James Hunt

James Hunt
Full Name: 
James Simon Wallis Hunt
Birth Date: 
28 August, 1947
Birth Place: 
Belmont, Surrey, Great Britain
Death Date: 
14 June, 1993
Death Place: 
Wimbledon, Great Britain
Driver Status: 

Championship Titles


James Hunt Biography

James Hunt F1 Career Overview

Few drivers will ever embody the sheer playboy image of F1 in the boom years of the 1970s better than James Hunt.

But while he is certainly remembered for his partying lifestyle - both during and in the years after his career - there is no denying he channelled that bravado on track to such an extent he remains a hero to aspiring racers today.

Handsome, outspoken and bristling with innate talent, Hunt was the ideal personality for F1’s new era of television even before he became embroiled in his now iconic title tussle with Niki Lauda, which swung in his favour to become the 1976 F1 World Champion.

After winning a huge fanbase with his gritty performances in the privateer Hesketh, Hunt was snapped up by McLaren for 1976 and went toe-to-toe with Ferrari’s Lauda in a tense battle defined by the Austrian’s near-fatal crash in Germany.

Winning the 1976 World Championship, technological innovations among rivals swung the pendulum of momentum away from McLaren over the next two seasons before Hunt joined Wolf Racing for a brief spell. He ended his comparatively short racing career mid-way through the 1979 F1 season.

After stints commentating with the BBC, Hunt passed away aged only 45-years old on 15 June 1993 after a heart attack.

James Hunt F1 Career - Team-by-Team

Hesketh Racing: 1973-1975

Blazing his way through the British junior ranks and often impressing in dated or uncompetitive machinery, Hunt had already amassed something of a notorious reputation for his aggressive style both on and off track (he famously punched a rival in the wake of a crash during an F3 race in Crystal Palace).

HIs arrival in F1 was similarly unconventional. Having bartered his way onto the British F3 grid through much of 1972 after being dropped by the STP-March team, Hunt was picked by upstart F1 team Hesketh Racing for its maiden foray in 1973.

Headed up by Lord Hesketh as something of a pet project without any notable sponsorship, from the outset the team appeared to have entered F1 to capitalise on the series’ international glamour and rivals duly turned their noses up at the comparatively eccentric outfit and its hyped but untested racer.

However, the playboy image belied a well-sorted and well-funded team, which combined with Hunt’s precocious efforts behind the wheel of the privateer March 731 not only punched above its anticipated weight but had the measure of the factory March effort.

Entering mid-way through the season, Hunt was in the points in only his second start and scored a podium at Zandvoort on his fourth before ending the year with a brilliant second place finish at the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen.

Hesketh and Hunt couldn’t maintain the momentum for 1974 after turning its attention to building its own car - the March-based Hesketh 308. Errors and reliability hampered progress but Hunt did still capture imaginations with podiums in Sweden, Austria and the United States.

An updated car allowed Hunt to pose a more consistent threat up front in 1975 and he was on the podium on the opening round in Argentina. Thereafter a series of retirements scuppered any wild hopes of a title tilt, but the return to Zandvoort brought Hunt his first (and Hesketh’s only) victory. Strong results to the end of the year spurred Hunt on to fourth overall behind only the Ferraris of Lauda, McLaren’s Emerson Fittippaldi and Brabham’s Carlos Reutemann.

By this stage Hunt was in high demand among the top teams and sensing it as his best chance to land a world championship, bid a fond farewell to Hesketh, who continued in its talisman’s wake for only three more more seasons without scoring another point.

McLaren: 1976-1978

With Emerson Fittipaldi leaving McLaren to seek success with his own Copersucar concern, Hunt was hired as his replacement alongside Jochen Mass. Pitched as a rival to hot favourite Lauda - champion the previous year - in the Ferrari, Hunt’s English flamboyance on and off track was in stark contrast to his counterpart’s shrewd Germanic meticulousness. 

Sensing an enthralling dual between two very different titans, the prospect of Hunt vs Lauda (McLaren vs Ferrari) stirred the media into a frenzy and they were not disappointed... even if the formbook still tipped heavily in Lauda’s favour.

And so it proved initially, Hunt and the McLaren proving quick but fragile, which allowed the Ferrari to steal an early march with four wins and two second place finishes from the opening six races. However, the simmering tensions between two increasingly bitter rivals (formerly friends) boiled over at the Spanish Grand Prix when Hunt’s win was thrown out for the McLaren measuring as too wide. McLaren appealed to Ferrari’s annoyance and the win was reinstated two months later.

