Niki Lauda vs. James Hunt the epic 1976 Formula 1™ season.
henry_the_podiumist_Niki Lauda battled in vain with his ill-handling Ferrari 312B3 to hold off third placed James Hunt Hesketh 308, eventually succumbing to transmission failure on lap 70. Swedish Grand Prix, Scandinavian Raceway, Anderstorp, 9 June 1974. Credit : www.sutton-images.com
Niki Lauda battled in vain with his ill-handling Ferrari 312B3 to hold off third placed James Hunt Hesketh 308, eventually succumbing to transmission failure on lap 70. Swedish Grand Prix, Scandinavian Raceway, Anderstorp, 9 June 1974. Credit : www.sutton-images.com

Niki Lauda vs James Hunt

New film Rush – release date 20th September – tells of the thrilling rivalry in the 1976 Formula 1™ season, where two dramatically different racing champions were pitted against one another: Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Looking back, who’s the outright winner?

henry_the_podiumist_Nikki Lauda vs James Hunt - Illustration Stephane Manel
Nikki Lauda vs James Hunt - Illustration Stephane Manel

Trophies

In six F1 seasons, James Hunt managed to win the Grand Prix ten times, including six victories in 1976, the year when he took the championship from Niki Lauda.
Niki Lauda had way more trophies on his mantelpiece, though: in 13 seasons, he chalked up 25 victories plus three World Championships in 1975, 1977 and 1984.

Verdict: Niki Lauda wins this category hands down.

Style

James Hunt stood out on the racetrack with his hot temper and charismatic personality, much loved by the public. ‘Hunt the Stunt’ lived up to his nickname off-track, too, racking up (as legend has it) almost 5,000 notches on his bedpost. Legend has it that 33 of these were British Airways air hostesses, who he managed to pack into the single week of preparation for the Japanese Grand Prix, where he took the title.
Niki Lauda was nicknamed The Computer for his methodical, disciplined approach. His appalling accident in 1976, when half his face was badly burned, would have put any other driver out of action for months; not Lauda. A mere six weeks later, the Austrian was back behind the wheel of his Ferrari defending his title. One of his classiest moves was to pull out of the Japanese race after two laps, claiming weather conditions were too dangerous – thus effectively giving away the title. He won the championship back the following year.

Verdict: Two very different styles, both equally fearless – this one’s a draw.

henry_the_podiumist_(L to R): Niki Lauda talks to James Hunt. Belgian Grand Prix, Rd 7, Zolder, Belgium, 5 June 1977. Credit : www.sutton-images.com
(L to R): Niki Lauda talks to James Hunt. Belgian Grand Prix, Rd 7, Zolder, Belgium, 5 June 1977. Credit : www.sutton-images.com

Appearance

James Hunt’s idea of dressing up was a clean T-shirt to go with his tattered jeans; when he signed for McLaren at the beginning of the 1976 season, he even refused a clause requiring him to wear a suit for sponsorship events with the team.
Following his accident, Niki Lauda always wore a baseball cap to cover up the burns on the right side of his face and skull. Never one to miss a trick, he even hired out the advertising space above his forehead to sponsoring brands.

Verdict: James Hunt, wild at heart.

henry_the_podiumist_James Hunt with three women with Goodyear connections. Formula One World Championship, United States Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, USA, 5 October 1975. Credit : www.sutton-images.com
James Hunt with three women with Goodyear connections. Formula One World Championship, United States Grand Prix, Watkins Glen, USA, 5 October 1975. Credit : www.sutton-images.com

Post-Career

The Brit retired at 32, going on to mentor young drivers – notably Gilles Villeneuve – and becoming one of the BBC’s two Formula One commentators for 13 years. Always opinionated, he was even more outspoken here than in the paddock. He died at 46 of a heart attack, two days after commentating on the 1993 Canadian GP.
Niki Lauda first gave up F1 in 1979 to start his own airline, Lauda Air. Following his second retirement from racing in 1985, he worked as an adviser to Ferrari where he was responsible for recruiting Jean Todt and he went on to become non-executive Chairman of the Mercedes Grand Prix in 2012.

Verdict: Although Niki Lauda may seem to be a dreamer, he’s lived and breathed Formula One™ all his life.

henry_the_podiumist_Niki Lauda  Brabham BT48 Argentinean Grand Prix, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 21 January 1979. Credit : www.sutton-images.com
Niki Lauda Brabham BT48 Argentinean Grand Prix, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 21 January 1979. Credit : www.sutton-images.com

Conclusion

James Hunt gets the trophy for panache, style and women, but Niki Lauda is the walking embodiment of F1 through his wins and through the scars he bears on his face – a constant reminder of the risks he took.
The ultimate winner, then, is the baseball-capped Austrian who in 2013 is still doing the rounds of the paddocks, signing up young talent (Hamilton for Mercedes in 2012) and shooting down his peers.

Par Gino Delmas