If we had to draw up a race classification of the most "out" drivers in the Formula One history, James Hunt, World Champion in 1976 at the wheel of the McLaren M23D, would be on the top of list. James Hunt, born on August 29, 1947, has immediately shown an unruly and overactive nature from his earliest youth. When a boy he succeeded in being a good tennis and squash player. Success in sports added to a personal handsomeness made him a precocious "tombeur de femmes". Racing cars came later on: when eighteen he was allowed to take part in a club race, and there the fatal spark burst out. Against his family will, James decided that he would have turned out a F1 driver, decidedly a more adventurous prospect than to finish the medicine study earlier started. He scraped together a Mini, worked it out personally and in 1967 he entered a club competition; he wasn't admitted because in his racing car, instead of a true driver's seat there was an old garden chair that he purposely adapted. On the following year he bought a single-seater to run Formula Ford 1600, and there troubles started: more than on track, James seemed inclined to off-track, to the point that in the racing world they gave him the nickname, not so heartening, of "Hunt the Shunt". He also destroyed the car of his family and during a race his single-seater ended into a lake: he was lucky that he couldn't afford safety belts! He also won a race and next year he passed to Formula 3, where he would have been till 1972, gaining eight victories in all. While he was crashing his cars, Emerson Fittibaldi, Ronnie Peterson and Niki Lauda passed through the English Formula 3 championship and took soon wing for Formula One. In 1972 he succeeded in being hired by the official team of Formula 3 of the March, but because of his insolent disposition and of Mosley and partners' little cunning tricks, both parties sent themselves to hell after few races. Luckily, James ran into the man who would have changed his life: Lord Thomas Alexander Fermor Hesketh, third baron of Hesketh. A young and eccentric English millionaire, Hesketh had formed a team in Formula 3 that was the talk of the world of races because of the flood of champagne flowing there and the numerous beautiful women attending motor races. Therefore, a team lacking of concentration. Thanks to Hunt the car pool of the team turned into a scrap yard, but Hesketh trusted James very much and he decided to pass the team to Formula 2. But he got very soon fed up, and, in 1973 he bought an old Surtees from Formula One with the idea to pass it to the top of category. The debut in the Motor Race of Champions was rather promising one and Hunt got a deserved third place. Therefore Hesketh hired the March 731 and entered the team the Monaco GP. Team bad reputation and no less worrying James's one, preceded the arrival at Formula One: senators of the championship split their sides laughing and waited for a disaster. On the contrary, at the wheel of a car as dud as the 731, Hunt got the third place in England and he was a bright second in the States, after the Lotus driven by Ronnie Peterson. In 1974 Hesketh put at his disposal a single-seater built at home, the 308, designed by the new star Harvey Postlethewaite. Hunt got three third places and won the International Trophy. In 1975, at the wheel of the advanced versions of the single-seater, James got many podia and in the Dutch GP there was his first and craved for win. With those performances the English driver couldn't completely cancel the reputation he made during his first years of career, but he set over it the name of a tenacious and very fast driver; a real tough nut to crack.
He was a hard man on and off-track, never failing to make his thought known to everybody, often in a polemic tone. His team-mates tolerated him as one can stand woollen pants. But with his attitude, calculating wild, slovenly and sophisticated at the same time, James was probably the first and true actor of the F1 history. He rejected any dress different from worn out jeans and a flowered shirt. He shuffled along in his slippers and wore his blond and thick hair long. He smoked 40 cigarettes a day, drank like a fish and was always going along with fantastic models. He got married with one of them, except then to divorce at the speed of light. The 1976 brought him an offer he couldn't refuse, to be at the wheel of a McLaren. Thanks to 6 well deserved wins, Hunt brought the world champion title home, but he went down in history as a usurper: if Lauda hadn't had that terrible accident at Nurburgring, the English driver could scarcely have achieved that objective.
By a twist of fate, Niki Lauda was also the person with whom James got on well for a longest time in the Formula One world, umpteen demonstration that opposites attract each other. To celebrate his championship victory, James wore an impeccable dinner jacket and tennis shoes. After achieving the title, Hunt's interest in races started progressively fading; in 1977 he still collected three wins, but on the following year his M26 was no longer in a position to keep up with the Lotus cars operating in ground effect, which were dominating far and wide. On the contrary, his career of sex symbol was going on, as he was sought-after by women and by glossy magazines. In 1979 he decided to pass to the Wolf team, but by then he was fed up to the back teeth to be a driver. Beyond his outward appearance, he was well conscious of how much he had risked in his turbulent career, and he knew he was on his way down. At the Monaco GP of that year, just where he started his career in Formula One in the not too far 1974, he caused the bomb of his retirement to burst unexpectedly . He disappeared from the race world and tried to be a farmer: such experience ended by a complete failure and somehow he went back to the race world. In fact, in 1980 he made his debut as a TV commentator: at the beginning he didn't take his new job seriously, so much that he drained two bottles of wine at his first television coverage, but as time went by he became a respected and authoritative commentator. He also tried to turn over a new leaf, getting married for a second time: the marriage lasted little longer than the first one and he had two children, to which he remained very attached even after the new divorce. Few years before his death, press returned to deal with him when he was fined for low speeding, while he was driving through London. He had a heart attack at the age of 45, on the15th of June 1993, same night when the woman who should have been his third wife had accepted his proposal.
It was said of him:
"I never thought of him as a champion of correct coherence between private life and sport."
(but in the mid-nineteen seventies, correct or not, the "Commendatore" would have got him in his team)
"In a good day, James was a talented and tenacious driver. And even if we cannot consider his victory of the world championship as a classic example, however Lauda-Hunt opposition was very intriguing."
Sir Jackie Stewart
"As for me, James Hunt had been the most charismatic personality ever existed before in Formula One."
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