Most people who recall 1976 do so for its appallingly hot summer, when parks turned brown and roads melted. Some will also remember that the celebrity culture throve then as now and that none was more celebrated than James Hunt, Formula One world champion. He was even more celebrated than that most famous soap opera, the marriages of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; Hunt, who had a natural gift for celebrity, contrived to yoke theirs to his by handing his wife to Burton, who divorced Taylor to marry her. The two men remained good friends.
A few others will remember 1976 for the nature of Hunt’s triumph that year, his dual with the reigning world champion, Niki Lauda, and his last second victory by one point. Although much of Tom Rubython’s In the Name of Glory (Myrtle, £14.95) documents its heroes’ off-track activities, it acknowledges their racing achievements too. The judgments seem sound, particularly with regard to the character differences that shaped their careers. Lauda’s single-minded determination gave him early success and a longer career, while Hunt was essentially a playboy with a touch of genius, who came from nowhere to win with a candour and bravado that were as integral to his image as his trademark jeans, T-shirt and bare feet. 1976 was his year; he never did it again and the wonder is that that he lived to 45, when his heart got him.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated January 14, 2012Tags: Bookends, Formula One, Motor Sport