Driver Profile: James Hunt

By John Beltz Snyder

September 27, 2013

[photo credit: R.C. Croes/Anefo]
James Hunt was born in England in 1947, and as an adolescent rebelled against his strict family. After seeing his first race on his 18th birthday, James decided to go into auto racing, despite the disapproval of his parents. He was as wild on the track as he was in his personal life, and once he learned to keep his car on the track, he proved to be a talented driver.
Hunt eventually garnered the attention of a young aristocrat, Lord Alexander Hesketh, who had the notion to form his own racing team, bringing James on board as a driver.
Hunt was seen as a boisterous partygoer who indulged in sex, booze, and occasional drugs, often showing up to formal functions barefoot in blue jeans. In 1974, Hunt married his first wife Suzy Miller in 1974, who later left him for actor Richard Burton. The two were officially divorced in 1976. Hunt went on to surround himself with beautiful women, and further cemented his reputation as a party boy.
After as much partying and carousing as racing in Formula 3 and Formula 2, Hesketh took the racing team to Formula 1. Hunt began to impress the dubious organization when he won the Dutch Grand Prix in 1975. Hesketh didn’t have the funds, though, to fund another season, and James Hunt was signed to McLaren for 1976.
That would be the only year James Hunt would win the Formula 1 championship, a season bookended by Lauda titles in 1975 and 1977. Niki Lauda, Hunt’s close friend and former roommate, was well ahead of him in the championship. At the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Lauda suffered a crash that nearly killed him. James Hunt went on to win that race, and five others, putting him into contention for the title when Lauda made a surprising return later in the season. At the final race in Japan, Lauda retired from the wet race due to safety concerns, and Hunt was able to grab third place, winning himself the championship by a single point.
Hunt spent a few more years racing in Formula 1, until his retirement in 1979, and despite a few attempted comebacks, he never returned to the series. Instead, he continued his casual lifestyle filled with more partying and some growing pains. In 1980, he joined BBC as a race commentator, which he originally didn’t take seriously, but eventually grew into the role as a respected analyst.
Hunt met his second wife, Sarah Lomax, in 1982, and the two were married in 1983. The couple divorced in 1989 on grounds of adultery by hunt, but the marriage produced two sons, Tom and Freddie.
In the winter of 1989, James hunt met the young Helen Dyson, a waitress at a restaurant in Wimbledon. The two fell in love, and Hunt found happiness in his life. On June 15, 1993 Hunt proposed to Helen over the phone. Hours later James Hunt died of a heart attack in his Wimbledon home.
[photo credit: Bert Verhoeff/Anefo]
+ Book: Hunt Vs. Lauda