A self-confident and competitive person both in and out of the driver’s seat, James Simon Wallis Hunt enjoyed a relatively short and tumultuous racing career. Hunt was born in 1947 to a London stockbroker and from an early age his parents found him unruly and rebellious. He seemed prone to temper tantrums and was terribly hyperactive. Despite his wild and rebellious ways he grew up to become a tall and handsome youngster who enjoyed considerable success with the ladies. His journey to World Champion began on his eighteenth birthday when Hunt saw his first race at Silverstone. On that day he decided that he would one day become World Champion – a goal which took several challenging years to realise.
Though his family was wealthy, they did not support Hunt’s dreams of becoming a racing champion and Hunt started out by working odd jobs and purchasing a wrecked Mini, which he spent two years preparing for racing. Once he eventually did get started on the racetrack, he never looked back – though many of his early races ended in bad accidents. Eventually he managed to stay on the racetrack long enough to win a few races. It is interesting to note that his bogus behavior on the track did not reflect his fear of racing. Often he would vomit in the garage and shake so violently on the starting grid that his car would vibrate. However, James Hunt was a determined, testosterone-driven racer which made him a formidable opponent.
James Hunt’s career took a huge turn when Lord Alexander Hesketh entered his life. Known by the racers he sponsored as ‘The Good Lord’, Hesketh was an eccentric British aristocrat who chose to squander his sizable inheritance on personal entertainment. To this end, he formed his own racing team and hired Hunt as his driver. Though the Hesketh Racing team was mediocre at best, they were well known for consuming copious amounts of champagne and sporting beautiful women. Before long, Hesketh decided to graduate from Formula Three and Formula Two to Formula One. Their arrival on the scene was welcomed with laughter but Hunt soon wiped the smiles away with his 1975 win over Niki Lauda’s Ferrari at the Dutch Grand Prix. Unfortunately Hesketh decided to leave the game that same year and Hunt was left without a job.
The following year he was called in to fill an unexpected vacancy with McLaren and James’ Formula One career began in earnest. He quickly became known for his bad temper and excessive speed. He became close friends with Niki Lauda with whom he competed for the 1976 driving title. Hunt managed to take the World Champion title later that year – the pinnacle of his success as a driver. After his win, his enthusiasm for racing waned and before long, he decided to retire. He married twice, had two children to whom he was wholly devoted and had just gotten engaged for the third time when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 45. However, the charismatic James Hunt has certainly not been forgotten and his memory continues to live on in the sport of Formula One racing.
South African born Jody Scheckter is amongst the world’s top Formula One drivers of the past. Perhaps infamous because of his dangerous antics, but famous for his skill and speed, Scheckter has certainly etched his name into the history of auto racing.
Jody David Scheckter was born on 29 January 1950 in the town of East London, South Africa. He moved to Britain in 1970 and at the age of 22 began making a name for himself in Formula One. Scheckter’s debut was in a 1972 race at Watkins Glen, seated behind the wheel of a McLaren. In 1973 he took the Formula 5000 championship and competed in 5 F1 races. Unfortunately Scheckter tended to be a reckless driver and was involved in several accidents. At the British Grand Prix in 1973 his car spun out of control causing a massive pileup of race cars, quickly ending the race. This disastrous race nearly brought his F1 career to an end. In time Scheckter changed his attitude and adopted safer driving methods whilst making the best of his skills.
Tyrrell offered Jody Scheckter a full-time driver spot in 1974, which he accepted. In 1976 Scheckter drove the impressive Tyrrell P34, a 6-wheeled vehicle. Scheckter decided to join the new Wolf team in 1977. He took a win in the team’s first race. Following the 1978 season with Wolf, Jody Scheckter joined Ferrari. Many of his critics felt that he would not manage well under Ferrari’s management, but they were quickly proved wrong. In 1979 Jody Scheckter won the World Championship. He decided to retire in 1980 after an unsuccessful year of racing.
