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James Simon Wallis Hunt (29 August 1947 – 15 June 1993) was a Britishmarker racing driver from Englandmarker who won the Formula One World Championship in . 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 , 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 McLarenmarker team at the end of . 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 . However, following a string of races in which he failed to finish, Hunt retired from driving half way through the 1979 season.

Never one to take himself too seriously, Hunt endeared himself to the British public with his charisma and charm and brought a whole new audience to Formula One in the mid 1970s. Despite his Formula One career only lasting six seasons Hunt remains one of the few drivers of the era to be widely remembered amongst the general public, in part due to his commentary career for the BBC, which he took up following his retirement and maintained until his death in 1993.

Early career

The son of a successful stockbroker, James Hunt was born in Belmont, Suttonmarker and educated firstly at Westerleigh School in Hastingsmarker, East Sussexmarker and later Wellington Collegemarker in Crowthornemarker, Berkshire, and originally studied to be 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 when he built his own fast but rather ramshackle 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 in the Formula Three Daily Express Trophy race at Crystal Palacemarker 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 that disintegrated and he soon fell in with 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 decided that they might as well fail in F1 as in F2, as it wasn't significantly more expensive (and it allowed Lord Hesketh to parade his yacht, helicopter, Porsche, and Rolls Royce in front of a more appreciative audience).

Formula One career

Beginnings with Hesketh

Hesketh purchased a March 731 chassis, and it was developed by Harvey Postlethwaite. The team wasn't taken seriously by rivals, who saw the Hesketh outfit as a group of party animals lapping up the F1 lifestyle, having champagne breakfasts and spending more time at five-star hotels than at the race circuit. But the car was much more competitive than the works efforts, and their best result was second place at the 1973 United States Grand Prix. For the 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: the car without any sponsor markings, the teddy-bear badge and the devil-may-care atmosphere overshadowed the fact that they were an extremely competent outfit. Hunt's season highlight was a victory at the BRDC International Trophy non-Championship race at Silverstonemarker, against a field that included the majority of the contemporary F1 glitterati.

Hunt's first World Championship win came in the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoortmarker. He finished fourth in the Championship that year, but Lord Hesketh had run out of funds and could not find a sponsor for his maverick team. With little time left before the season, Hunt was desperately looking for a drive until Emerson Fittipaldi left McLarenmarker 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. Throughout his tenure, Hunt attended functions with world leaders, chairmen of businesses and media moguls in t-shirt and jeans and usually barefoot.

World Championship year

1976 was Hunt's best year. He used the McLaren M23 to win six Grands Prix in a turbulent season. After a slow start, he was disqualified and later reinstated as the winner of the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix for driving a McLaren that was supposedly 1.8 cm too wide. A seventh win at the British Grand Prix was disallowed after a row over an accident at the first corner that Hunt had got 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 Austrianmarker. 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 splash back to third place, scoring four points, enough for him to win the World Championship by just one point.

Decline and retirement

The 1977 Formula One season started unluckily for Hunt; although he won three races, took several podium finishes and eventually placed well in the Championship. The McLaren M26 was problematic in the early part of the season, and Hunt's apathy towards car testing made for a difficult period of races, during which Niki Lauda and Mario Andretti managed to build up a considerable points tally that Hunt could not overcome. Eventually he knuckled down to sort the car's problems, but unreliability during 1977 cost him a far better result.

The season marked a sharp decline for Hunt and he scored hardly any 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 sort the car, Hunt's motivation plummeted. He was even being outperformed on occasion by his inexperienced new team-mate Patrick Tambay.

Any motivation James had left was snuffed out by the crash he and his friend Ronnie Peterson were involved in at the start of the 1978 Italian Grand Prix. The start of the race was chaotic, with half the field still completing the warm-up lap. There was a huge accident going into the first corner and Peterson's Lotus was shunted into the barriers and burst into flames. Hunt, together with Patrick Depailler and Clay Regazzoni, rescued Peterson from the car, but the Swede died one day later because of an embolism. 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 Hunt moved to the initially very successful Walter Wolf Racing team for what would be his last Formula One season. However, Hunt's 1979 season with Wolf would turn out to be brief. The team's ground effect car was uncompetitive and Hunt had 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 forever.

