunt's first World Championship win came in the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. He finished fourth in the Championship that year, but Lord Hesketh had run out of funds and could not find a sponsor for his team. With little time left before the Template:F1 season, Hunt was desperately looking for a drive until Emerson Fittipaldi left McLaren and joined his brother's Copersucar-Fittipaldi outfit. With no other top drivers available, the team management signed Hunt to McLaren for the next season – he was one of the cheapest World Champions ever (Keke Rosberg in 1982 similarly found a drive at the last minute). Hunt immediately caused a stir by refusing to sign a clause in his contract which stipulated he wore suits to sponsor functions. Hunt wore t-shirt and jeans and was often barefoot for sponsor-led functions with world leaders, chairmen of businesses and media moguls.
World Championship year
1976 was Hunt's best year. He drove the McLaren M23 to six Grands Prix wins. He was disqualified and later reinstated as the winner of the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix for driving a car adjudged to be 1.8 cm too wide. Victory at the British Grand Prix was disallowed after an accident at the first corner that Hunt was involved in. At the Italian Grand Prix, the Texaco fuel that McLaren used was tested and although apparently legal, the Penske cars, running the same fuel, had a much higher octane level than allowed and subsequently both teams were forced to start from the rear of the grid.
Niki Lauda's near-fatal accident in Germany, which caused him to miss the following two races, allowed Hunt to close the gap to the Austrian. As they went to the final round in Japan Hunt was just three points behind. The Japanese Grand Prix was torrentially wet, and Lauda retired early on in the race, unable to blink because of facial burns from his accident in Germany. After leading most of the race Hunt suffered a puncture, then had a delayed pitstop and finally received mixed pit signals from his team. But he managed to finish in third place, scoring four points, enough for him to win the World Championship by one point.
Decline and retirement
The 1977 Formula One season did not start well for Hunt. The McLaren M26 was problematic in the early part of the season, during which Niki Lauda and Mario Andretti took a considerable lead in the Drivers' Championship. Towards the end of the year Hunt and the McLaren M26 were quicker than any rival combination other than Mario Andretti and the Lotus 78, and Hunt won in Watkins Glen and Fuji. He finished fifth in the World Drivers'Championship.
In the Template:F1 season Hunt scored only eight world championship points. Lotus had developed effective ground effect aerodynamics with their Lotus 79 car, and McLaren were slow to respond. The M26 was revised as a ground effect car midway through the season but it did not work, and without a test driver to solve the car's problems, Hunt's motivation was low. His inexperienced new team-mate Patrick Tambay even outqualified Hunt at one race.
James Hunt was greatly affected by Ronnie Peterson's fatal crash in the 1978 Italian Grand Prix. At the start of the race there was a huge accident going into the first corner. Ronnie Peterson's Lotus was pushed into the barriers and burst into flames. Hunt, together with Patrick Depailler and Clay Regazzoni, rescued Peterson from the car, but Peterson died one day later. Hunt took his friend's death particularly hard and for years afterwards blamed Riccardo Patrese for the accident. Video evidence of the crash has since shown that Patrese did not touch Hunt or Peterson's cars, nor did he cause any other car to do so. Hunt believed, however, that it was Patrese's muscling past that caused the McLaren and Lotus to touch, but Patrese argues that he was already well ahead of the pair before the accident took place.
For Template:F1 Hunt moved to the initially very successful Walter Wolf Racing team for what would be his last, brief, Formula One season. The team's ground effect car was uncompetitive and Hunt soon lost any enthusiasm for racing. His private life was also becoming increasingly turbulent. After failing to finish the 1979 Monaco Grand Prix, the race where six years previously he had made his debut, Hunt made a statement to the press announcing his immediate retirement and walked away from F1 competition.
Personal life and later career
Hunt was notorious for his unconventional behaviour on and off the track. Having been part of Formula One when the series was consolidating, and when it was conquering the attention of the motor sport press, Hunt became the epitome of unruly, playboy drivers and was celebrated for his English eccentricity (which included dining with his Alsatian, Oscar, at expensive Mayfair restaurants).
Early in their careers Hunt and Lauda shared a one-bedroom flat in London, and were close friends off the track. Lauda, in his autobiography To Hell and Back, described Hunt as an "open, honest to God pal." Whilst living in Spain as a tax exile, Hunt was neighbours with Jody Scheckter, and they also came to be very good friends, with Hunt giving Scheckter the nickname Fletcher after the crash prone bird in the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Another close friend was Ronnie Peterson. Peterson was a quiet and shy man, whilst Hunt was exactly the opposite, but their contrasting personalities made them very close off the track. It was Hunt who discovered Gilles Villeneuve, whom he met after being soundly beaten by him in a Formula Atlantic race in 1976. Hunt then arranged for the young Canadian to make his Grand Prix debut with McLaren in 1977.
