F1C: James Hunt


Formula 1 Chronicles: James Hunt by Matt Jeffery

Despite current Formula 1 drivers living lavish lifestyles with nice houses and beautiful girlfriends, there will always be one name that springs to peoples minds when asked to name a Formula 1 playboy. James Hunt is notorious for his antics across the sporting world, let alone the racing drivers fraternity. Hunt did as he pleased during his reign at the top flight of Motorsport. He was treated with a certain level of respect and love that sportsmen who cause trouble just wouldn’t see in this day and age… it was a different time.

Born into a family of six children, James Simon Wallis Hunt was the the second, having 3 brothers and 2 sisters. His father was a wealthy stockbroker and as a result, Hunt attended Wellington College in Berkshire. He originally aimed to become a doctor, but after attending a Silverstone race meet just prior to his 18th birthday, James was hooked on racing.

From that point, Hunt did very little other than race until he really became famous. He started racing in the Formula 3 series of the time in 1970. Many spectacular accidents and race endings later, Hunt earned his nickname ‘Hunt the Shunt’. It didn’t really look like Hunt’s career was going places in racing. His Formula 3 career had been poor and it didn’t really show signs of improving. The future didn’t look too bright until one fateful day in Belgium. Hunt met with one Lord Hesketh and one Anthony Horsley. These two wealthy gentlemen owned an F2 car and needed a driver, Hunt’s lucky day. They began racing soon after without too much success. Lord Hesketh decided it wasn’t worth running an F2 car when the financial step to F1 was so small. By the end of the 1973 season, Hunt had two F1 podium finishes to his name. He was finally making a name for himself.

With more success and money, Hunt was able to live the rockstar lifestyle. He would enjoy massive binges with his best friend and Motorsport colleague Barry Sheene, World Championship Motorcyclist. Their relationship is portrayed in the ITV Documentary When Playboys Ruled The World. They would spend weekends drinking, doing coke and cavorting with as many women as they possibly could. This truly was the golden era for playboys. Hunt was adored for his English eccentricity and is rumoured to have slept with over 5000 women. One fortnight before his championship winning race in Tokyo, it is claimed that Hunt bedded 33 BA air stewardesses that stopped over in the Hilton… In an interview, his friend and colleague Nicki Lauda said to reporters “If you looked like James Hunt, what would you have done?”.

1976 was Hunt’s winning season. The first half of the season was dominated by Nicki Lauda and Ferrari, but this came to an abrupt end with Lauda’s terrible crash at the Nurburgring. Hunt won 6 races in that season and clinched the Championship at the last race, winning the title by one point. Had Hunt quit racing during his poor time in Formula 3, Britain would have one less F1 Championship winner and Hunt’s legacy would not have been half as impressive. I think most would agree that this would have been a crying shame, Hunt was a showcase of talent and charisma.

Hunt was an incredible man on all accounts. He really lived like it was his last day on earth every day. Before every race he would go behind the garage and vomit, half from the previous nights indulgences and half from nerves. These are the types of characters you really don’t see in sport anymore and they will be sorely missed.

Hunt died from a massive heart attack on the 15th June 1993 at his Wimbledon home. Many previous colleagues and newer races paid tribute to the late Hunt in many different ways, it was quite clear that racing had suffered a big loss. However, it is safe to say that Hunt enjoyed his time and he has left a legacy that will always be remembered. In the words of Murray Walker, “James packed more into his 45 years than most people cram into 90.”