An Icon: James Hunt

The fast living and fast racing Brit was crowned champion in the dramatic year of 1976. His personality was something to remember, in and out of the track. Rebellious, womanizer, generous, good friend, quick, determined and tempered are few of terms used to describe him.
Friday, April 22, 2011

April 17th.- James Simon Wallis Hunt was born on August 29, 1947 in Belmont, Surrey, England. Raised in an atmosphere of comfort and financially secured, it was not until 18 years when Hunt became interested in the motor world.

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James Hunt at Zandvort 1976.

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The story says that a friend took him to a car race, and right there he was just hooked. From his early life, the Brit was the bearer of a complex personality, with a very special natural irreverence, which brought him friends and sometimes rejection from the “status quo”.

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Early on, Hunt showed his skills behind the wheels and gradually worked his way up between categories. Formula Ford and Formula Three (F3) witnessed his talents as well as his controversial actions. Once, running in F3, he had an accident when he was about to be overtaken by who was second (Dave Morgan for the "Daily Express" Trophy), and tried to solve it by getting off the car and going to punch and shove the other driver.

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Hunt, ended racing for STP-March of Max Mosley in F2, and when that relationship finished, millionaire Lord Hesketh stopped by. Hesketh wanted to venture into F1, since back then the cost difference in relation to F2 was very low, so he opted for the “big circus”, and along came Hunt.

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His F1 career started in 1973, driving for Hesketh, which used a March chassis with certain adjustments. The team was perceived more as a result of the whim of an employer with deep pockets, and therefore a little serious business, especially when the partying Hunt was its only driver.
For newly formed F1 team, things were difficult at first, but they got better, and Hunt was able to get on the podium in Netherlands (half into the tournament) and ended with a brilliant 2nd place in the U.S. Grand Prix.

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By 1974 Hesketh developed his own car, and despite the reliability problems (only able to complete 6 of the 16 races), Hunt finished 3rd in three occasions.
The following season saw more progress and the best moment came with the first victory for both, in Dutch territory. Three 2nd places also came along, and Hunt finished the year in an impressing fourth place, a feat that definitely put him on the map.

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A combination of events favored Hunt. On the one hand, Emerson Fittipaldi left McLaren to join his brother's ill-fated team, and Hesketh decided to withdraw from the F1 due to financial problems. Under such a scenario, McLaren signed Hunt, who among other things refused to clauses that were the norm in those days, such as: maintaining a classic protocol and manners to represent the company out of the track with a professional behavior and the proper outfit (wearing suits). It turned out that the rebellious Hunt was always in shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and/or barefoot, meaning; as he pleased, and all this, in front of sponsors, businessmen, celebrities, etc.

1976 was a very interesting but challenging year. Hunt won 6 times, and in one of them he was disqualified and then re-admitted as a winner (Grand Prix of Spain). This was also the year of horrible accident of tournament leader, Niki Lauda, who was absent for long enough to allow Hunt to accumulate points, and close the gap between them to a mere three points for the last race at Japan.

Occurred that under a torrential rain that limited visibility, Niki Lauda, with the fresh memory of his accident, decided to voluntarily withdraw from the race. Hunt needed at least a fourth place finish, and right from the start he took the lead. However, a puncture with just 10 laps to go put him in fifth place, so he had to hurry, and so he charged to reach the third position, which made him champion. However, because of radio problems, Hunt did not know in what position he had crossed the line, in fact he thought had had lost the championship until he angrily came to a full stop and McLaren boss told him otherwise.

After winning his crown, Hunt and McLaren suffered a decline in performance. While three victories followed, the car was not very reliable, and this, combined with the superiority of Ferrari and the resurgence of Lotus, the future did not looked promising.

In 1978, the tragic death of Ronnie Peterson at the Italian Grand Prix, witnessed by Hunt, affected him emotionally. At the same time, McLaren had been in decline, making Hunt motivation to race practically vanish. The following year he signed with the promising Wolf, who had achieved good results the previous championship, but by 1979 this promise was not there and Hunt, with less interest than ever before, abruptly decided to leave Formula 1.

James Hunt was always a person used to live in extremes. Women, drugs and alcohol were present for much of his life. Despite this, it was recognized by his peers for his noble, candid and serious sense of friendship. It was even Hunt who discovered Gilles Villeneuve and led him to test for McLaren.

In another phase of his life, Hunt, more mature and serious, became a successful car racing commentator for the BBC. He did his work on the network for 13 years with responsibility but with the irreverence that always characterized him.

James Hunt died in 1993 of a heart attack at his home in Wimbledon, England.

by Andres Rojas

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