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5 Facts About James Hunt
Published: January 23, 2023

James Hunt, the golden boy with a dream of being a racing world champion, didn’t back down from a challenge. His charismatic personality and tenacity made him a giant among giants, inspiring those around him to work harder just to keep up. 

5 Facts About James Hunt

The life of James Hunt may have been cut short, but he will live on as one of the best racers of his time.

#1 – He Was A Wild Child

Born on August 29, 1947, as James Simon Wallis Hunt in London, England, he was reported to be a difficult child. His hyperactivity and rebellious attitude may have been hard to handle, but they assisted him in becoming the self-assured man that pursued his dreams. When he turned 18, he saw a club race at Silverstone for the first time. This pivotal event changed his life forever, putting him on the course to becoming World Champion.

#2 – He Struggled In His Early Career

His family did not support his dream. They refused to fund such a foolish fantasy, so Hunt had to find a way to pay for his sport on his own. He worked various jobs to prepare a used, wrecked Mini for his first race. Unable to afford a proper seat, he used an old lawn chair, which resulted in it failing to scrutineer.

Once he was able to start racing, he became intimately familiar with crashes. He crashed a Formula Ford into the middle of a lake during one race, and if it weren’t for his neglect to wear a seatbelt, he may have drowned in the car.

Due to so many run-ins with disaster, he was subject to fits of vomit-inducing terror. Long after he started winning races, he would still feel fear and shake so much that he rocked the car.

H2 – #3 – Saved By “The Good Lord”

Hunt’s career may have never grown if not for the sponsorship of the “The Good Lord” Alexander Hesketh. This aristocrat had inherited a good deal of money and loved to spend it on his entertainment. At some point, he got the notion to form his racing team with Hunt as his driver with the nickname “Superstar.” While this team had limited success, it gave Hunt ample experience to fill the vacancy Emerson Fittipaldi left when he departed from McLaren. At that point, the lord could no longer sponsor a team, so Hunt had been waiting for his next opportunity to compete.  

#4 – Battled Niki Laudu

…and there is a movie about it!

While on Hesketh’s team, Hunt beat Niki Lauda’s Ferrari in the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix and won first overall.  Hunt and Lauda became great friends and iconic rivals. Battling for the 1976 driving title, Lauda suffered a nearly fatal accident, allowing Hunt to win the race at Nürburgring. While Lauda recovered from his injuries, Hunt won five more races. Despite odds, Lauda recovered in time to compete for the title in Japan, a showdown between two of the racing world’s greatest rivals. Due to wet roads, Lauda deemed the course too dangerous and parked his Ferrari after a few laps, allowing Hunt to drive his McLaren to the finish line. He had finally achieved his dream of being a World Champion.

Check out their rivalry in the movie Rush starring Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Niki Lauda.

#5 – Respected Commentator

After he accomplished his notable goal of being the World Champion, his interest in racing faded. He retired in 1979, stating “self-preservation” as the motive. With a loss of motivation and drive, his depression worsened. In 1980 he took on a job as a commentator for BBC television’s Formula One coverage. Although off to a rocky start with consuming two bottles of wine during his first broadcast, he quickly became a respected voice.

Learn More About James Hunt At The IMHOF

Unfortunately, James Hunt passed away unexpectedly on June 15, 1993, at age 45. Upon hearing about his death, Niki Lauda praised James Hunt as “the most charismatic personality who’s ever been in Formula One.” He certainly left behind a legacy and a successful career that inspired those who came after him. If you want to learn more about James Hunt, visit the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.