Classic Motorsport: The Lost Story of Hesketh Racing - F1's Playboy's #BlogPost

The early 1970’s were a bloodbath for F1. 7 Drivers had already died by the time F1 reached its 3rd Grand Prix in the 1974 Season. The only requirements to fill the shoes of the fallen on the grid were money and balls. A team had to have the money, and the driver had to have balls. That’s where Hesketh Racing comes into the picture. Lord Hesketh was born rich. He came from one of the richest families in England, and had everything a person would want in life. The story of what came to be a winning operation, and the birth of a F1 legend is truly one of F1’s greatest untold stories.

Hesketh got into racing, in his own words, completely accidentally. At age 18, he’d just met a young woman, and she’d sent him a postcard. It had a teddy bear on it. Hesketh drew a crash helmet and a Union Jack on its head, and got the idea to get into Formula 1. All Hesketh was looking for was a bit of fun, and a good time. In 1973, Hesketh was preparing his operation to leap into its first Grand Prix, but it needed a driver. Hesketh had caught wind of a driver looking for a ride. He was very fast, but he tended to write off cars. His competitors called him “Hunt-Shunt” behind his back.

Hesketh Racing’s first outing as an F1 Team came at Monaco in 1973. Hesketh rented out a March Engineering car for James Hunt. Hesketh selected a Rolls-Royce Corniche and a Porsche 911 to get the team members to and from the track. Their team headquarters weren’t even a laboratory with all kinds of different equipment. It was Hesketh’s own personal 162-foot yacht, Southern Breeze. Hesketh, Hunt, The Team, and more than enough women partied the weekend away, with Hunt finishing 9th out of 26 starters.

However, the media didn’t take them seriously. Who could blame them, a team that was renting out others cars with a team of people that spent the whole weekend parting on the team owner’s private yacht. Hesketh rented James Hunt a Surtees TS9 for the rest of the season. He scored a Championship point the next race in France, then improved to 4th in front of a home crowd in Britain, then finished 2nd to Ronnie Peterson by only .6 of a second in the season ending United States Grand Prix. However, many members of the media expected this as a fluke, as François Cevert had died in qualifying, and Jackie Stewart had decided to retire out of respect for Cevert. With the results to match their spirits, Hesketh launched a new car for 1974.

March Car Designer Harvey Postlethwaite was signed on in late 1973 to design Hesketh’s 1974 car. The Hesketh 308 would be Hesketh’s first attempt at their own Formula 1 car. In the first race of the 1974 Season, at Buenos Aires, Hunt took 5th spot on the grid, behind the 2 Lotus’, Clay Regazzoni, in a Ferrari, and Peter Revson, in a Shadow Engineering Entry. Hunt had a blistering start, taking the lead by Turn 1, while Regazzoni, Revson, and Emerson Fittipaldi, in one of the Lotus’s, crashed on the start. Hunt spun later in the lap, however, and would relinquish the lead to Denny Hulme, who took victory for Mclaren, with Hunt retiring due to overheating issues 11 Laps into the race, he finished 22nd.

With the next race at Brazil, Hunt finished 9th, with Fittipaldi taking victory in front of a home crowd. Hunt and his Hesketh 308 slowly became better and better. But there were still issues. Hunt had a gearbox problem on Lap 13 of the 3rd round in South Africa, but finished 10th at the Spanish GP the next week. In Spa, Hunt retired on Lap 45 due to a crash he had, but bounced back for a 12th at Monaco, even though his halfshaft failed on Lap 27. The team had its best run of 1974 at Anderstorp in Sweden with a 3rd place finish.

Bad luck plauged the 2nd half of the season, however. Hunt was involved in a Lap 6 collision at Zandvoort, and finished last due to a crash at the French GP. Suspension issues took them out of the British GP on Lap 2, and gearbox issues resulted in a 17th place finish at the Nürburgring. The Hesketh team bounced back at Austria, with another 3rd place result at the Österreichring. At Monza, however, Hunt’s engine gave up after only 1 Lap of competition, but the team came back to finish 4th at Canada, and the team finished of the 1974 campaign with a 3rd at Watkins Glen, and a 6th in the Constructor’s Championship.

Hesketh Racing’s inconsistency and woes didn’t dampen the mood at all. Hesketh and Hunt partied until 3am some nights before GP’s, but Hunt was still able to hop into the car and do well. The team knew 1975 could be their year for their first victory, and they were eager to get to Buenos Aires.

At Buenos Aires, the 1st round of the 1975 Season, Hunt started 3rd. He gained 1 spot on the start, and never looked back, finishing 2nd behind Emerson Fittipaldi. At Brazil, Hunt showed great speed, finishing 6th, and, more importantly, in the points. Hunt showed speed again at South Africa, but was forced to retire with a fuel pump issue on Lap 53. In Spain, Hunt took the lead on the first corner, and held it over Mario Andretti’s Lotus until Lap 6, when Hunt slipped in some oil and crashed violently. In Monaco, Hunt and Jochen Mass crashed on Lap 63, causing Hunt to have to retire again. At Zolder, Hunt had Transmission problems and had a brake failure at Anderstorp. The 1975 season seemed to be a nightmare for Team Hesketh, but it was about to turn around.

When F1 rolled into Zandvoort in 1975, the Dutch coast was gorgeous. On Friday, it was clear and warm for practice. For Saturday qualifying, there were blue skies as far as the eye could see. James Hunt qualified 3rd for the race. When the F1 garage woke up on Sunday it was pouring rain. Teams like Ferrari and Lotus had mechanics out messing with wings, shocks and springs. Lord Hesketh told his team “We know f* all about how to set a car up, so why don’t we just leave it just the way it is.” After 4 Laps, Hunt was in the lead.

The entire crowd went to the fence and stared. Colin Chapman and Enzo Ferrari’s engineering masterpieces were being whipped by a startup team out of England. Hunt pitted for dry tires early, and extended his lead further over Niki Lauda. The Austrian pitted a few laps later, and began to chase down Hunt. Lauda began to push hard, setting fastest lap after fastest lap. With 20 Laps to go, Lauda was within a second of Hunt. Lauda kept gaining in the slower corners but Hunt was holding steady in the fast corners and straights. Lauda kept pushing, but Hunt defended. Lauda kept getting closer, and closer. The TV was even confused who was in the lead. Lauda and Hunt battled for lap after lap. But time ran out. Hunt took the victory over Lauda by 1.06 seconds.

In the words of Lord Hesketh, the entire team, including Hunt, “…suddenly we all became blackout drunk.” The party continued for hours afterwards. The playboys had beat the big corporations. It would be Team Hesketh’s first and only victory in their 3 Years and 52 Grand Prix’s, as the team shut down at the end of 1975. It was Hunt and Lauda’s first battle before their epic 1976 Championship Duel. James Hunt and Team Hesketh would finish 4th in the Drivers and Constructor’s Championships.



In reply to by .... 3

Great piece, but you’re forgetting something. Hesketh Racing actually continued until 1978 without the good Lord. Still Hunt the Shunt left at exactly the right time.

02/28/2017 - 01:53 |
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On the Apex

In reply to by .... 3

Awesome article! F1 needs more of the crazy partying again. Today the best we have is Alonso operating TV equipment or having a sunbathe

02/28/2017 - 12:46 |
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Reece 1

breakfeast of champions

02/28/2017 - 06:25 |
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Reece 1

breakfast of champions

02/28/2017 - 06:26 |
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