Hunt's lifestyle was as controversial as some of the events on track: he was associated with a succession of beautiful women; he preferred to turn up to formal functions in bare feet and jeans; he was an extensive user of alcohol, and also cocaine and marijuana; and he lived an informal life near the beach in Marbella. He was regularly seen attending nightclubs and discos, and was generally the life and soul of the party. Hunt was an expert ball game player, and regularly played squash and tennis. He also played on the F1 drivers' cricket and football teams and appeared on the BBC's Superstars more than once.
Soon after retirement, in 1980 Hunt became a television commentator for the BBC, alongside Murray Walker on the BBC 2 Formula One racing programme Grand Prix, a position which he continued for the thirteen years until his death. Viewers were regularly exposed to his knowledge, insights and dry sense of humour during broadcasts, bringing him a whole new fanbase. He was famous for 'rubbishing' drivers he didn't think were trying hard enough, and although harsh-sounding, his comments were usually in good humour – he once described René Arnoux's comments that non-turbo cars didn't suit the Frenchman's driving skills as "bullshit", while live on the BBC. He was also skilled at reading a race and predicting outcomes to situations on-track. He also had a reputation for speaking out against back-markers who held up race leaders (especially ones of experience, most of them being French, most specifically Jean-Pierre Jarier and Philippe Alliot) and not holding back on any of his commentaries- in sharp contrast to the gentlemanly Walker.
Walker: Senna's going to have interference in the form of Philippe Alliot, as he comes into the stadium, which of course is the slowest part of the track- and Senna's going to try and take Alliot- no he doesn't succeed, as they are now into the stadium section, with about 100,000 Germans watching in these enormous grandstands- Alliot slows down, lets Senna through, now Berger, but what about the Ferraris? And Senna's pulling away, making the most of his opportunity.
Hunt: Well, that was some spectacularly stupid driving by Alliot, because he's got no one else to race against, why he didn't just stop and let the leading 4 pass, instead of interfering with their race, because he's got nothing to do with them, and he ain't racing against anyone else."
Hunt fought depression and alcoholism and despite severe financial setbacks in his business life, approaching his mid-40s it seemed that he had overcome many of his demons (particularly alcohol and tobacco) and had finally achieved happiness. Happiness to Hunt included his new partner Helen, his clean health, his bicycle, his casual approach to dress, his two sons and his Austin A35 van.
Hunt made a brief appearance in the 1979 British silent slapstick comedy "The Plank", as well as co-starring with Fred Emney in a Texaco Havoline TV advertisement. He also made an appearance on ITV's Police, Camera, Action! special Crash Test Racers in 2000; this was one of many interviews to be aired posthumously.
Hunt's son Freddie Hunt competed in his first car race on 29 October 2006, and finished fourth overall. It is said he used the race to evaluate if he wished to become a racing driver professionally. After competing in the ADAC Formel Masters series in Germany in 2009, Freddie decided to retire from motor racing. Hunt's younger brother, David, also pursued a racing career, competing in British Formula Three and International Formula 3000 in the 1980s.
In early 2007, Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen entered and won a snowmobile race in his native Finland under the name James Hunt. Räikkönen has openly admired the lifestyles of 1970s race car drivers such as Hunt.
Complete Formula One World Championship results
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position, races in italics indicate fastest lap)
- "DRIVER: Hunt, James". Autocourse Grand Prix Archive. Archived from the original on 2007-11-04. Retrieved 2007-10-14.
- Template:Cite episode
- "Sporting side: Hunt out - Mass in". Motor: 46–47. date 3 June 1972. Check date values in:
- Widdows, R. 2007. Patrese: more sinned against than sinning? Motor Sport, 83/11 (November 2007), 82-85
- Rubython, Tom (14 October 2010). "Turbo charged by lust: How Formula One womaniser James Hunt slept with 33 BA stewardesses before race that made him world champ". Daily Mail (London).
- Template:Cite episode
- "The Official Formula 1 Website - James Hunt".
- Benson, Andrew (21 October 2007). "Raikkonen the playboy king". BBC Sport. Retrieved 2007-10-23.
- GrandPrix.com biography
- ConnectingRod article
- James Hunt appreciation website
- Fan website
- James Hunt statistics
- Video of James Hunt just after he won the 1976 British Grand Prix
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