James Hunt- portrait of a champion

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by Christopher Hilton. PSL, £9.99

Well, if I’m honest it’s difficult to know quite what to make of this book by the prolific Hilton. Certainly, it is not up to his usual standard, nor is it particularly well produced, but then speed was of the essence all through as PSL rushed it into print in time for Christmas.

A softback, it’s good value at £9.99, and clearly it was thrown together with the best intentions, but before we delve too deeply into it, one has to remember that the definitive Hunt biography won’t be ready until late 1994. That will be the work of quiet Canadian writer Gerry Donaldson, whose sensitivity and brilliance shone throughout his book on Gilles Villeneuve.

James’s many fans will want to read anything and everything they can lay their hands on, though, so let’s accept that this book has its faults and leave it at that. Despite them, and a somewhat gratingly racy style and excessive use of heavy quotes on almost every page, it paints an endearing picture of a man loved by thousands, who never let compromise sully the manner in which he conducted his life.

Harvey Postlethwaite offers some nice insights into Hunt’s character at the time of his retirement from F1, but Hilton is rather too keen to slide easily over the role James played in Ronnie Peterson’s death. Rightly he concedes that none of us raised the matter publicly during James’s lifetime, for a number of reasons, but a book lasts forever, and is the right place for such matters to be debated to the final conclusion. Hopefully Donaldson’s book will finally produce the right record whichever way the cards may fall.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter is the last one, where we learn from his own lips that Murray Walker’s initial reaction to being told that Hunt would join him as part of the BBC’s commentary team, was: “Fear and resentment. Fear that he’d replace me and I’d lose a job I loved, resentment that my previous career had been in advertising and I knew from experience how long it took to commentate.”

When James finally gave up alcohol, Murray remembers: “He became all the better a bloke for it because underneath was an extremely warm-hearted, kind, friendly, sharp-minded nice chap. That’s what he became, a genuinely loving father who would bring his kids to the hotel in Portugal every year when we did the Grand Prix there and he was marvellous, marvellous.”

There are mistakes in this book – the McLaren MP23, for instance – which bear testimony to the speed with which it was put together, and they are unforgivable even if they are out of keeping with both author’s and publisher’s normal reputations. By all means buy it and learn more of a great character, but don’t forget to budget for the real thing when it arrives. D I T