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Freddie Hunt: Life In The Fast Lane

We get up to speed with racing driver Freddie Hunt. This month sees him take part in the Silverstone Classic as part of a special tribute to his late father

Freddie Hunt is simultaneously everything and nothing like I expect him to be. Despite his impeccably groomed appearance in his recent TAG Heuer shoot – which highlighted the brand’s watch tribute to his late father (racing icon and TAG ambassador James Hunt) – Freddie, by his own admission, is not really the fashion type.

Well, that’s awkward, considering that my editor had specifically requested that this be the main focus of the interview. “So what are you wearing right now?” I open with, tentatively, trying not to sound as though I am attempting to engage him in some lame phone flirtation, but failing miserably. His answer is accompanied by a throaty chuckle. “A pair of jeans – that’s it.”

If there was ever a statement to throw a journalist completely off track, this is it.

Clearly, James’s son has inherited plenty of his father’s legendary charm, not to mention his skill behind a wheel, which goes without saying.

And that’s not all he has inherited, I soon learn after Freddie finally stops poking fun. “I’ve got a few of Dad’s old jackets and a medallion he used to wear, but I only wear them on special occasions – or for the odd fancy dress party. They’re a bit wacky.” He also remembers a particular pair of shoes that used to belong to his father, which Freddie sported constantly until they eventually wore out.

That’s the extent of our ‘fashion’ chat, though the subject of inheritance is something that’s never far from Freddie’s mind of late. He is soon to honour the 40th anniversary of his father’s Formula One World Championship victory by driving the same 1976 McLaren M23 in the Silverstone Classic this month. Contrary to the glamorous and voluptuary lifestyle one expects from your typical racing car driver, Freddie’s tastes turn out to be far simpler. “Dad wasn’t particularly materialistic, and neither am I,” he comments. “His luxury was spaghetti bolognese – he loved it. Mine is time spent with my friends in the countryside. I don’t really like crowds, or the hustle and bustle of the city. Being out in the wild is where I’m happiest.”

Off the track, Freddie’s passions include wildlife conservation and shooting. While this might sound contradictory, he quickly assures me that he is purely interested in long-range precision target shooting. “I’ve been fascinated with firearms since I was a child,” he says. His precious gun collection comes up again when I ask him what he would save first in a fire. “Along with my teddies, and a packet of fags”, he teases.

There’s something refreshingly down to earth about Freddie. While he is now racing professionally and will shortly compete in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series alongside Niki Lauda’s son, Mathias (thereby re-enacting their fathers’ famous Formula 1 rivalry), at 16 he was a professional polo player, and didn’t enter into the motorsport industry until he was 19. A tardy start given his father’s legacy and one that cost him his career in Formula One. “I started too late for that,” he admits. “I didn’t get the racing bug until I did the Hillclimb at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a 400bhp Maserati in front of 200,000 spectators.”

Freddie’s delayed entry onto the track was unconventional, but not unexpected.

A self-confessed adrenaline junkie even before he swapped horses for horsepower, Freddie Hunt has always had a need for speed.

“I had driven vehicles long before I passed my test, tearing around the farm on quad bikes,” he reminisces. “We had motorbikes when we were kids, and we would do time trials and racing laps around the garden. Even when I’m on a horse, I ride fast.”

Is he scared of anything, I wonder? “Bicycles,” he says, in a deadpan voice. “When you come off one of those, it hurts. I ride them slowly.”

Comparisons between Freddie and his World Championship-winning dad are perhaps inevitable given the physical resemblance between father and son, but Freddie insists that when it comes to racing at least, the similarities end there. “Personality-wise, my dad and I are pretty similar. But people who know about racing don’t compare me to him because of my lack of experience. Perhaps if I’d started racing as a young lad, it would have been a viable comparison. That said, I do believe I inherited my ability from him. 

"You breed two great racehorses because they’ve got good genes. If that’s hereditary, then why shouldn’t a talent for racing cars be too?”

As far as inheritance goes, there’s one thing Freddie definitely didn’t get from his dad – and he’s rather happy about it. “He was always late for everything,” he remarks, fondly. “The fact that he is being honoured with a watch [the Formula 1 James Hunt Limited Edition by TAG Heuer] is probably rather apt.” Freddie admits that it’s been some time since he wore a watch regularly (“I was given four for Christmas when I was 13, and by the following Christmas, I’d lost every single one”), but intends to make an exception for TAG’s latest creation, a watch that incorporates Hunt Senior’s racing colours (red, blue and yellow), along with his signature. “It’s a very elegant watch, and I’ll be proud to wear it.”

Reaching the end of our interview, I ask Freddie if he has any words of wisdom from his experience as a racing driver. “Try not to crash,” he advises, wryly. “It took me about 15 years of smashing myself to pieces before I actually worked out that maybe it’s not such a good idea to impact with things.” Well said, Freddie.

You can see Freddie driving in the James Hunt tribute at this year’s Silverstone Classic, 29-31 July, www.silverstoneclassic.com; www.tagheuer.co.uk