James Hunt – motor racing genius or playboy?

James Hunt won the Formula One championship just once, in 1976, though he has a reputation that extends well beyond that much deserved success. English eccentric, playboy, womaniser, boozer and drug user, have all been used to describe him and they all took quite a toll on his short life which ended tragically in 1993 when he died of a heart attack aged just 45.

The Formula One cars of James Hunt’s era were very different from those of today. Wedge shaped with 12 cylinder engines they looked and sounded very different. Neither were they as safe; the last Formula One fatality was in 1994 when AyrtonSenna lost his life, but during James Hunt’s six year career driving in the sport which spanned from 1973 to 1979, a total of nine drivers were killed; it was tougher and meaner back then.

James Hunt had many notorious incident on the track for which he earned the nickname hunt the Shunt. He was one of the drivers who were born with something of a silver spoon. He came from a rich stock broking family in Surrey and started racing in Minis when he was eighteen and soon progressed to racing in Formula Ford and Formula Three.

His Formula One debut was in 1973 when he drove for Hesketh Racing, a somewhat cavalier team that was suited to Hunt’s flamboyant personality. He won his first F1 race in 1975 at the Dutch Grand Prix and that year he also gained a total of four podium finishes and came fourth in the championship.

For 1976 Hesketh Racing was unable to secure a major sponsor and withdrew from the sport. Hunt was able to get a drive at McLaren. It proved a controversial year, but during it Hunt won six races and the championship over arch rival NikiLauda by just one point.

Unfortunately, from that peak things began to go downhill. He came fifth in 1977 despite winning the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, and thirteenth in 1978, the year when Hunt’s close friend Ronnie Peterson was killed at the Italian Grand Prix, which was a loss that affected Hunt very deeply.

In 1979 Hunt raced for Walter Wolf Racing. It was to be a disastrous season; in the first eight races he did not finish in seven of them; as a result he left the sport and later became an F1 television commentator.

Off the track he was a party animal and was associated with a string of beautiful and glamorous women. He was twice married, firstly to the model Suzy Miller who later moved on to Richard Burton and then Sarah Lomax with whom he had two children.

Now a film has been made that features him. The movie is called Rush and the character of Hunt is played by Chris Hemsworth, an Australian actor. Rush is a biopic concerning the life of NikiLauda who was one of Hunt’s major rivals, and from whom Hunt took the World Championship in 1976.

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