Just as this issue of Motor Sport was closing for press, on June 15, we heard the sad news of James Hunt’s death, from a heart attack, at the age of 45.
Hunt’s quest for the F1 World Championship made him a prominent public figure in the 1970s. After starting his career in a Mini, he rose to F1 via a conventional route, if not always in an orthodox manner. He finished third on his F1 debut in the 1973 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, at the wheel of a Surtees TS9B entered by Lord Hesketh. This promising debut encouraged his mentor to buy a contemporary March, with which Hunt, then 25, started to serve notice of his ultimate potential. He finished fourth in Britain, third in Holland and a brilliant second to Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus at Watkins Glen.
He started the following year in the same car, leading the opening race at Buenos Aires for a few hundred feet before spinning. Two races later, he debuted Hesketh’s first eponymous chassis at Kyalami. It was the start of an adventure which promised much, but which ultimately yielded a solitary win, on a memorable afternoon at Zandvoort in June 1975.
It was Hesketh’s last true season as an F1 privateer, and Hunt’s last with the team. In 1976, he replaced Emerson Fittipaldi at McLaren, winning six Grands Prix and pipping Niki Lauda to the World Championship in an extraordinary season marred by political turmoil and the Austrian’s fiery crash at the Nürburgring.
There were three further wins the following season, but that in Japan was to be his last. He mustered only a few points in 1978, and switched to Walter Wolf’s team for 1979. It was clear by now that his heart was no longer really in it, however, and he walked away from F1 after the Monaco GP.
He wasn’t away for long, returning as the BBC’s expert summariser alongside Murray Walker in the commentary booth. This was a role he fulfilled with often memorable directness right up until the Canadian GP, two days before his death.
Sadly, time does not allow us to do full justice to his career this month. A full appreciation will appear in August’s Motor Sport.
We mourn the loss of an entertaining companion. In that, we most certainly won’t be alone.
Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. S A