Upon retiring Jody Scheckter assisted his sons Tomas and Toby to pursue their careers in auto racing. Today he is an organic farmer and the founder of FATS (Firearms Training Systems). He has also appeared in documentaries regarding health issues. Despite his relatively unpopular start as an F1 driver, Jody Scheckter went on to make a real name for himself and is a legend in the sport of Formula One racing.
The McLaren Motor Racing team was first founded in 1963 by New Zealander Bruce McLaren. The team’s Grand Prix debut was made at the Monaco track in 1966 and, despite some early technical difficulties, Team McLaren has never looked back. By 1968 the team had earned their first win with Bruce McLaren himself behind the wheel at the Belgium Grand Prix. Today the McLaren F1 Racing Team is seen as one of the most successful Formula One teams. Their Grand Prix successes are surpassed only by Ferrari and for quite some time they dominated the world of Grand Prix racing.
Not long after McLaren’s first Grand Prix win in 1968, driver James Hunt won the team’s first Driver’s Championship. That was in 1976 and the win was a sign of things to come. By 1984, Niki Lauda won a Grand Prix Championship on behalf of the McLaren team, and the 1980’s proved to be a phenomenal decade for the team. In fact, McLaren emerged to completely dominate the Formula One racing scene. However, the team’s success started to fade about midway through the 1990’s when Honda decided to drop out of Formula One racing. The team then went through a period of experimentation – switching from manufacturer to manufacturer in an attempt to find a winning combination. Eventually McLaren found that the Mercedes-Ilmor engine showed promise and they started a slow climb back to success. At about this time Team McLaren also lost their Marlboro sponsorship and subsequent trade-mark red and white livery. The team took up the silver Mercedes livery in its place and the change could be said to be an appropriate display of the ending of one period for the team and the beginning of another.
Mercedes has continued to supply the team’s engines and today the full name of the team is Vodafone McLaren Mercedes, acknowledging both of its primary sponsors. It is based in Woking, Surrey in the UK and the team principle is Ron Dennis. As at the end of the 2009 season, McLaren had won 8 Constructor Championships, 12 Driver Championships, and notched up 164 victories. The McLaren team has World Championship winners Lewis Hamilton (2008) and Jenson Button (2009) as its principle drivers for the 2010 F1 Grand Prix Championship, with the new MP4-25 as the car of the year.
One of the few Formula One racers who bought their way into the sport, Nicholas Andreas Lauda was born in 1949 in Vienna. His father was a paper manufacturer who had managed to amass a fortune for his family – a fortune which Nicholas never saw. His family shunned his desire to be a racing driver and refused to support him in an effort to bring him to his senses. But Niki was strong-willed. He skipped university and borrowed money from various Austrian banks in order to get himself in the races. He started his career in 1968 in a Mini and before long was attempting to race Formula Vee and Formula Three. His early racing career was somewhat dismal and he often crashed – which was a problem since it meant he was one car less and had few winnings with which to repay the money he had borrowed.
In 1972, Niki Lauda bought his way into Formula Two and Formula One with yet another loan. The Marches were unsuccessful and not only did they leave him virtually bankrupt, but they didn’t help his reputation as a driver either. With no other qualifications to turn to, Niki was forced to keep racing. So, the following year he managed to make a deal with BRM which put him in the driver’s seat once more. Before long his results started improving and his true worth as a driver became evident. BRM offered him a new contract but instead he chose to buy his way out his contract with money from Enzo Ferrari who had also offered him a contract.
The following year found Lauda racing for Ferrari. Within his first year he garnered the nickname ‘The Computer’ and though he was doing well, he still made some costly mistakes. However, his saving grace for the year came in the form of two different Formula One victories. Over the next few years he enjoyed numerous victories around the world. Then, in 1976 his car suddenly crashed and burst into flames. He suffered third degree burns on his head and wrists as well as numerous broken bones and scorched lungs. Doctors gave him up for dead and he was even read his last rites by a priest. Somehow, Niki Lauda not only recovered, but he returned to racing just six weeks later. He finished fourth in the Italian Grand Prix – his first race since the accident – and his bandages were seeping blood by the end of the event. His comeback was hailed as the most courageous in sporting history. From that time forward, Niki always wore a red baseball cap to hide some of his facial disfigurements.
