31 years ago, James Hunt left us… A look back at his coronation in Fuji in 1976

The McLaren driver was crowned in the confusion for a point against Niki Lauda (Ferrari) during a 1976 Japanese Grand Prix hit by the flood and marked by the courageous withdrawal of the Austrian.

Published on 15/06/2024 à 13:15

François Hurel

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31 years ago, James Hunt left us… A look back at his coronation in Fuji in 1976

James Hunt started on the front row at Fuji in 1976, alongside pole sitter Mario Andretti / © DPPI

When the F1 Circus discovers Japan and the Mount Fuji circuit, Niki Lauda, ​​back from hell after his terrible Nürburgring accident on August 1, 1976, is only three points ahead of his rival McLaren James Hunt.

For this decisive fight, the Austrian Ferrari benefits from a new suspension design intended to stem the problems encountered during the last races, which is insufficient to prevent Mario Andretti (Lotus) and Hunt from monopolizing the front row.

On the day of the race, Mount Fuji is invisible, the rain adding spice to a finish which already does not lack it. Should we run in these conditions? Most of the pilots are against it, but from discussion to discussion, the start is finally given with a considerable delay.

Lauda's courage

Let our special correspondent at the time, Jean-Jacques Renaux, tell us this: “ On the line, Hunt this time is the best. In the first corner, he is ahead of Watson and, on the other side of the circuit, he has already opened up a small gap: he has full visibility while behind, it is night. Each car raises a spray of water several meters long which it drags behind it like the tail of a comet. Everyone feels the way, digs into a wall of water. The cars zigzag, slide, catch up. »

Since his 3rd place, Lauda lost seven places in one lap, and at the end of the 2nd lap, he returned to his pit box and retired. Mauro Forghieri, historic technical director of the Scuderia, suggested that he raise a technical problem, but the driver preferred to accept his choice: “ It’s obvious, I started with victory in mind. But the track was really not in condition for a race. I'm going home », he will declare. This withdrawal does not necessarily deprive him of the title, and it is at the airport that he learns that he has lost it.

Hunt's Wrath

Despite tire problems, Hunt finished 3rd in a race won by Andretti's Lotus, on a track which dried out as the laps went by. For one point, the Briton is world champion. But he was not immediately aware of it due to the confusion that reigned after the GP. Thinking he had let the crown slip away by nothing, Hunt is furious with his boss Teddy Mayer, who has all the difficulty in the world to calm him down to confirm the good news.

Hunt is at the peak of his F1 career. He would add three new victories to his F1 record the following year with McLaren but would not be able to defend his crown against Lauda. The British playboy left the discipline in 1979 after a final freelance stint with Wolf.

Successfully converted to a role as a TV consultant where his outspokenness hit the mark, Hunt died of a heart attack at the age of 45 on June 15, 1993.

Relive this extraordinary 1976 Formula 1 season in its entirety in our Collector Niki Lauda, still available for sale on our digital platform.

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YVES CHAMPOD

15/06/2024 at 02:16 a.m.

James Hunt, and the pilots of the Era, no politics, straight talk, and enjoying Life, burning the candle at both ends, a whole Era, alas. . . gone! ? !

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