In years when Formula One really took off, one driver stood out from the crowd as much for his brave driving as for his larger than life personality. His name was James Hunt. He was one of the first Hollywood-like superstars in the world of racing, thanks to his behaviour but also exceptional results.
He recorded 92 starts in the Formula One World Championship between 1973 and 1979 with three teams (Hesketh, McLaren, Wolf), winning ten races and taking one championship title in 1976, in an unforgettable battle against Niki Lauda, described in a blockbuster movie 'Rush'.
The young James was sports addict
James Simon Wallis Hunt was born in August 1947 in Belmont, England. From the earliest age, JamesHunt was always a good sportsman, playing cricket, football, and tennis, even competing in Junior Wimbledon.
But, as soon as he got his driver's licence, his obsession with cars and racing started to grow.
Hunt was one of the most popular Formula 1 drivers of his time
A quick climb from Minis to open wheels racing
James Hunt began his career racing in a Mini, but shortly after, his focus shifted to open wheel racing. First, there was Formula Ford in 1968, and in 1969, he switched to Formula Three, first driving as a gentleman driver and then signing for March.
After March, Hunt signed for Hesketh, a team led by the eponymous eccentric who brought him to Formula One in 1973. James Hunt finished third at Brands Hatch in his Formula One debut in the non-championship Race of Champions event, driving a rented Surtees TS9. Thad led to the acquisition of March 731, in which he had a championship debut in June 1973 at Monaco.
James Hunt in his famous white Hesketh in 1975.
James Hunt had one great rival in his F1 career
In 1974 and 1975, Hunt drove a Hesketh 308, finishing eighth and fourth. After the 1975 season, Lord Hesketh ran out of money leaving Hunt's F1 career uncertain.
Luckily for him, Emerson Fittipaldi left McLaren, and with no other drivers available, James joined the team. In 1976 Hunt reached the peak of his career winning the championship by just one point in front of his biggest rival, badly hurt Niki Lauda who heroically returned to racing, but retired at Suzuka, the last race of the season. The rivalry and season battle between James Hunt and Niki Lauda is immortalized in 2013 movie Rush directed by Ron Howard.
Niki Lauda and James Hunt
Losing a motivation after the 1976 Formula 1 season
After finishing on top in the 1976 season, James Hunt started losing motivation after a wild season which just couldn't be repeated. In 1977 and 1978, James Hunt finished in 5th and 13th place with McLaren. In the 1978 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Hunt was involved, albeit not guilty in Ronnie Peterson's fatal accident at the very start of the race.
After three F1 seasons with McLaren, Hunt signed for Wolf Racing in 1979. It was a bad season, with six DNFs in secen races. He left the team after seven races, being replaced by Keek Rosberg.
Video - James Hunt wins 1976 F1 title
Harsh as a TV commentator
In 1980, he nearly made a comeback with McLaren, but ended up breaking his leg skiing, and in 1982 he rejected Bernie Ecclestone's offer to race for Brabham.
After his days in racing, James Hunt was BBC’s Formula One presenter alongside Murray Walker where he once again found his way to every home in Britain, this time for his often harsh, but always witty style of commenting.
James Hunt's downfall started after 1976
James Hunt was talented, explosive but dear man
Known as a playboy and a kind of rock star celebrity among drivers, James Hunt was an explosive, but a dear and supportive man loved by many of his colleagues, including Niki Lauda with whom he was a great friend off-track. His talent was raw and huge, but his restless character and lack of self discipline stood in the way of his even greater success.
His sudden death at 45 from a heart attack came as untimely, and James Hunt will be remembered as the man who used just a part of his huge talent in a short but undoubtedly wild career.
James Hunt drank and womanised too much, said his colleague Murray Walker