For The Hell Of It
Until the 2013 movie Rush many of F1’s new
generation of enthusiasts had probably
never heard of Hesketh Racing. But for
those who love a story of triumph over adversity
and fun before conformity Hesketh provides the
perfect template, and proof that once upon a time
in F1 anything was possible.
Lord Thomas Alexander Fermor-Hesketh was born
into one of the richest families in England. Following
the premature death of his father in 1955 Hesketh
aged just five, became the third Baron Hesketh.
Educated at Ampleforth, Hesketh then travelled
to San Francisco for a stint as a trader in the stock
market before returning to England to run the
Most motor racing teams are born from engineering
expertise or automotive heritage and not from a
doodle on a postcard, unless you are an eighteen
year old Lord looking for something to play with. But
the crash helmet and Union Jack which Lord Hesketh
doodled onto the teddy bear that featured on a
postcard he had received, became the inspiration
behind a new team.
The newly formed Hesketh Dastle team entered
Formula 3 in 1972. Hesketh and his best friend
Anthony ‘Bubbles’ Horsley joined with the intention of
partying around the world whilst doing a bit of racing.
Bubbles had been in and around the sport for several
years and was the team’s only driver. Although no
great shakes behind the wheel Bubbles was, to say the least, a resourceful character who earned
his living through a variety of revenue streams
including acting in TV commercials.
The Hunt is on board
More often than not Bubbles would crash the car
either in practise or during the race and eventually
both men agreed that for the team to progress they
had to find another driver. At Bubbles’ suggestion
they approached a driver who was known to them,
a driver whose career seemed to be going nowhere
and who, like Bubbles, had a reputation for writing off
cars, his name was James Hunt. With nothing to lose
Hunt was soon on board.
Several weeks later during the F3 British Grand Prix
at Brands Hatch the story of Hesketh Dastle came
to an abrupt end, Bubbles crashed his car during
practise and Hunt wrote his car off during the race.
Hunt was by no means finished and approached the
then March team director Max Mosley for the loan
of an old F2 March chassis, Mosley obliged. Hunt’s
prayer to the “Good Lord” – Hesketh was answered
with the funds to purchase a Ford DBA engine. The
team were back in business only now as an F2 outfit.
At this point Bubbles decided to quit driving and
instead manage the team.
Having failed in F3, remarkably the team prospered
better in F2. Hunt finished in the points twice even
taking a creditable third place at Oulton Park vying
for the lead with the March cars of Ronnie Peterson
and Niki Lauda. This reversal of fortune convinced
Hesketh to mount a full-scale assault on the
1973 European F2 Championship with a new car
a Surtees TS15.
Le Patron, Superstar, Bubbles and The Doc
But no sooner had the chequered flag been waved in the first race at Mallory Park and the team had
a problem. Although Hunt was fastest of the Ford powered
cars he was so far behind the March BMW
cars it was obvious a season-long struggle lay ahead.
Hesketh’s solution was typical; if the team weren’t
going to win in F2 then they would try in F1!
After another visit to Max Mosley the team took
delivery of a new car, a Cosworth DFV powered
March 731. Hesketh now had an F1 car but nobody
in the team had the required know-how to develop it. Moseley unwittingly supplied this knowledge as
Hesketh poached Dr Harvey Postlethwaite a young
engineer at the March team. The name of Hesketh
was entered into the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix.
When Hesketh rocked up at Monaco it’s fair to say
that F1 had never before seen anything quite like
it. Dressed in matching kit emblazoned with their
nicknames, sipping champagne served by butlers
and scantily clad women, the team certainly didn’t
endear themselves to their fellow competitors or F1’s hierarchy. As for the nicknames, Lord Hesketh was
known as ‘Le Patron’, Hunt was ‘Superstar’, Horsley
was, of course, ‘Bubbles’ and Postlethwite ‘The Doc’.
Playboys on a mission
The day of the race and fresh from partying on
Hesketh’s 192-foot yacht the team arrived at the
track in typical style – a Rolls Royce Corniche and
a Porsche Carrera. Yet underneath all the bravado
Hesketh were deadly serious about their intent, they
wanted to win races and shake up the dull world of
F1 by introducing a sense of fun at the same time. Hunt finished ninth out of twenty six drivers.
Hunt secured the team its first World Championship
point finishing sixth in the next race, the French Grand
Prix. Hunt’s finish was all the more astonishing as he
drove for half of the race without an airbox, which
had flown off the car mid lap. The real breakthrough
came at Silverstone, Hunt, his car newly fitted with
a conventional March airbox, took fourth place just
3.4 seconds behind winner Peter Revson. A series of
crashes and retirements followed but at the final race
of the season Hunt finished second just 0.7 seconds behind the Lotus of Ronnie Peterson. Hunt finished
eighth in the Drivers World Championship with
14 points, the only March driver to score any points.
