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26 August 2013

Was James Hunt destined for Ferrari?

Luca di Montezemelo reveals how Hunt nearly signed for Maranello in place of Lauda…

Vijay Pattni
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It's one of life's great ‘what ifs': what if James Hunt had signed for Ferrari in the 1970s?

Well, it could have been thus, had the planets aligned all those years ago. Ferrari president Luca di Montezemelo has revealed that when he was anointed sporting director for the Scuderia in '73, he was tasked with turning the team's fortunes around (they hadn't won a drivers' title since Surtees in 1964).

"We needed to put all the parts of the jigsaw into the right places," Luca said, "and we needed to turn over a new leaf, starting with the drivers, relying above all on youngsters."

And a certain pair of drivers popped into the equation; titans of the mid-70s who form the basis of upcoming movie Rush. "Then there were two names on the way up: Niki Lauda and James Hunt. We tried to take the Englishman and I organised a meeting at Maranello between Ferrari and Lord Hesketh, the owner of the team with which he was racing and who considered him a protégé.

"But it was like putting the devil and holy water together, and nothing came of it. So I pushed Ferrari to sign that young Austrian." And the rest, as they say...

Lauda was welcomed into La Familia, partnering Clay Regazzoni - an old friend of Ferrari's - to form a duo that matched Regazzoni's ‘enthusiasm and love of life', to Lauda's ‘determination' and supernatural ability to set up the car. You know how the rest of the history pans out - the title escaped Ferrari in 1974, but they took both the driver's title and constructer's title in 1975, in front of the home crowd at Monza.

Of course, 1976 was that year, and one which Montezemelo remembers painfully. "When I arrived at the hospital in Mannheim that Sunday 1 August 1976, I could sense the fear on the faces of the doctors that he wasn't going to make it. But he [Niki] never gave up, and 40 days later, he was back on the track. In Formula One you can never lower your guard so we had already thought of the future and the possibility of a Scuderia without Lauda, by hiring Reutemann. It was difficult to explain the choice to Niki but the interests of Ferrari, then and now, always came ahead of those of the drivers, whoever they may have been. [*cough, Alonso, *cough]

"I wasn't at Fuji on October 24, when Lauda quit a race that, probably, shouldn't even have been run. That was an understandable decision, which gave the title to Hunt, with whom I'd maintained a good relationship during those years, but for Ferrari it was hard to swallow."

Still, Luca looks back fondly on those early years. "My first four years with Ferrari, from 1973 to 1977, will always be unforgettable. It was the chance to work with an extraordinary person like Enzo Ferrari and to get to know people with whom I built a relationship based on respect and affection, such as Niki Lauda." Just check out that classic 70s pic of Luca and Lauda, above.

So there you have it, Hunt could have sported the Rosso Corsa of Ferrari. What's your take on this little nugget, TopGear.commentariat?

Tags: rush, f1, formula one, niki lauda, james hunt, ferrari

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