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 had shared a one bedroom flat in Londonmarker together, 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 the brilliant 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. Villeneuve came to rely on Hunt for advice and support during his career and Hunt was particularly upset after Villeneuve's death in 1982.

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 a casual user of 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. He was also musically inclined, being able to play the trumpet and piano well. It was often assumed that he did not take racing seriously enough, yet through 1976 and 1977 the results continued to come. He famously wore a badge on his racing overalls that read Sex - Breakfast of Champions.

He was married twice: first, to model Suzy Millar, who left him for the actor Richard Burton. His second marriage, to Sarah, resulted in two children .

Soon after retirement, Hunt became an outspoken and entertaining television commentator for the BBC, alongside Murray Walker. 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 briefly considered making a comeback to F1 in the mid-1980s, and even tested privately for Williams setting competitive lap times, but eventually changed his mind.

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. In an unlikely twist Hunt became a champion breeder of budgerigars and parrots. One of his parrots, Humbert was slated to appear as Captain Hook's bird in a West End production of Peter Pan, but was returned to Hunt because of the bird's intolerance to the actor playing Captain Hook.

Hunt made a brief appearance in the 1979 British silent slapstick comedy "The Plank." 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 died in 1993 at the age of 45, of a heart attack at his home in Wimbledonmarker, only hours after proposing marriage to Helen. He was cremated at Putney Vale Crematoriummarker.

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)
Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 WDC Pts.
1973 Hesketh Racing March 731 Ford V8 ARG BRA RSA ESP BEL MON

9
SWE FRA

6
GBR

4
NED

3
GER AUT

Ret
ITA

DNS
CAN

7
USA

2
8th 14
1974 Hesketh Racing March 731 Ford V8 ARG

Ret
BRA

9
8th 15
Hesketh 308 Ford V8 RSA

Ret
ESP

10
BEL

Ret
MON

Ret
SWE

3
NED

Ret
FRA

Ret
GBR

Ret
GER

Ret
AUT

3
ITA

Ret
CAN

4
USA

3
1975 Hesketh Racing Hesketh 308B Ford V8 ARG

2
BRA

6
RSA

Ret
ESP

Ret
MON

Ret
BEL

Ret
SWE

Ret
NED

1
FRA

2
GBR

4
GER

Ret
AUT

2
4th 33
Hesketh 308C Ford V8 ITA

5
USA

4
1976 Marlboro Team McLarenmarker McLarenmarker M23 Ford V8 BRA

Ret
RSA

2
USW

Ret
ESP

1
BEL

Ret
MON

Ret
SWE

5
FRA

1
GBR

DSQ
GER

1
AUT

4
NED

1
ITA

Ret
CAN

1
USA

1
JPN

3
1st 69
1977 Marlboro Team McLarenmarker McLarenmarker M23 Ford V8 ARG

Ret
BRA

2
RSA

4
USA

7
MON

Ret
5th 40
McLarenmarker M26 Ford V8 ESP

Ret
BEL

7
SWE

12
FRA

3
GBR

1
GER

Ret
AUT

Ret
NED

Ret
ITA

Ret
USA

1
CAN

Ret
JPN

1
1978 Marlboro Team McLarenmarker McLarenmarker M26 Ford V8 ARG

4
BRA

Ret
RSA

Ret
USW

Ret
MON

Ret
BEL

Ret
ESP

6
SWE

8
FRA

3
GBR

Ret
GER

DSQ
AUT

Ret
NED

10
ITA

Ret
USA

7
CAN

Ret
13th 8
1979 Olympus Cameras Wolf Racing Wolf WR7 Ford V8 ARG

Ret
BRA

Ret
RSA

8
ESP

Ret
NC 0
Wolf WR8 Ford V8 USW

Ret
BEL

Ret
MON

Ret
FRA GBR GER AUT NED ITA CAN USA


References

  1. Widdows, R. 2007. Patrese: more sinned against than sinning? Motor Sport, 83/11 (November 2007), 82-85
  2. BBC


External links




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