Brash, eccentric, playboy, World Champion - all these terms can be used to describe James Simon Wallis Hunt, and the last one being the most relevant and the most significant of all.
Born in England, on 29th Aug 1947, Hunt initially wanted to become a doctor, but later on he decided to become a Formula One World Champion after watching a race at Silverstone as an 18-year-old. Without his parents’ support, Hunt did odd jobs to buy his first car, a Mini and spent two years preparing it for races only to have it rejected after it failed scrutinizing.
Eventually Hunt raced in Formula Ford and Formula Three, where he earned a reputation of being a fast and aggressive driver as well as the label of being accident prone and acquired the nickname “Hunt the Shunt”. After an unsuccessful stint with the March Team, he was signed up to race for the Hesketh team in Formula Two where he again failed to taste success. Nonetheless Lord Hesketh decided to enter the world of Formula One in 1973 with Hunt as one of the drivers.
The Hesketh team was not taken seriously; many people considered it as a team which spent more time on women and parties than on racing. In its first two years Hunt managed only five podiums, finishing eighth both times in the standings. But this changed when Hunt’s Hesketh beat Niki Lauda's Ferrari to win the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix. He went on to finish fourth in the standings. Despite this, Lord Hesketh decided to leave Formula One as he could not find funding for his team anymore.
In 1976 the British driver was signed up to race for the Marlboro McLaren team after Emmerson Fitipaldi left the team. This was the year he won his first and only Drivers’ Championship. It was also an exciting season. With six wins, a disqualification and several accidents, Hunt reached the final race of the season in Japan with three points lesser than championship leader Niki Lauda. The rain in that final encounter of the season crafted torrid racing conditions causing Lauda to retire after few laps into the race. Hunt raced on and finished third to lift the title by a single point.
Over the next three years, Hunt’s career declined dramatically. He raced with Mclaren for two more years and won only three races, and then moved to the Wolf Racing Team. With six retirements in the first seven races of 1979, the former World Champion announced his retirement at the Monaco Grand Prix parting his way with motor racing once and for all.
After an action packed six years in racing, Hunt the Shunt moved on to Formula One coverage with the BBC, where he became renowned as an intelligent and highly entertaining commentator. He carried on with this alternate career of his in until his untimely death in 1993. Despite living a life filled with controversy, marred by accidents and highlighted with eccentricity, Hunt endeared himself to the spectators; he will be remembered for his fast driving, and championship winning efforts more than anything else.
-Rohhan A Divanji