'Fearless' Freddie Hunt on his father James, fame and pushing the racing limits
Tempus interviews risk-loving Porsche driver Freddie on what he’s inherited from his champion father James Hunt and why he swapped the saddle for the driver’s seat
As the son of 1976 Formula 1 World Champion James Hunt, Freddie Hunt is used to the pressures and privileges that come with being part of a true racing legacy. And although he says that sense of burden is something that never goes away for any sportsman, he has developed a unique way to handle the expectations of his fans – and of his own need for speed.
“Initially it was hard to prove myself,” he tells Tempus. “Being my dad’s son did offer certain privileges at first – when I started driving I went straight into a top team. But there were also some incredible pressures and expectations, people watching me and asking, ‘well, is he any good?’
“I didn’t managed it very well initially. Even now I sometimes still feel that pressure, and every race is a battle. It’s very much a mental thing. But you have to approach each race like a personal trial and forget that it means something more. It’s easier said than done, though,” he laughs.
Although Freddie first planned to pursue a polo career, an unexpected benefit of swapping the saddle for the driver’s seat has been how much he has since learned about his infamous father James, who died of a heart attack in 1993, when Freddie was just four years old and his older brother, Tom, was seven.
“I started really learning about dad when I began driving 10 years ago and started meeting people who knew him,” says Freddie. “Hearing a wild new story every time, from people who were close to dad or worked with him, that’s really nice. I’m still learning more and more about him as time goes on – and nothing could surprise me!”
Through their stories, Freddie also discovered some of the traits he inherited from James and his mother, Sarah Lomax, who died after a battle with breast cancer in 2014. “I’m a lot like them both in different ways,” he says. “I definitely get my risk-taking from my dad.
“Even a kid I was reckless – I was nicknamed Fearless Fred,” he laughs. “I’ve never really approached things thinking about what the consequences might be. I did push the car very hard and had quite a number of heavy shunts when I was younger, but now I’ve been in hospital enough times to learn. I suppose that does help me find the limits of what I should do – and then go over them!”
Like Formula 1 stars Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button, Freddie began his racing career in the Formula Ford Series in 2007. A decade later, the 30-year-old has found his own track in grand touring endurance racing, driving with Porsche in this year’s GT4. Freddie’s ultimate aim? Le Mans.
“At first it was unrealistic for me to get into Formula 1, but it’s actually become rather dull, I think,” Freddie says. “It turns out endurance racing is much more me – every race feels like a test of your skills and having more than one person in the car means it’s far more of a team effort, which I like.”
Freddie’s entrance into the world of endurance racing could be described as serendipity for the then-aspiring polo star. “I’d never seriously considered becoming a racing driver before visiting the Goodwood Festival of Speed one year,” he explains. “The night before, I had sat down and finally made the decision about what to do with my polo career – we were running out of money and my ponies were getting old so I had decided to sell them.
“12 hours later at Goodwood, someone suggested I get in a car and have a drive, and as soon as I sat in that car I knew I wanted to try my hand at professional racing,” he says. “There is certainly a similarity of skill. I’ve noticed that people who ride horses professionally but have no experience driving are always faster on the track than others. I think a lot of it is understanding the feel of whats under you, having that balance. They say a driver has got to have a good bum, because you feel the car through the seat. Horse riding is the same.”
Freddie’s latest project is a collaboration with Omologato, honouring his father with a stylish limited edition watch featuring his classic red, yellow and blue stripes on mechanical black watch-face. The striking design was a collaboration between the racer, Tom and Omologato founder Shami Kalra. “What makes something truly luxurious is it’s exclusivity and the personal meaning it has for you,” says Freddie of the watch. “I’d never helped design anything to this extent, so it was great to get so hands on. I think my dad would have loved it.
“Timepieces and racing are a really natural partnership, because racing is all about split second timing. At its simplest, it’s about getting round the circuit as quickly as possible, down to the last millisecond. That’s the link right there.”