Can you imagine Ron Dennis or Sir Frank Williams allowing one of their current drivers, particularly a rookie, to sport a patch on their drivers uniform that reads “Sex-Breakfast of Champions”? If you’re a 25 year old, crash prone, playboy rookie named James Hunt and your team owner is a flamboyant, English millionaire, three years your junior, then you just might get away with it! Having already failed in both Formula 2 and Formula 3, F1 seemed the only logical place to go for Lord Hesketh’s team of eccentric outcasts.
When his father died at the age of 39, Thomas Alexander-Fermor Hesketh succeeded to the title of 3rd Baron Hesketh, in the county Palatine of Lancaster and also to the title of 10th Baronet Hesketh, of Rufford, county Lancaster …all at the age of 4. Much of the wealth he inherited had American roots. His grandfather, the 1st Baron Hesketh, had married the granddaughter of former U.S. Vice President John Cabell Breckinridge. Her mother’s father in turn, Lloyd Tevis, had been president of Wells Fargo & Company, as well as a business partner to George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst.
Some of Tevis & Hearst’s ventures included copper and gold mines, as well as a land company that owned a third of a million acres in California . Tevis was also founder of Pacific Coast Oil Company, from which Chevron Texaco would eventually evolve. These were actually just a few of Hesketh’s wealthy American relatives, with another even being a U.S. senator from Nevada . At six years old, Alex would own half of San Francisco ’s historic Palace Hotel. At 21, the young Lord would inherit an entire fortune.
And so, as one would do with more money that he knew what to do with, he went racing. Along with friend and driver Anthony ‘Bubbles’ Horsley, the two formed Hesketh Racing and took part in a handful of F3 events with Horsley behind the wheel. They needed a second driver and found a perfect fit in the form of James Hunt. Though he had a few wins in F3, James was better known for his nickname, ‘Hunt the Shunt’, having already written off many a car during his short racing career.
The 1972 season with Hesketh would prove no different, as the two pilots continued to crash cars. They bought a secondhand, overweight F2 Surtees, which, of course, was also crashed. Hesketh worked out that it wouldn’t be much more costly to simply move up from F2 to F1, so the team rented a Surtees TS9 for the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, in which Hunt managed to finish 3rd. The success prompted Hesketh to then purchase a March 731 for James, as well as to poach junior March designer Harvey Postlethwaite, and for ‘Bubbles’ to move to a position of team manager.
As he was opposed to sponsorship, the team was financed entirely out of Lord Hesketh’s pocket, with the car sporting a simple white paint job with blue and red stripes. Contrary to popular belief at the time, the team was not funded by way of Lord Hesketh’s vast inheritance. During the F2 & F3 days, Hesketh had bought a piece of coastal property off of Scotland for just under $4 million. When profitable offshore drilling began shortly thereafter, he was able to sale the land for almost four times the buying price.
The team made its first F1 appearance at the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix. In typical Hesketh Racing style, they arrived in the harbor via the Lord’s yacht. Hunt qualified 18th, but would move up to 5th place towards the end of the race. If it weren’t for his Cosworth failing five laps from the end, both Hunt and the Hesketh team would have finished in the points on their debut. As it was, they still managed to be classified in a respectable 9th.
Hesketh Racing garnered no respect from the regular F1 fraternity, however. In addition to the yacht, other extravagant Hesketh Racing effects included a pin striped Rolls Royce, a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter and an always ample assemblage of beautiful women following the team from race to race. ‘The Good Lord’, as Hunt christened Hesketh, attended each GP meeting adorned in overalls adorned with ‘Le Patron’ and the team celebrated the end of every race with champagne, regardless of their finishing position.
The team took part in a further six races during 1973, with phenomenal results. Hunt would finish 6th in their 2nd race, the French GP, 4th at the next race at Silverstone followed by a 3rd in Holland. They skipped Germany , Hunt retired in Austria and crashed out during practice for Italy. But following a strong 7th in Canada , James narrowly missed victory in the season ending USGP at Watkins Glen, finishing 2nd to Ronnie Peterson by less than a second. Hunt would finish 8th in the WDC. But as the team were not entered as a constructor, they did not place in the Constructor’s Championship. Had they been, they would have finished 5th, ahead of Ferrari!
For their second season, Postlethwaite would design an all new car, the Hesketh 308, with Hunt winning on its debut at the non-championship International Trophy race at Silverstone. Though not quite as successful as the previous year, Hesketh racing would finish sixth in the constructor’s championship by season’s end, with a trio of third place finishes and Hunt again finishing 8th in the 1974 driver’s standings.
1975 would prove to be the high point . 308s were sold to a couple of privateer teams and, for some races, second and even third cars were entered by Hesketh Racing for the likes of Alan Jones, Harald Ertl and Brett Lunger. Hunt would finish 2nd and 6th in the first two events before retiring from the next five. He would come back on form, however, claiming the team’s first and only Grand Prix victory in Holland , holding off Niki Lauda’s Ferrari by just over a second. At year’s end, both Hunt and the team would finish 4th in their respective season championships.
Early in 1976, Hunt would be lured away by McLaren to eventually win that season’s driver’s title. Having raced at the top level without sponsorship, Lord Hesketh had finally run out of money and decided to call it a day. Postlethwaite would take his upgraded 308C to the new Wolf team, while Horsley would continue running the existing team under the Hesketh name with a redesigned 308D. With as many as ten different drivers, including Rolf Stommelmen, Eddie Cheever and Derek Daly, Hesketh would never score another point, finally closing shop in 1978.
It could be said that only after F1 did Lord Hesketh’s life become interesting, if you call taking his rightful place in the House of Lords interesting, that is. After a chance meeting with Margaret Thatcher in 1984, Hesketh moved into politics, holding offices in Parliament, becoming a Minister of State in the Dept. of Trade and Industry and first Treasurer and then Chairman of the Conservative Party Foundation. Today he is a Privy Counselor with access to Queen Elizabeth II. Have I failed to mention his stint as nonexecutive chairman of British Mediterranean Airways, his being a principal in Air Astana, the presidency of the British Racing Drivers Club or his line of Hesketh Motorcycles? An eccentric man, indeed.