Friend or Foe?

13 June 2022

Two very different characters share the same goal, to win the Grand Prix.

The 2013 film, Rush, recounted the rivalry between these two Gladiators. But Freddie Hunt, James’ son, has insisted the rivalry depicted an intense unsavoury and was overplayed and that Lauda remained friends with his father until he died in 1993.

The 1976 season was one of the most dramatic in F1’s history. Lauda, leading Hunt in the championship, miraculously only missed two races after nearly losing his life in a fiery crash in Germany.

Hunt would beat Lauda by a solitary point to claim his first and only title.

James Hunt was a well-spoken, good-looking, charismatic and charming man who appeared to live on the edge of danger. On the other hand, Niki Lauda was a driver of great precision, and by the 1976 season, he was considered the quickest driver on the grid.

James Simon Wallis Hunt drove for Hesketh Racing, owned by the flamboyant Lord Hesketh, a playboy with a reputation for partying and a somewhat laissez-faire attitude, criticised heavily by the Establishment but the perfect environment for James Hunt.

Sadly, in late 1975, Hesketh announced that he could no longer afford to try to produce the next British world champion without sponsorship and ended his involvement with the team. Hunt was offered the lead drive at McLaren, replacing Emerson Fittipaldi.

The frail-looking, buck-toothed Austrian, sometimes known as ‘the Rat’, Andreas Nikolaus ‘Niki’ Lauda, drove for Scuderia Ferrari and was seriously injured in a crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring during which his Ferrari 312T2 burst into flames. He came close to death after inhaling hot toxic fumes and suffering severe burns; he not only survived but recovered sufficiently to race again just six weeks later at the Italian Grand Prix.

He quit the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix not only because of the rain; his damaged tear ducts and loss of eyelids sustained by fire during the horrific crash at the German Grand Prix earlier in the season.

Yet despite this disastrous season, he only lost the championship by one point.