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James Hunt : Personal life and later career

Personal life and later career

Hunt was notorious for his unconventional behaviour on and off the track. Having been part of Formula One when the series was consolidating, and when it was conquering the attention of the motor sport press, Hunt became the epitome of unruly, playboy drivers and was celebrated for his English eccentricity (which included dining with his Alsatian, Oscar, at expensive Mayfair restaurants).
Early in their careers Hunt and Lauda shared a one-bedroom flat in London, and were close friends off the track. Lauda, in his autobiography To Hell and Back, described Hunt as an "open, honest to God pal." Whilst living in Spain as a tax exile, Hunt was neighbours with Jody Scheckter, and they also came to be very good friends, with Hunt giving Scheckter the nickname Fletcher after the crash prone bird in the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Another close friend was Ronnie Peterson. Peterson was a quiet and shy man, whilst Hunt was exactly the opposite, but their contrasting personalities made them very close off the track. It was Hunt who discovered the brilliant Gilles Villeneuve, whom he met after being soundly beaten by him in a Formula Atlantic race in 1976. Hunt then arranged for the young Canadian to make his Grand Prix debut with McLaren in 1977. Villeneuve came to rely on Hunt for advice and support during his career and Hunt was particularly upset after Villeneuve's death in 1982.
Hunt's lifestyle was as controversial as some of the events on track: he was associated with a succession of beautiful women; he preferred to turn up to formal functions in bare feet and jeans; he was an extensive user of alcohol, and also cocaine and marijuana; and he lived an informal life near the beach in Marbella. He was regularly seen attending nightclubs and discos, and was generally the life and soul of the party. Hunt was an expert ball game player, and regularly played squash and tennis. He also played on the F1 drivers' cricket and football teams and appeared on the BBC's Superstars more than once. He was also musically inclined, being able to play the trumpet and piano well. It was often assumed that he did not take racing seriously enough, yet through 1976 and 1977 the results continued to come. He famously wore a tee shirt under his racing overalls that read Sex - Breakfast of Champions.
He was married twice: first, to model Suzy Millar, who left him for Richard Burton. His second marriage, to Sarah, resulted in two children.
Soon after retirement, Hunt became an outspoken and entertaining television commentator for the BBC, alongside Murray Walker. Viewers were regularly exposed to his knowledge, insights and dry sense of humour during broadcasts, bringing him a whole new fanbase. He was famous for 'rubbishing' drivers he didn't think were trying hard enough, and although harsh-sounding, his comments were usually in good humour – he once described René Arnoux's comments that non-turbo cars didn't suit the Frenchman's driving skills as "bullshit", while live on the BBC. He was also skilled at reading a race and predicting outcomes to situations on-track. He also had a reputation for speaking out against back-markers who held up race leaders (especially ones of experience, most of them being French, most specifically Jean-Pierre Jarier and Philippe Alliot) and not holding back on any of his commentaries- in sharp contrast to the gentlemanly Walker.
Transcript from his commentary of the 1990 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim:
Walker: Senna's going to have interference in the form of Philippe Alliot, as he comes into the stadium, which of course is the slowest part of the track- and Senna's going to try and take Alliot- no he doesn't succeed, as they are now into the stadium section, with about 100,000 Germans watching in these enormous grandstands- Alliot slows down, lets Senna through, now Berger, but what about the Ferraris? And Senna's pulling away, making the most of his opportunity.
Hunt: Well, that was some spectacularly stupid driving by Alliot, because he's got no one else to race against, why he didn't just stop and let the leading 4 pass, instead of interfering with their race, because he's got nothing to do with them, and he ain't racing against anyone else."
He briefly considered making a comeback to F1 in the mid-1980s, and even tested privately for Williams setting competitive lap times, but eventually changed his mind.
Hunt fought depression and alcoholism and despite severe financial setbacks in his business life, approaching his mid-40s it seemed that he had overcome many of his demons (particularly alcohol and tobacco) and had finally achieved happiness. Happiness to Hunt included his new partner Helen, his clean health, his bicycle, his casual approach to dress, his two sons and his Austin A35 van. In an unlikely twist Hunt became a champion breeder of budgerigars and parrots. One of his parrots, Humbert, was cast as Captain Hook's bird in a West End production of Peter Pan, but was returned to Hunt because of the bird's intolerance to the actor playing Captain Hook.
Hunt made a brief appearance in the 1979 British silent slapstick comedy "The Plank." He also made an appearance on ITV's Police, Camera, Action! special Crash Test Racers in 2000; this was one of many interviews to be aired posthumously.
Hunt died in 1993 at the age of 45, of a heart attack at his home in Wimbledon, only hours after proposing marriage to Helen. He was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium.
Hunt's son Freddie Hunt competed in his first car race on 29 October 2006, and finished fourth overall. It is said he used the race to evaluate if he wished to become a racing driver professionally.After competing in the ADAC Formel Masters series in Germany in 2009, Freddie decided to retire from motor racing. Hunt's younger brother, David, also pursued a racing career, competing in British Formula Three and International Formula 3000 in the 1980s.
In early 2007, Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen entered and won a snowmobile race in his native Finland under the name James Hunt. Räikkönen has openly admired the lifestyles of 1970s race car drivers such as Hunt.

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