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Living History: Behind the scenes of James Hunt's 1976 World Title victory

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Living History: Behind the scenes of James Hunt's 1976 World Title victory
Oct 24, 2016, 9:30 AM

Today marks the 40th anniversary of James Hunt's memorable 1976 world championship success in rain hit Fuji, Japan.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of James Hunt's memorable 1976 world championship success in rain hit Fuji, Japan.

The swashbuckling English playboy racer fought a duel with Niki Lauda and prevailed, partly because Lauda was hospitalised for several weeks over the summer after his fiery crash at the Nurburging.

It was a season that most 'mature' fans of F1 will remember well and which drew many new fans to the sport; they discovered F1 though that championship and that rivalrly, as many more did a decade or so later via the Senna and Prost battles.

Hunt, who had moved from Hesketh to McLaren at the start of the season to replace Emerson Fittipaldi, won the title by one point. It was a very political season; Hunt was disqualified in Spain for fuel irregulatiries, but he was later reinstated after an appeal. He won the British Grand Prix, but was disqualified for driving down an escape road after a startline accident. The officials didn't want him to take the restart, but the noisy and passionate Brands Hatch crowd played its part in getting him back onto the grid.

James Hunt, Niki Lauda

Partly because of Hunt's charisma, his rivalry with Niki Lauda and Lauda's near fatal accident at the Nurburgring, it remains one of the most celebrated seasons in F1 history and the duel was immortalised in the movie Rush, directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard.

But what was it like on the inside, at McLaren in 1976? Three mechanics from that McLaren team, who lived every second of that amazing season, have contributed to a new behind the scenes book on James Hunt and at a recent event at McLaren HQ, Dave Ryan, Roy Reeder and Ray Grant spoke affectionately of their time with 'Hunt the Shunt', as he was known.

The rivalry with Niki Lauda was not as pointed as the film Rush made out; Hunt and Lauda were on more friendly terms,

"Having watched the Rush film, looking back James and Niki were quite good friends and use to come into each others' garages," Reeder said. "It was the same for a number of drivers, it was fairly friendly. But we expected to win races. But we lived race to race and there was no sense of a championship that we were going to challenge for. After the British GP Niki was a long way ahead, then it all changed."

The final race at Fuji was very dramatic, Lauda withdrawing because he couldn't see properly with his eyes having been damaged in the fire at Nurburgring. Hunt finished third to clinch the title by a single point.

"There was a great celebration and there was a pyramid of beer cans in our room the morning afterwards," said Reeder. "All the other teams came and as most teams were only made up of a few dozen guys, everyone was there celebrating with us."

Dave Ryan

"He was the last of an era," said Dave Ryan (above), now team director of Manor Grand Prix team. "He was brilliant in our car that year and he had a lot of fun out of it. I remember going to his flat and he had no agenda, he was happy to cook for us and have a few drinks for no other reason than to be together. He was great company to be with."

"A lot of people got into motor racing because of him. He had a lot of charisma and did lots of TV and so on. He told it how it was.

"He brought an element of the flamboyant playboy thing to us and I think a lot of teams were envious of us, having this guy who was liked and who did all sorts of outrageous things. He certainly had a full life. Modern drivers are never going to be able to do the things he did.

McLaren

Award winning writer Maurice Hamilton has produced a new book about Hunt and McLaren has issued a series of commemorative posters (above, click to enlarge), which can be ordered from the McLaren online store

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