James Hunt, the most flamboyant character the Formula One ever had. The world champion of 1976 withdrew from the paddock during the 1979 season when he was the driver for Walter Wolf’s racing team. After his career in the Formula One Hunt became f1 commentator next to Murray Walker for the BBC. Though, the eventual comeback in the Formula One kept appearing on his path. Sadly, it never happened.
In 1976 James Hunt became Formula One’s world champion, the revival that season between James and Niki was marvellous. Even more as Niki Lauda almost died, but six weeks later after his horror crash re-appeared as the phoenix out of its ashes. He fought until the last race for the championship side to side with Hunt. For 1977 the hope was high for another championship winning. However, the Mclaren M26 wasn’t that reliable any more. Hunt won three races that year and ended fifth in the overall standings while Niki Lauda, in the Ferrari, won his second driver title.
For 1978 James Hunt had again high hopes to win a second world championship; however, this season he would only score eight points during the season with a third place during the French Grand Prix as best results. He was stuck as 13th in the standings. This season probably changed James Hunt as well. During the Italian Grand Prix held at Monza he and Regazzoni pulled out Ronnie Peterson, who would die later in the hospital, from his burning Lotus after an massive start crash. Most significant was Regazzoni’s emotions towards Bernie Ecclestone telling him to fuck off.
In 1979, James Hunt left Mclaren after the disastrous 1978 season and went to Walter Wolf’s Racing team. The team existed only a couple of years but already won races and looked competitive for 1979 as well. While James was also in negotiations with the Ferrari team for the season. James had several meetings with Enzo Ferrari’s son, Piero Lardi, they came to an agreement, though due Hunt’s contractual promotions with Vauxhall and the fact Jody Scheckter, previous seasons driver for Wolf, was also in negotiating with Ferrari for a drive. Scheckter would become the driver for the Scuderia in 1979 and eventually would win the drivers championship.
In an interview with Motor magazine Hunt said the follow about his negotiations with the Scuderia;
“Ferrari offered me a very good deal: a lot more money that I’m getting at Wolf. In order, er, not to discuss the thing too much further, I kept the number too high because basically I didn’t want to drive for Ferrari. I wouldn’t have been happy there.”
Funny twist during the negotiations Jody Scheckter, who boarded a plane to (the nearest airport to) Maranello; only to find James aboard! As both were negotiating the same time!
James Hunt instead choose for Walter Wolf’s racing team. He became the only driver for the team; it seemed similar to the team he debuted in the Formula One with, the Hesketh F1 team. Sadly, 1979 would become a disaster for James Hunt. The team started the season with the new WR7, soon it would be replaced with the new WR8. Both cars, in the hand of James Hunt, could not make a fist against the other cars. Monaco would be the last race for James Hunt. After the race he did not appear for an event, organized by Marlboro.
While Keke Rosberg would fill the seat and continue racing with the new WR9, Walter Wolf Racing would withdraw at the end of the season, selling his assets to Emerson Fittipaldi. Who merges its assets into Fittipaldi Automotives.
It wasn’t necessary the end of James Hunt his Formula One year. During the season, Guy Ligier looked for a replacement for his driver Patrick Depailler, who became injured. An agreement with Ligier was signed. Though Guy wanted a letter from Walter Wolf, team boss of Walter Wolf Racing, confirming Hunt was free from his previous contract. No letter ever appeared in Guy’s mailbox. Eventually Jacky Ickx replaced Patrick Depailler.
That race in Monaco 1979 would turn out to be Hunt’s last drive during a grand prix weekend. Though it was not the end of many rumours, and close agreements, of James Hunt making his comeback to the paddock. In 1980 Alain Prost broke his wrist, and McLaren offered Hunt one million pound to replace Prost during the Grand Prix of Long Beach. The deal was signed, Philip Morris (Marlboro) paid 50% of the amount. Hunt was to return to the grid. However, not before he would go on a skiing holiday. And there he broke his leg. Rumours say he broke his leg when he did some “stunts” after a lunch with too much drinks. Stephen South would replace Alain Prost at Laguna Seca, though failed to qualify the car.
In 1982, Bernie Ecclestone, at that time team boss of Brabham, rang James Hunt with an offer he could not refuse. He offered James a contract for 1982 to drive for his team. Offering a salary of 2,6 million pounds. However, James told Bernie he was not in the need for the money and declined Bernie’s deal to make his comeback.
Three years later, in 1985, another rumours appeared of James Hunt interested to return to the Formula One. It is unsure how serious this was, and unsure where the rumours came from. It was said that Williams was interested to hire James Hunt for the season, it seems negotiations happened between the team and the driver, though no proof could be found.
However, in 1989 James Hunt, 43 years old, took place behind the wheel of a Williams FW12C. This happened during a test session held at the French Paul Ricard circuit in December. James arrived with a cigarette in his hand, and with his old Walter Wolf suit on his body wandering around with his seat fitting. Simon Jackson, at that time member of the Williams test team, told the follow;
“Hunt was also a bit fussy about his seat fitting. He wasn’t enjoying using the regular drivers seats.”
During the test, were media and guests were invited for, James Hunt was of pace, and was at least five seconds slower than the simulated round. Besides the of pace James assumable told the media he was physically fit to make his comeback in the Formula One.
Was James Hunt serious about his Formula One comeback, or not? It is a question we won’t be able to answer anytime. Nor we will ever know if he was looking for a comeback, was it for financial reasons. As it was known/rumoured that he was in financially bad weather. In 1993, after asking his Girl Friend to marry him, he died due an heart attack in his home in Wimbledon.
Some trivia: Did you know that Colin Chapman was interested in James Hunt? He offered him for 1975 to become his first driver for Team Lotus. The deal never went on as Hunt asked Chapman to pay him on forehand championship money, even before he became a champion.