Died, F1 Legend

James Hunt

British

  • Belmont, Surrey, England Place of Birth
  • 29 August 1947 Date of Birth
  • 1973 Monaco Grand Prix F1 Debut
  • Wolf Current/Last Team

James Hunt lived a stormy life, pushing boundaries both on and off the racetrack. As a driver, he conquered constant fear and overwhelming odds to become the world’s best, winning one of the most dramatic championship battles in Formula One history. Known for his colourful personality and unconventional character, Hunt entertained admirers and offended critics with his outrageous behaviour. Post-retirement, he made a significant impact as a TV commentator but tragically died in his prime.

NationalityBritish
BornJames Simon Wallis Hunt
29 August 1947
Belmont, Surrey, England
Died15 June 1993 (aged 45)
Wimbledon, London, England

James Simon Wallis Hunt was born on August 29, 1947, into a London stockbroker’s family. He was an unruly child—hyperactive, rebellious, and competitive. Teaching himself to play tennis and squash to a high standard, the tall and handsome public schoolboy also enjoyed considerable success with women. After watching his first race at Silverstone on his 18th birthday, he decided to become World Champion. His parents refused to support his Formula One dream, so James worked odd jobs, bought a wrecked Mini, and spent two years preparing it for racing, only for his first entry to fail because the driver’s seat was an old lawn chair.

Many of his early races ended in spectacular crashes. In one instance, his Formula Ford car sank into a lake after an accident, and he nearly drowned because he couldn’t afford seatbelts. In faster Formula Three cars, “Hunt the Shunt” had even bigger accidents. Eventually, he learned to stay on track long enough to win races, though he never conquered his fears. His terror often made him vomit in the garage, and on the grid, he shook so much the car vibrated. Despite this, his mix of adrenaline and testosterone made him one of the hardest chargers in the sport. However, his reputation as a wild man with middling results seemed to limit his future until Lord Alexander Hesketh stepped in.

“The Good Lord,” as James called him, was a young British aristocrat who spent his fortune on personal entertainment. Knowing nothing about motorsport, he formed his own racing team and hired Hunt as his driver. The Hesketh Racing team had limited success in Formula Three and Formula Two but gained notoriety for their champagne consumption and the presence of more beautiful women than mechanics. Hesketh decided to move up to Formula One, thinking it would be even more fun.

Initially ridiculed, Hesketh Racing earned respect when Hunt’s Hesketh beat Niki Lauda’s Ferrari to win the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix. However, at the end of that season, Lord Hesketh announced he could no longer afford to compete, leaving James without a job.

Just before the 1976 season, an unexpected vacancy at McLaren arose when Emerson Fittipaldi left, and James was the only experienced driver available. Fast from the start, he became a regular winner by controlling his explosive emotions, though he remained prone to temper tantrums. He attacked a driver and a marshal and often stood in the middle of the track screaming at opponents. James joked that his reputation for road rage made rivals move out of his way: “because they thought I was barking mad!”

Niki Lauda was his closest friend among the drivers, with whom he had a thrilling battle for the 1976 championship. Lauda was leading until a near-fatal accident at the Nurburgring. James won that race and five others, leading to a final showdown with the miraculously recovered Lauda in Japan. Lauda deemed the race too dangerous and retired after a few laps, while Hunt drove furiously to finish third and become World Champion.

After achieving his championship goal, his enthusiasm for racing waned. Admitting he never really enjoyed driving, he retired midway through 1979: “for reasons of self-preservation.”

Adjusting to civilian life was difficult, and he suffered from depression. In 1980, he began working with Murray Walker on BBC television’s Formula One coverage. Initially not taking it seriously (he drank two bottles of wine during his first broadcast), he soon became a respected commentator. In his private life, he reformed, marrying Sarah and fathering two sons. He fell in love with Helen, a beautiful blonde half his age. On June 15, 1993, she accepted his marriage proposal. A few hours later, James Hunt suffered a massive heart attack and died at 45.

Niki Lauda, his old friend and rival, remarked, “For me, James was the most charismatic personality who’s ever been in Formula One.”

James Hunt Formula One World Championship career

F1 Career1973–1979
TeamsHesketh, McLaren, Wolf
Entries93 (92 starts)
Championships1 (1976)
Wins10
Podiums23
Career points179
Pole positions14
Fastest laps8
First entry1973 Monaco Grand Prix
First win1975 Dutch Grand Prix
Last win1977 Japanese Grand Prix
Last entry1979 Monaco Grand Prix

Sources: Formula1.com and Wikipedia.com

Teams

Team Nationality Debut Season Status
Hesketh British 1973 Historic
McLaren British 1966 Current
Wolf Canadian 1977 Historic