Hunt… James Hunt

Updated: Feb 4

“To hell with safety, all I want to do is race.”

- James Hunt

For most Formula One world champions, racing is everything. James Hunt was the opposite. “Hunt the Shunt” was an exceptionally skilled driver. However, he didn’t find the attitude of an F1 driver very fitting for him. He did only what he wanted to do. Which led to a career fueled by sex, drugs, and adrenaline. He was named the Playboy of F1. James’s charm and awful behavior was unlike any other driver before or after him. All that aside, James Hunt was an incredible driver. The Hesketh racing team was James Hunt‘s first claim to fame. Hesketh brought James through Formula Three, Formula Two, and finally the big leagues: Formula One. In 1973, the Hesketh racing team risked all their money by buying a March 731 Ford race car and joining Formula one. Hunt’s first podium was the same year. In 1974, Hesketh designed an F1 car of their own: the 308 (not the Ferrari road car). The 308 was pretty impressive for a team like Hesketh. The Hesketh racing team were outsiders to the sport; they had a slight idea of what they were doing, but overall it was utter chaos. Third place was the best podium finish James could get in the 1974 season. However, 1975 was a different story. The 1975 season was James Hunt’s first taste at being a real racing icon. James and Hesketh finished second place three times and first place once, making it the first and last time Hesketh won a Grand Prix race. The 1975 Dutch GP is thought to be James Hunt’s greatest race. James said it was the only time that Niki Lauda was beaten fair and square, without any sort of trouble or drama. James changed from his wet weather tires to his slicks early on in the race, giving him a decent advantage over the other drivers. Once Niki Lauda switched to slicks, James was already seconds ahead. Niki Lauda driving the Ferrari caught up quickly to the inferior Hesketh, but that small lead was all James needed. James Hunt, probably for the first time in his career, really tried. He concentrated and managed to fight off Niki Lauda, one of the greatest drivers ever. James Hunt finished first. As James’s confidence grew higher, Hesketh grew broke. By the end of 1975, Lord Hesketh couldn’t afford the F1 dream. It was over.

Luckily, there was a seat open over at McLaren. Finally, James had a car that could keep up with the Ferrari. The 1976 season is very well known, there are movies and books about the rivalry between James Hunt, the playboy and Niki Lauda, the Formula one genius. The main difference between the movies and the actual history is that Niki Lauda and James Hunt were actually good friends. They weren’t at all the great enemies that the media made it seem. Niki Lauda was brilliant, and James Hunt… he was quick. James was very, very fast, but he had a serious temper tantrum problem. He beat up marshalls and drivers. He had a huge case of road rage, yet it seemed he was immune to danger. His rival Niki Lauda, however, was not. Niki Lauda had an enormous points lead over Hunt. That was until the Nurburgring. It was August 1st, 1976, the German Grand Prix. The rain soaked Nurburgring was a huge safety hazard; it‘s called the “Green Hell” for a reason. A meeting was held before the race to decide wether to cancel or not. Hunt wanted to race. James Hunt was very popular and always got his way. On the second lap, Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 312T spun out and burst into flames. His helmet flew off upon impact, leaving him trapped in a burning rage for over 50 seconds. Niki was left fighting for his life. Meanwhile, the crowd pleasing James Hunt was just getting started. He took advantage of Niki’s accident and went on a wining streak, closing in on Niki’s championship points. Returning from the dead, Niki Lauda showed up after what seemed like a career ending crash to put an end to James Hunt’s F1 dreams. The greatest comeback in sports history: the scarred up F1 ace arrived in Monza. The Italian Grand Prix was rife with Ferrari fans ecstatic for Lauda’s return. James Hunt’s McLaren broke down before lap twelve, and Niki Lauda made an astonishing 4th. Hunt and Lauda both had a chance at the championship, leading to a showdown in Japan. Just like the Nurburgring, the rainy track conditions were unsafe, but the television rights had already been sold worldwide. The race must go on. Hunt was only three points behind Niki, meaning if Niki didn’t finish and he finished in top three, the championship would belong to Hunt. Unexpectedly on lap two, Niki Lauda gave up. He dragged his Ferrari into the pits; it wasn’t worth the risk to him. He didn’t want to die. Hunt, however, was fearless. James knew this was his only chance. Then suddenly, on lap five, Hunt’s gearstick broke, meaning the only way he could shift was pressing down firmly on what’s left of the it. This was basically like a blade cutting into his hand. When the rain began to dry, Hunt began to drop in places. He finally took a pit stop on lap 62 with tire problems, making him drop a bit more. As Hunt’s chances began to fade, the Brit‘s luck took charge. Hunt began to fight his way to the podium. James Hunt passed two more cars and finished third. Somehow the confused James Hunt thought he finished fifth, and was very disappointed upon returning to the pits. That was until he figured out: James Hunt is the 1976 World Champion! A statement that changed Motorsports. James Hunt, “Hunt the Shunt”, the playboy of F1 was officially World Champion. Unbelievable. However, that was the peak of Hunt’s racing career as 1977 was James Hunt’s last grand prix win and 1978 was his last podium finish. After his F1 career came to an end, Hunt suffered from depression. Until 1980, when he got a job with BBC as an F1 commentator. The golden boy James Hunt eventually became a serious commentator, although he wasn’t a very kind one. On multiple occasions, James Hunt told driver Nelson Piquet he should just retire. Hunt also said that French driver Jean Pierre Jacques has a mental age of 10, and he should receive a permanent suspension just for being himself. Personally, I think it’s hilarious, but I’m sure the drivers didn’t enjoy it. James Hunt’s life starting turning around; he stopped drinking and smoking. He even settled down, married again and had two kids: Freddie Hunt and Tom Hunt. Sadly, the years of constant drinking and womanizing took too much of a toll on James. On June 15th, 1993, James Hunt suffered a massive fatal heart attack. Despite only living to 45, James Hunt made an impression that will last for centuries. The dangerous, arrogant, English champion brought never before personality to Formula One. James Hunt truly was one of a kind.

(James and his first wife Suzie Miller. Image credit: IMDb)

Fun Fact #1:

James Hunt once outran a three car cop chase in a 6.9 liter Mercedes. He was never caught.

Fun Fact #2

One time James parked his F1 car during testing and just took a nap in his McLaren. Everyone there thought he wrecked, but he just stayed up too late the night before partying with Niki Lauda.

“James was really on his own in terms of his personality. Nobody today is anywhere near his level.” - Niki Lauda.

“F1 is a flat bottle of champagne in need of a good shake.” - Lord Alexander Hesketh

(Image credit: The Sun)

Hunt and Niki (Image credit: Autosport)

“While his furious track style kept Hunt the Shunt in the sports pages, his partying and string of glamorous girlfriends put the driving ace on glossy magazine covers.” - Niki Lauda

⬆️ Here is a video of James punching a flag marshal for no reason.

I hope you enjoyed my article, I always love writing them. Have a great day and be safe.

It’s almost Christmas! If you know someone who might like some Armbrister’s Garage merchandise here’s the link!





James Hunt proved that you don’t have to be like everyone else to succeed. Be your own person, carve your own path.

I can’t be the only one who thinks modern F1 is just so dumb. I think it really just needs some more personality, it worked for James Hunt.

Feel free to like and comment!

125 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All