Book Review: James Hunt (Gerald Donaldson)

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Donaldson’s build-up and brilliant insight into Hunt’s life makes this an outstanding piece.
Unfortunately, I found the early chapters of the book to be a bit slow. Hunt’s early career wasn’t brilliant – but perhaps that’s what makes him such an intriguing character. Donaldson provides great (previously unknown to me) information about his early life and his early escapades in motor sport. There’s a lot of funny stories in this one.

The book really sells itself from 1976 onward. The author has a brilliant way of conveying the excitement of motorsport and the passion involved onto the page. I honestly felt as if I knew James Hunt himself, such was the level of detail put into the book. You must read on if you buy the book and you’re not convinced after the first third. It gets better and better with every page.

Donaldson sets up the tragic final chapter of his life brilliantly. His ability to explain exactly how James was operating in the days before his death really was the high-point of the book. Everything within the biography – especially the final chapter – really opened my eyes and greatly enhanced my knowledge of the 1976 World Champion. The epilogue provides all the notable speeches from his funeral from people close to him – it’s really moving stuff.

The main issue I had with the book was in the second half. I don’t know if it was a printing issue with my book, but there were a number of typographical issues. Full stops were missing (Though you could tell where the new sentence began because a word would start with a capital letter), Jodie Scheckter was once spelt with a lower-case “j” and one paragraph started with “the 1997 season began with…” when it should have said “The 1977 season…”. Tiny errors, but they did disappointed me a little after a while.

Overall, the book is a great analysis of James Hunt’s complete life. It covers information from his early years to his untimely death, telling us about his racing life, his personal life (a few amusing sexual stories are briefly covered) and his less-published psychological issues that he battled throughout his life.

4/5

The following extracts is from a very early point in Hunt’s amateur career. His car was completely hand-made on a the shoestring budget he could supply earning £14 a week as a tea boy.

Eventually, to the chagrin of the Hunts’ neighbours, James was able to fire up the raucously rattling engine of the Mini. The distinctly second-hand racing tyres were bald when he got them, so he cut treads in them with a knife. He drove up and down the driveway and then, though the car was unlicensed, he took it out on the street.

It was quite breezy inside, since he couldn’t afford windows, and the passenger’s seat took the form of a canvas and aluminium deckchair borrowed from the Hunt lawn and bolted to the Mini’s floor with brackets from a Meccano set. Nevertheless, the car ran, the proud owner pronounced it raceworthy and made the final preparations to put it to the acid test

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Full of anticipation, and with the faithful Ping as his pit crew, James set out on his great adventure very early on a summer morning in 1967. They reached Snetterton without incident, but the Mini never made it out on to the track.

The race scrutineers found fault with the nearly bald tyres, being unconvinced by James’s insistence that the hand-cut tread pattern was a new secret weapon. The deckchair instead of a proper passenger seat was also against the rules but the main problems were the abbreviated axhaust system, which ended at the engine manifold, and the Mini’s naural air conditioning. James had seen no mention in the rulebook of windows being required, but the scrutineers said he couldn’t race without them.

‘I burst into tears,’ said James. ‘Two years of devotion and all for nothing! He needed windows in my car and I was 50 in debt. My whole world collapsed around me. I was a broken man’.

 

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