He was a world champion on the track and world-class party animal off it — smoking, drinking and womanizing his way into the affections of motorsport fans during the 1970s.
James Hunt’s short but epic life — the British racing driver died of a heart attack in 1993 aged 45 — is a million miles away from the modern image of Formula One which even its boss Bernie Ecclestone thinks is a bit boring.
Speaking in February, the F1 supremo said the sport is “the worst it has ever been” and that he wouldn’t pay to take his own family to watch a race.
Ecclestone, who owned and ran the Brabham F1 team during Hunt’s heyday, will no doubt recall the thrilling 1976 season that turned the Englishman into a household name as he pipped his arch rival Niki Lauda to the championship by a single point.
The dramatic events of that season were made into the 2013 movie “Rush” and now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hunt’s epic title win, a photography exhibition is once again turning the spotlight on the swashbuckling Brit.
“James Hunt: Girls, Beer and Victory” charts the playboy driver’s path to glory through the camera lens of renowned British motorsport photographer David Phipps.
The exhibition charts Hunt’s career, giving an insight into his life, loves, and more intimate moments. The focus falls heavily on the momentous ’76 campaign, in which the McLaren driver lost his rag on occasions and Lauda almost lost his life when his Ferrari was engulfed in flames following a massive crash during the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.
Extensively burned and heavily scarred, the Austrian would miraculously return to action just six weeks later but Hunt finally prevailed in the championship fight in a nail-biting climax at the Japanese Grand Prix.
“He was who he was,” says Hunt’s son Tom, who spoke to CNN’s The Circuit show at the Proud Gallery in Chelsea, London, where the show runs until April 3.
“He was a great sportsman and athlete and he was at the top of his game. He did it in a slightly different way to other people but at the same time he was brilliant at what he did.”