Boy racer: Tag Heuer Limited Edition James Hunt chronograph
On the anniversary of his father's F1 win, Freddie Hunt talks about following in his footsteps and the new watch created in his honour
If he looks familiar, it's because he looks like his dad. Freddie Hunt, the son of F1 star James, has his father's shaggy blond locks and wry smile. He is also a racing driver, although in Euro Nascar rather than Formula One. Since the 2013 release of Ron Howard's film Rush, which dramatised the rivalry between Hunt and Austrian driver Niki Lauda and tells how Hunt won the Formula One World Championship in 1976, Freddie says interest in his dad's legacy has grown enormously. This has meant increased press attention, but also some nice opportunities, the latest of which is a project with Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer to create two new chronographs to commemorate the 40th anniversary of James's winning season.
Freddie was six years old when his father died, so does he remember him? "Yeah, I do. Unfortunately, the memories are fading, but I've still got some there." He recalls his dad's alsatian, Oscar - "He was the only dog allowed on Sunningdale golf course; they went everywhere together" - and how his father had a special bowl for the "mountain of spag bol that he always used to eat". There are hints too of the playful, devil-may-care attitude his father seemed to epitomise in "how dad nearly burnt down the garden once when he made a bonfire too big and a silver birch tree caught fire". But although Freddie also remembers being taken to Silverstone with his brother, Tom, and hanging out in the hospitality bus while James commentated, he admits it took a while for him to understand the way his father was viewed by motor-racing fans.
"I suppose it wasn't until I started racing that I realised the gravity of who he was," he says. "I mean, I knew he'd won the World Championship, but I didn't realise how loved and how famous he was."
Until the age of 19, Freddie had no interest in becoming a racing driver. His chosen sport was polo. "Horses were always my life; mum was from a horse-racing background so naturally I was brought up around them. I actually became a professional polo player at 16 – that's what I was intending to do. Then I came to the Goodwood Festival of Speed as a spectator and someone asked if I wanted to jump in and have a go. It was a touring car – a Maserati GT. I said, 'Yeah, great – I'd love to,' and the bug bit, as they say."
So, what happened? "I did the hill climb at the Festival of Speed in front of 200,000 spectators with no racing licence. I'd only had my driving licence for a few weeks. I loved it – 400HP of Maserati. Amazing." So he called up Uncle Dave, his "dad's little brother", and told him he wanted to become a racing driver. "He said, 'Ring me back in a week if you're still serious'. So I did. He helped me raise the money for my first season, in British Formula Ford, and got me started."
That was in 2007 and since then, Freddie has made endurance racing his thing. A drive at Le Mans is an ambition, alhough, at the moment, Euro Nascar is where he plies his trade. Strangely, in a storyline that could inspire a sequel to Rush, he finds himself in the same team as Mathias Lauda, Niki's son. Is there friction between them? "No – he's a great guy, we have a lot of fun together," says Freddie. "There's no rivalry as of yet, although I hear he keeps an eye on my lap time, making sure I'm not getting too close. He's more consistent than me at the moment, but when I do pop in a few quick lap times, he says, 'I hope you're not doing that every lap.'". He's also a fan of Mathias's dad: "Yes, he's non-executive chairman of the Mercedes Formula One team and still working away. Also a really nice guy."
So does Freddie think he's like his father? People must compare them, purely on the grounds of family resemblance and the fact he is, after all, a racing driver. "I suppose a lot of people do try and compare me to my father. But I like to think the people who know what they're talking about don't compare me to him on the track because of my lack of experience," he says. "You know, had I started when I was a young lad and had funding behind me, then it would be a viable comparison. But at the moment it's not. I like to think people who actually understand racing – the people who count – don't make that comparison. Personality-wise, that's a different story – we are pretty similar."
In what way? "I'm very competitive, like he was. I don't like losing at all. Also, I get told off for speaking too openly about things." Plus both father and son are big animal lovers – Freddie has a Jack Russell and keeps chickens, while James had Oscar the alsatian and kept budgerigars.
So, regarding these new Tag Heuer watches, does Freddie wear a timepiece himself? "I haven't worn a watch for a while. I was given four watches for Christmas when I was 13 years old and by the following Christmas, I had lost every single one of them. I think that was because, when I was about 14 or 15, I got my first mobile phone so I always had the time on me. But now I very much enjoy wearing the limited-edition Tag Heuer watch. It feels a bit like growing up." He likes the workings of watches, he says: "The precision of the mechanics – that's what's really interesting to me." One of his hobbies is long-distance precision target-shooting. This involves "making a bullet from scratch – not the cartridge from scratch, but you reload it and once that cartridge has been fired, you need to resize it. We're talking down to the half of a thousandth of an inch so it's the same sort of precision as building a watch. I find it fascinating."
When Tag Heuer presented the timepiece designs to Freddie and his brother, both custodians of the James Hunt estate, Freddie says they thought they were "spot on" and made only one or two minor changes.
"The way they've incorporated Dad's colours – red, blue and yellow – is pretty cool. They come from his helmet – they're originally the Wellington colours, which was Dad's school. I use the same on my helmet today. One of the watches has the colours on one side of the strap and both have his name and signature on the back. And obviously, because they're chronographs, they look very racy and very sporty."
The Tag Heuer James Hunt Limited Edition chronograph, in an edition of 1,000: £1,150 on NATO strap, £1,300 on steel bracelet; tagheuer.com