James was a very complex character. And I was old enough to be his father. We came from such very different backgrounds and he was interested in very different things to me. I thought James drank too much, smoked too much and womanised too much. But I wouldn’t be saying these rather unpleasant things if he had not been a decent, friendly character inside beyond the enormous success and adulation that he had. Women threw themselves at him and it went to his head. When he retired he was a Lloyd’s Name and when that collapsed he lost most of his money at a time he was going through a vexatious and expensive divorce. He then became a much more likeable human being.
- Murray Walker on James Hunt
James Hunt’s F1 career was fairly short by modern standards but his talent never came into question – a series of podiums and even a win for the tiny Hesketh team drew the attention of McLaren for 1976, a season which yielded six wins and the World Championship. There were three more wins the following year, but as McLaren’s competitiveness faded so did Hunt’s motivation, and after an unsuccessful switch to the Wolf team for 1979 he retired from the sport.
A fiery character on and off the track he was perhaps an unusual choice to become part of the BBC’s commentary team, but he accepted the position and would commentate alongside Murray Walker from his retirement until his death in 1993. For over 13 years their televised BBC racing commentaries reached a global audience of millions and very much put Formula One racing into the sporting mainstream.
Murray Walker and James Hunt were the perfect odd-couple commentary tandem. In Hunt’s first broadcast as a commentator, James Hunt put his feet up on Murray Walker’s lap and drank 2 bottles of wine through the race.
Hunt’s frank and outspoken style was more or less the complete opposite of Walker’s, and some of Hunt’s one-liners and observations have gone down in F1 folklore. If James Hunt didn’t like you, if you were an unhelpful backmarker or if you were just a bit out of your depth, you would get both barrels. They both genuinely enjoyed each other’s company and built a tremendous rapport. A typical exchange often went like this:
Murray: "There's a firey glow coming from the back of the Ferrari!"
James Hunt: "No Murray, that's his rear safety light"
The partnership ended too soon, with Hunt's untimely death from a sudden heart attack in 1993, aged just 45.
**James Hunt with Murray Walker centre and F1 driver Nigel Mansell on the right.