|First race||Monaco Grand Prix||Monaco||June 3, 1973||Race results|
|Last race||Monaco Grand Prix||Monaco||May 27, 1979||Race results|
If anyone was looking for the quintessential eccentric English racing driver, who lived life off the track as fast as he drove on it, they would have their expectations exceeded by James Hunt. As a boy he was rebellious and hyperactive, as a man even more so, and incapable of hiding his emotions. He wanted it all, and got it all; the glamour, the women, the drink, and the world championship.
As part of a wealthy family, he had spent his time developing a talent at raquet sports, and with his looks gaining him success with women, Hunt had an air of invincibility about him. So when he saw his first race at the age of 18, he decided he wanted to be world champion. His parents were less enthused, and he was forced to do it his own way; preparing a Mini on a shoestring budget, and then moving up in to Formula Ford using most of his money to repair his cars as he earned the nickname 'Hunt the Shunt'. A prime example was a Formula Ford crash that left him in a lake, and would probably have seen Hunt drown if his car had been fitted with proper seatbelts, but he couldn't afford them.
Having moved up to Formula Three, the speeds were higher, so the crashes were bigger. It was not a situation he was ever comfortable with, and throughout his career his pre-race fears were notorious as he would often vomit due to nerves before getting in the car. While he was also winning races, his wild-child reputation went before him - he once got out of his car after a collision with Dave Morgan at Crystal Palace and walked across the track to push Morgan to the ground - and a future in Formula One never looked likely.
Lord Hesketh, however, was enjoying having his own racing team, and thought it would be even more exciting if he had Hunt driving one of his cars in Formula Two. Hunt called Hesketh 'The Good Lord' as his philosophy to racing revolved as much around women and champagne as wins and championships. Having had limited success in lower formulae, Hesketh felt he might as well spend his personal fortune in Formula One because the costs were relatively similar. In 1973 the Hesketh team entered Formula One with Hunt as a driver, and were dismissed as joyriders who were only interested in the glamour.
Two podiums in its debut year displayed some potential, as Hunt finished second in the season-ending United States Grand Prix. This was backed up by another three podiums for him in the team's second season, before in even stronger year in 1975 saw Hunt take victory in the Dutch Grand Prix ahead of Niki Lauda. Three other second places saw Hunt finish fourth in the championship, but Hesketh's fun was coming to an end as money ran short and 'The Good Lord' pulled the plug on the team.
Fortunately for Hunt, another man making a big decision was Emmerson Fittipaldi, as the championship runner-up left McLaren to join his brother's new team, Copersucar. As the most experienced man available, Hunt was signed by McLaren, and proceeded to run at the front consistently. However, when he was disqualified from the British Grand Prix having initially won the race, he found himself 35 points behind Niki Lauda's Ferrari. At the next race at the Nurburgring, Lauda suffered a life-threatening crash and Hunt went on to win. He closed the gap to 14 points by the time Lauda miraculously returned for the Italian Grand Prix, and wins in Canada and the United States meant the deficit was three ahead of the final race in Japan.
In torrential conditions, Lauda withdrew from the race, meaning Hunt only needed to finish third to become world champion. When leading comfortably, the track began to dry and Hunt started to lose time, before a puncture forced him to pit and rejoin in fifth. From there he went on a charge and passed Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni to take the third place he needed and the title by one point, although his initial reaction was one of fury as he believed the puncture had cost him the championship.
Having achieved his goal, his desire to race started to diminish as he admitted that he didn't particularly enjoy it. Three more wins for McLaren in 1977 were followed by a winless 1978, and the next year he joined Wolf, but after failing to finish in Monaco Hunt retired from the sport with immediate effect.
With a turbulent personal life, Hunt found life away from racing difficult, and in 1980 he moved back to Formula One as a commentator alongside Murray Walker. It wasn't a role he initially took seriously, and he drank two bottles of wine through his first broadcast, but soon straightened himself out and earned a reputation as a highly respected and insightful journalist. Hunt didn't lose his edge though, maintaining his outspoken and honest approach within his commentaries that extended his appeal even further than it had during his racing days.
For 13 years he was the perfect foil for Walker as the pair became the voices of Formula One. Away from the track, having had two failed marriages, he proposed to his girlfriend Helen on June 15, 1993. Hours later he suffered a massive heart attack and died in his Wimbledon home aged 45.
Strengths and weaknesses
An early career beset with crashes and incidents hardly marked him out as a future world champion, but his inability to control his emotions also made him a notoriously tough competitor. His passion for women, alcohol and occasionally drugs meant he was as unpredictable as he was entertaining.
Recovering from fifth place in the late stages of the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix to secure the third place he needed to win the world championship.
Being temporarily left without a drive when his friend Lord Hesketh could no longer afford to bankroll the team that had given him his chance in Formula One.
"Before I got in the car, I was puking all over the place and on the grid. I was just a shaking wreck." - describing his F1 debut in Monaco, 1973.
"To hell with safety. All I want to do is race."
Walker: "Arnoux holding up Prost as he is lapped ... Rene tells me that he is having difficulty adapting to a normally aspirated car, after driving turbos for years, which is why he is so slow." Hunt: "Well of course that's bollocks."
"James packed more into his 45 years than most people cram into 90." - Murray Walker.
At one point during the grand prix weekend in Japan in 1976, Hunt urinated in full view of the grandstand, and received a round of applause when he finished.
At a testing session in the 1977 season, having been out the night before with Niki Lauda, Hunt parked his McLaren on the side of the track and went to sleep in it.
He was a keen breeder of budgerigars.
May 13, 1979
© Sutton Images
June 4, 1978
© Sutton Images
October 23, 1977
© Sutton Images