In 1978, after winning two championships, he proclaimed he was bored and he walked out on the sport to start his own airline. Though his airline did well he eventually found himself needing more money and so he returned to racing for this purpose. He signed a US$5 million contract with McLaren and won his final Grand Prix in 1985, after which he retired from the racing car cockpit for good. In 2008, American sports television network ESPN ranked him 22nd on their prestigious list of top drivers of all-time. Lauda will always be remembered for his startling recovery, his plucky attitude and his die-hard work ethic.
Born on 28 September 1968 in the Helsinki metropolitan area of Vantaa, Finland, Mika Pauli Häkkinen started his auto racing career behind the wheel of a go-kart at the age of five. Having crashed on his very first lap, it appeared that his brief encounter with auto racing had come to an abrupt end. However, the racing bug had bitten, and Häkkinen managed to persuade his parents to give him a second chance, leading to him winning five karting championships by the end of 1986. Dubbed as the ‘Flying Finn’, Mika Häkkinen made quite an impression on the racing world, eventually leading him to become a Formula One driver for Team Lotus in 1991.
Having qualified thirteenth for his Grand Prix debut race held in Phoenix, he held his position until his car gave engine trouble preventing him from completing the race. Undeterred, Häkkinen went on to score his first Grand Prix points in the race at the Imola race track in Italy, by fighting his way from 25th on the grid to finish fifth – a mere three laps behind Ayrton Senna who took the checkered flag. The year 1992 proved to be a good one for Häkkinen as he finished the season in eighth place in the Driver’s Championship with a six-fold improvement in his points score over the previous year.
Häkkinen joined McLaren as a test driver in 1993, being called upon to fill the gap left by Michael Andretti when he left the F1 team following dismal results. Häkkinen made his McLaren race debut at Estoril in 1993, where he qualified above the team’s leading driver Ayrton Senna. However, a mishap during the race took him out of the running for points. It was at Suzuka on the following weekend that Häkkinen earned his first career podium by finishing fifteen seconds behind his tea-mate.
1995 presented some challenges for the Flying Finn as, following second place positions in both Italy and Japan, he missed the Pacific Grand Prix for health reasons. Back behind the wheel for the Australian Grand Prix, Häkkinen was critically injured during practice, with quick thinking by rescuers and an emergency tracheotomy saving his life. Amazingly he was back on track for the 1996 season, claiming his spot on the winners’ podium, although not yet in first place. He finished the season at fifth in the Driver’s Championship with a total score of 31 points.
The elusive first place was claimed by Häkkinen at Jerez in 1997 for the McLaren F1 Team. 1998 saw Häkkinen vying with Michael Schumacher for championship points right up to the third last race of the season. Häkkinen went on to beat Schumacher at the Luxembourg Grand Prix, claiming first place at the last race of the season in Japan. Despite facing a number of challenges in 1999, and making some serious errors of judgment, Häkkinen claimed his second world championship at the end of the season. Michael Schumacher took the F1 victory in the year 2000, reportedly describing his rivalry with Häkkinen as the most satisfying of his career.
At the end of the 2001 season, which proved to be somewhat bitter-sweet for Häkkinen, he retired from Formula One racing, initially stating he would be taking a twelve-month sabbatical, but in mid-2002 making it an official retirement. Between 2005 and 2007 Häkkinen joined forces with Mercedes-Benz for the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), claiming a number of victories.
Although rumors persisted that Mika Häkkinen would be returning to F1 racing, in 2007 he announced his retirement from competitive motor sport, and in 2008 he revealed that he would be pursuing a new career in driver management. No doubt this Formula One champion’s vast experience on the track will prove valuable in his chosen new career.