Hunt had always hyped himself up. It was a central part of his performance. What he hadn’t always done, though, was win. He’d taken that great ‘75 Dutch GP, under pressure from Lauda, but he wasn’t certain in his own mind if, as he put it “the Hesketh was a great car being driven slowly or a mediocre car being driven brilliantly”. Now he had his answer and his confidence soared.
From across the pit garage, Mass, 1.1sec slower, looked on. What he saw unnerved him: “James was so intense, really highly strung, like a racehorse. In the morning before a race he would be quivering. Totally oblivious to what was happening around him, totally gone. Amazing. I remember in Japan he went to pee against the fence and did it facing the public instead of away because he hadn’t noticed, he was in such a state.”
Driving racing cars as fast as Hunt was then driving them scared him – he made no bones about that. But it was a fear subjugated to an intense competitive will. The tension between these two extreme pulls meant Hunt was a star who shone brightly but briefly. It also meant he would frequently be ill at the thought of climbing into the car. “He’d often disappear around the back of the pits to throw up,” recalls Mayer.
Flighty, offbeat and nervous, he wasn’t a McLaren driver in the tradition of the dependable, down-to-earth Bruce or Denny, or even Emerson. But he was fast, brave, intelligent and a fighter, and Mayer was prepared to go along for the ride.
“Everyone loves an eccentric driver,” says Mass, “and you especially love eccentric drivers who deliver. He was a tougher team-mate than Emerson had been. Emerson arrived there as the golden boy, a world champion already, and was left to do the job, so he was almost nonchalant. But James was very demanding within the team; there was more of a performance, a drama, about him. My personality meant I found it very difficult to deal with that”