OB icon: James Hunt

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Some people have a certain style. It might be a manner of artistic expression, of speech or of dress, a manner that’s uniquely theirs. Some people have something different. They don’t have ‘a style’; they have simply ‘style’.

And anyone who has Richard Burton pay his divorce bill, one must concede, probably falls into the latter category.

Much has been written about James Hunt and then, of course, there’s the excellent film of a couple of years ago, Rush. In print and on film, there’s an understandable emphasis on his drinking, smoking and what might most generously be called ‘amorous pursuits’. Indeed, when confronted with a man who refused to sign the clause in his Formula 1 contract that stipulated the wearing of a suit from time to time, a man who had, it’s alleged, around 5,000 names in his game book and had ‘Sex: Breakfast of Champions’ on his racing overalls, it’s easy to see why. Hunt, the idea of Hunt, was the antithesis of what can seem from outside the sport to be the pasteurization-through-corporate-interest of motor racing from the mid-nineties through to the present day.

It would, therefore, also be tempting to let all this detract from his more enduring qualities and achievements, not least among which are his courage, skill and 1976 World Championship. More than that, though, perhaps it was his willingness to cede control that makes him and his breed so alluring. Perhaps that’s where this ‘style’ resides. Like a mountaineer, for example, or a pilot, Hunt knew that for all his talent, for all his superb risk evaluation and management, sheer ill-fortune could put an end to him in the blink of an eye. It’s something incontestably enviable, that willingness to exist in the safety margin. It’s why some might call him reckless or selfish. It’s why it’s so hard to admit that there’s an undercurrent on jealousy, whether outspoken or not, that winds its way beneath any profile of the man.

As Stirling Moss, a man secure in his own achievements, had it, “If you looked like James Hunt, what would you have done?”