Buoyed by this decision, Hunt’s form picked up mid-season and he won two races in France and Germany, but it was punctuated by a controversial British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in which the Briton was originally involved in a crash on the opening lap. Bringing out the red flags, Hunt (together with Clay Regazzoni and Jacques Laffite who were also involved) were allowed to take the restart with the Briton scoring a hugely popular home win. A result that would have significantly tightened up the title battle, Ferrari protested and succeeded in having the trio disqualified, elevating Lauda into first.

However, for all the behind the scenes posturing, the title fight - which stood at 23 points in Lauda’s favour - took on a sinister twist when the Austrian crashed heavily at the Nordschleife. Suffering serious injuries and burns, it appeared Lauda’s season was over and Hunt - as his closest rival - would overhaul him by season’s end.

Incredibly, he defied all expectations - and some medical orders - to skip only two events and with Hunt winning only one of those races in the Netherlands, by the time of Lauda’s return he remained the series leader by two points. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, Lauda’s form - though extraordinary in the circumstances - wasn’t as devastating as before and Hunt subsequently won two of the next three races.

Even so, with a quirk of the regulations at the time meaning drivers had to drop their lowest score from the first half of the year and another from the second half, Lauda actually entered the Japanese Grand Prix finale with a three point advantage. 

However, torrential rain and minimal visibility for the Fuji finale made Lauda think twice about putting his still recovering body to the test and withdrew, putting the pressure on Hunt to secure the third place he required to leapfrog him for the title, It was the result he would go on to achieve, nudging ahead of Lauda by one point to secure a famous win. 

While the F1 world was primed for a new golden era of Hunt vs Lauda, the reality proved very different in the Briton’s latter two seasons with McLaren. Sticking with the same M23 chassis of 1976 for the start of his title defence, Hunt’s form stalled, while its successor the M26 - introduced for Round 5 - proved quicker but unreliable, Hunt’s scoresheet was restricted to a trio of wins at Silverstone, Watkins Glen and Fuji amid 12 non-scores from 17 races.

In 1978 McLaren’s form waned further as ground effect cars - namely the Lotus - established an advantage, restricting Hunt to just a single podium finish in France. Hunt was also badly affected by the death of his close friend Ronnie Peterson following a startline crash, which he had - innocently - triggered following a cross-up with Ricciardo Patrese on the run to turn one. 

1979: Wolf Racing

With Peterson’s death in the midst of the Swede’s 1978 title fight adding to Hunt’s growing disillusionment with F1, he attempted to reignite his passion by leaving McLaren to join Wolf Racing, a fairly new outfit that had enjoyed success quickly with Jody Scheckter. 

However, the Wolf WR7/WR8 was uncompetitive and Hunt’s lessened enthusiasm for F1 led him to announce his retirement mid-way through the season. 

To compound Hunt’s frustrations, Scheckter went on to win the world title with Ferrari, a drive he had turned down over concerns about the team’s famously bolshy political environment. On Hunt rejecting the offer, Ferrari duly signed Scheckter.

James Hunt - Beyond F1

With Hunt’s racing career ending there and then, he instead found a new career in broadcasting alongside Murray Walker in the BBC F1 commentary booth.

Quite the antithesis of Walker’s energetic yet polite style, Hunt provided a worthwhile punditry on rivals he knew well but was prone to being out-spoken, aiming personal barbs at drivers he didn’t appreciate such as Rene Arnoux, Patrese and Andrea de Cesaris. He also had occasional run ins with Walker while live on air due to the use of only a single microphone, but his dry sense of humour went down well with audiences as much as they made BBC bosses recoil.

Hunt - facing financial turmoil - almost mounted a racing comeback in 1980 with offers coming his way from McLaren, Brabham and Williams. However, the most likely of these - at Williams, in the year it won the title with Alan Jones - fell through when he broke his leg while skiing.

He remained a favourite among the paparazzi, while his lurid private life made him a staple of the British tabloids for years to come, from marriages, affairs, divorces and also an assault in 1989. However, the final years of his life were led sober and quietly before a heart attack on the morning of 15 June 1993 killed him aged only 45.

Hunt’s 1976 F1 World Championship win would later be immortalised in the successful and award-winning Hollywood 2013 film “Rush”, with Australian actor Chris Hemsworth taking on the role of Hunt to positive reviews.