James Hunt was unconventional to say the least. Born to a London stockbroker, James was an unruly child, and had a consistent rebellious streak. Competitive and self confident, James taught himself to play squash and tennis and was a success at both. When he witnessed his first race on his 18th birthday, he immediately knew he wanted to be a World Champion. His parents refused to fund his racing dreams so Hunt took up odd jobs and bought himself a wrecked Mini, and spent a further two years preparing it for the race. It failed to clear scrutiny because the driver’s seat was not appropriate, it was an old lawn chair.

Hunt encountered many accidents during his early races including one where his Formula Ford crashed and plunged into the middle of a lake. He would have drowned had he been able to afford the requisite seat-belts. In faster cars, his accidents just got bigger, and after much practice he finally managed to learn to stay on the track long enough to win. But Hunt never really managed to overcome his fears, which were not visible when he was racing, being one of the hardest chargers in the race. He would often vomit in the garage because of the terror of the race, and even behind the wheel on the grid, he would shake so much, the entire car would vibrate.

Born 29 Aug 1947
Died 15 Jun 1993 (45 years)
Nationality England England
Nickname Golden Boy

Lord Alexander Hesketh changed all that, termed ‘The Good Lord’, by James, he was a young British aristocrat who had recently inherited a considerable fortune and was known for spending it all for his personal amusement. Even though he knew nothing about the sport, Hesketh started his own racing team and hired Hunt, nicknamed ‘Superstar’, to be his driver. Even though the Hesketh Racing team did not fare very well in Formula Three and Formula Two, it still gained a reputation for consuming as much champagne as fuel and for having more beautiful women around than mechanics. The Good Lord naturally looked at Formula One being the source of even greater entertainment and Hesketh Racing team made their Formula One debut in 1974.

What was considered as joke, the team managed to garner some respect when James Hunt managed to beat Niki Lauda’s Ferrari, at the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix. But before the Hesketh Racing team could go any further, Lord Hesketh announced his plans to disband the team as he could no longer afford it, and James was suddenly out of a job.

Luckily for Hunt, just before the 1976 season began, Emerson Fittipaldi unexpectedly left McLaren, this formed the perfect opportunity for Hunt, who was the only experienced driver available at that time. Though Hunt was fast, his wins became more regular only when he had learned to control his emotions. He was prone to temper tantrums and often ended standing in the middle of the track screaming profanities at his opponents. James often commented on how his road rage made his rivals move out of the way, mainly because they thought he was ‘barking mad’.

Niki Lauda, his closest friend, was also the driver with whom he had an exciting battle for the 1976 driving title. During the season Lauda had managed to maintain a safe lead, but an accident in Nurburgring, where he nearly died gave James the chance to turn tables. Hunt won that race and five others, resulting in a championship showdown with Lauda, who had recovered by then, at the last race of the season. The wet conditions in Japan were extremely hard, and Lauda parked his Ferrari after a couple laps, believing it to be too dangerous to go on. Hunt stayed in the race and ploughed his McLaren into third place and wining the World Champion title.

Termed as the ‘Golden Boy’, Hunt was extremely popular with the public, his good looks and pleasing personality immediately appealing to the masses. But with Formula One journalists it was a different story altogether. Always in his tattered blue jeans, Hunt did everything in excess, be it drinking, smoking or pursuing women. He married one of his girlfriends, Suzi, a fashion model who eventually left him for the actor Richard Burton. He was voted the least liked driver twice and member of the Formula One establishment believed he was bringing disrepute to the sport and all it stood for.

Hunt had always wanted to be a World Champion, a promise he had made to himself on his 18th birthday, and now that he had achieved this remarkable feat, his interest in racing waned. Admitting that he never really enjoyed racing, Hunt spent two more seasons with McLaren and participated in a few more races with Wold and finally retired in 1979, terming the reason as ‘self-preservation’.

Civilian life was something Hunt took time to adjust into, he joined Murray Walker on a BBC television coverage of Formula One in 1980. Initially he did not take it seriously enough, but soon transformed into a highly respected and opinionated TV commentator. He married again, to Sarah, and even though he had become a reformed character in terms of his personal life, the marriage did not last. He had two sons from the union and was deeply devoted to them till the end. On 15th June, 1993, he proposed to Helen, a beautiful blonde, who was half his age. She accepted, but a few hours later James Hunt died of a massive heart attack.

Leaving many shocked admirers and friends behind, Niki Lauda his old friend and rival commented. “For me, James was the most charismatic personality who’s ever been in Formula One”.

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