Even with points on the board Hesketh were still
viewed by many within F1 as a bunch of playboy
racers who didn’t take the sport seriously. However,
back at team HQ, Postlethwaite was busy designing
the Hesketh 308 the team’s first own-built car. When
F1 assembled at Buenos Aires for the 1974 season
the new car still wasn’t ready so Hunt raced in the
March and promptly introduced it to the scenery. Driving the heavily repaired March things improved
during the next race in Brazil, which saw Hunt finish
in ninth position.
Staying on track
The Hesketh 308 finally made its debut at the Race
of Champions a non-championship points F1 race
at Brands Hatch. To the delight of the crowd Hunt
claimed pole position, but wet conditions on race day
saw the driver drop steadily down the field before
retiring with handling problems. In South Africa Hunt
was plagued as early as lap three with gearbox
issues and retired, but followed this with tenth place in Spain. At Spa in Belgium Hunt crashed on lap forty
five and was forced to retire.
When the Hesketh yacht moored up in Monaco
the party had well and truly started. To make sure
that the party spread to the track Hesketh installed
a grand piano at the back of the pit garage, win or
lose there was always an appropriate song. Hunt put
the disappointment of Belgium behind him finishing
in twelfth place, not bad for a driver who had been
partying until 3am on race day.
The remainder of the season was a mixed bag for the
Hesketh team, Hunt followed Monaco with third place
in Sweden, failed to finish in both France and Holland
due to collisions, suffered mechanical problems in
Britain and Italy, finished fourth in Canada and sixth
in the United States. By the final reckonings Hunt
was eighth in the Drivers Championship, the team
finished sixth in the Constructors Championship.
Make a small fortune by starting with a big one
A season of fluctuating fortunes had served to spur
Hesketh on; the team had high hopes of securing
their maiden F1 victory when the cars lined up for
the first round of the 1975 season in Buenos Aires.
Hunt started in third position but soon found himself
leading, the Doc’s tweaks to the 308 were now
paying dividends. Eventually Hunt would have to
settle for second place behind Emerson Fittipaldi,
but Hesketh, still regarded as upstarts had laid down
The team were in the points again in Brazil and but
for a fuel pump issue would have placed well in
South Africa. Hesketh’s fortunes however took a turn
for the worse over the next five races; Hunt crashed
in Spain, Monaco and Britain, suffered transmission problems in Belgium and brake failure in Sweden.
Money was now fast running out forcing Hesketh to
introduce an economy drive, gone were the yacht,
helicopter and Rolls-Royce, this was now a team that
needed results to pay the wages. Lord Hesketh was
now fully aware of the time-honoured maxim that if
you want to make a small fortune in motor racing it’s
best to start with a big one.
Dutch courage pays off
Circuit Zandvoort is situated in the north of Holland
and has hosted motor racing since 1948. When F1
rolled into the beach resort for the 1975 Dutch Grand
Prix the skies were blue. In need of a result Hunt put
the 308 through its paces to qualify in third place on
As race day dawned, the skies had turned grey and
by the time the teams arrived at the track it was
raining heavily. Whilst other teams worked feverishly
to modify the set ups of their cars, Hesketh’s crew
faced up to the stark reality that with the Doc now
back in England working on the next car, the C Type,
the team had nobody to adapt the car’s settings.
Hesketh, Bubbles and Hunt all agreed that they
should stick with dry settings but change to wet tyres.
Four laps into the race and Hunt, in fourth place,
pitted to change to slick tyres. What Hunt’s
fellow competitors and the eighty thousand
strong crowd didn’t realise was that Hunt had
discovered before anyone else in F1 that if the
rain is beginning to ease off there is a dry line
on the track, even on wet tyres. By lap fourteen
the track had progressively dried down and
following subsequent pit stops by other drivers
Hunt was now leading the race.
With twenty laps to go Hunt was still leading but the
Ferrari of Niki Lauda was now within a second of the
308. Lauda tried every trick in the book to force Hunt
into a mistake, but there was nothing he could do
to prevent Hunt from taking the chequered flag 1.06
seconds faster to claim his and Hesketh’s first Grand
Prix win. In Lord Hesketh’s own words “We went mad
to be perfectly honest”, the party was well and truly
The party's over
Hunt followed this extraordinary victory with second
place in France backed up by second, fifth and fourth
respectively in Austria, Italy and the United States.
These results propelled Hunt to a final position of
fourth in the Drivers Championship with thirty three
points. Hesketh occupied the same position in the
Constructors Championship. Despite this incredible
performance the money had now run out and
Le Patron was faced with the decision of finding
a sponsor or folding the team.
Hunt by now had made enough of the right moves
to attract the attention of McLaren who poached the
Hesketh driver, a move that would see Hunt famously
crowned Drivers Champion in 1976. The loss of Hunt
to the team and the prospect of losing his cherished
independent status was enough for Hesketh to close
the team down. The name of Hesketh would later
re-emerge on the V100, Lord Hesketh’s venture into
The biggest ‘little’ racing team in the world had
captured the public’s imagination. Scorned by F1’s
establishment, Le Patron, Superstar, Bubbles and the
Doc audaciously challenged the big boys and beat
them at their own game. It was, as they say, one hell
of a party.