From the Archive
September 12, 2013
by Peter Marlow
Brands Hatch 7th November 1976, World Formula 1 champion, Great Britain's James Hunt with a cigarette in one hand and a tankard of beer in the other, was besieged by fans in a "Tribute to James" day. Surprisingly, later that day Niki Lauda arrived piloting his own helicopter, whilst they were good fiends and once shared a flat in London, that day to the crowds huge disappointment, they never met.
The summer of 1976 was long and hot it was an epic tale of rivalry between the two. They were polar opposites who were actually great friends.
During the 1976 season Lauda dominated the early part winning four of the first six races. In July Hunt won races in France and Britain, A fortnight later Hunt won again, at the Nürburgring, but Lauda ended the day in a hospital bed, terribly burnt after a horrific accident. That night a priest administered the last rites. There were six races left and Hunt was 26 points behind Lauda.
As they went to the final round in Japan Hunt was just three points behind. McLaren had taken advantage of the gap between the final two races to hire the Fuji circuit, a track hosting its first Grand Prix and therefore unknown to all the teams, for an exclusive McLaren test. After a few laps the gearbox seized, bringing the test to a premature close, but the team had had the advantage of acclimatising themselves to the new circuit. Conditions for the race itself were torrentially wet, and Lauda retired early, unable to blink because of facial burns from his accident in Germany. After leading most of the race Hunt suffered a puncture, But he managed to finish in third place, scoring four points, enough for him to win the World Championship by one point.
Dangerous times create dangerous men. Hunt lived on the edge. Alcohol, drugs and sex were all enjoyed in excess He died aged 45 in 1993.
Legend has it that in the build-up to the last race of 1976 he slept with 33 British Airways stewardesses in just two weeks. If it’s not the mark of a man, it’s a certainly display of patriotism!