- Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher, Features Editor, MR PORTER
The new film from Hollywood director Mr Ron Howard, Rush, is a dramatisation of the racing career of the late British driver Mr James Hunt, focusing on his rivalry with Austrian driver Mr Niki Lauda over the course of the 1976 racing season. To say that Mr Hunt was the antithesis of modern Formula One drivers, most of whom seem cowed by their PR handlers and sponsors into a state of terminal blandness, is an understatement (although the Lotus-driving Finn, and 2007 World Champion, Mr Kimi Räikkönen is an exception). To give just one example, Mr Hunt had a badge bearing the words "Sex, breakfast of champions" sewn on to his race overalls. It's hard to imagine a driver doing the same in the uptight Formula One world of today.
Mr Hunt had a badge bearing
the words 'Sex, breakfast of champions'
sewn on to his race overalls
Born into an affluent family in the English county of Surrey, Mr Hunt attended Wellington College, an exclusive boarding school, but later said that his "life really began" when he passed his driving test at the age of 17. He rose rapidly through the junior racing divisions - where his uncompromising approach towards maintaining track position won him the nickname "Hunt the Shunt" - before winning a place on the infamous Hesketh Racing team for the 1973 season. The team was set up by Lord Hesketh, a British aristocrat whose high-handed approach to racing meant that he shunned commercial sponsorship on the grounds of its vulgarity, and served champagne in the pits at a time when flasks of tea were a more familiar refreshment.
In 1975 Mr Hunt won his first Grand Prix, at the Dutch Zandvoort circuit, and finished the season fourth in the Drivers' Championship. However, it wasn't enough to secure the future of Hesketh, which was disbanded at the end of the season due to a lack of funds. Rush highlights how the closure of Hesketh Racing provoked a crisis for Mr Hunt, which was only resolved when he won a place on the McLaren team for the 1976 season. That incredibly dramatic year forms the basis of much of the action in the film, defined by the intense battle for the title between Mr Lauda and Mr Hunt that ultimately culminated in the Englishman winning the World Championship by just one point.
A Life In The Fast Lane
Mr Hunt celebrates setting a Brands Hatch lap record during practice for the British Grand Prix, July 1976
Left to right: Mr Niki Lauda, Mr Hunt and Mr Clay Regazzoni on the podium at the Dutch Grand Prix, June 1975
Race winner Mr Hunt at the Formula One World Championship, United States Grand Prix East, October 1976
It was the only World Championship that Mr Hunt won, and he retired halfway through the 1979 season. Later that year he started the second act of his career in racing, as a pundit for the BBC. He was partnered with the famous commentator Mr Murray Walker, and brought the same renegade attitude to the job that had characterised his appearances on the track. A YouTube search will quickly produce a series of memorable moments when Mr Hunt spoke his mind in a way that few modern commentators would dare. One example is the 1990 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola, Italy, when second-place driver Mr Nigel Mansell was preparing to lap the Italian back-marker Mr Andrea De Cesaris. The Italian very nearly took out the Briton by moving into him on the apex of a corner. Mr Hunt's frank assessment? "Look at this idiot!" However, Mr Hunt was widely respected for his penetrating analysis, as well as being admired for the humour of his commentary.
Mr Hunt died of a heart attack in 1993, aged only 45. A few hours before his death he had proposed to Ms Helen Dyson, who seemed to have finally tamed a man who was almost as well known for his appetite for women and wine (less well known were his enthusiasms for budgerigars and his old Austin A35 van) as he was for his ability behind the wheel. Twenty years on he remains an icon of a freer, more exciting era of motor racing.
Rush is out 13 September in the UK, 27 September in the US, 3 October in Australia and 10 October in Hong Kong