Good Lord... The remarkable tale of Hesketh Racing

When you succeed to a baronetcy shortly before your fifth birthday and inherit a 3,200-acre estate, complete with its own racecourse, the odd village and Hawksmoor-designed stately home, one's idea of 'normal' must be somewhat different from that of most other people...

Hesketh met a young driver called James Hunt who was struggling to find work

It's little wonder, then, that 22-year-old Lord Alexander Fermor-Hesketh proved entirely amenable when, during a society wedding, he met a kindred spirit called Anthony 'Bubbles' Horsley who suggested he set up (and pay for) a Formula Three racing team in order to give them both something to do at the weekends.

So, in 1972, Hesketh Racing was formed with the large and ebullient Hesketh as 'team principal' and Horsley as its not especially brilliant 'pilota'. The duo quickly attracted a few similarly well-bred kindred spirits - the van driver was Charles Lucas, grandson of the architect of London's Albert Hall; catering was by Tom Benson, a successful Chelsea restaurateur, and Christopher Simon Sykes (later a top society photographer) captured the whole, jolly affair on film.

A fateful meeting

For several months, they travelled Europe's race circuits with great enthusiasm but little actual success. Until, that is, Hesketh met a young driver called James Hunt who was struggling to find work, having established a reputation as a somewhat reckless crasher of racing cars. Other than that, the dashing and mischievous ex-public schoolboy had the perfect credentials for a position with Hesketh Racing - and, in no time at all, he and Horsley had written off both Hesketh's F3 machines.

The team subsequently upgraded to Formula Two and then, reasoning that he was spending so much money in racing's lesser leagues, Hesketh suggested a move to Formula One - which would, surely, be even more fun?

Hesketh's Racing's first F1 outing proper took place at the Monaco Grand Prix with a March. The team chose a Rolls-Royce Corniche and a Porsche Carrera as runarounds to get them to and from the track, with relaxation taking place off-shore on Hesketh's 162-foot yacht Southern Breeze - which was suitably well stocked with champagne and good-looking women.

An unrepeatable upsurge

Oh, how the opposition laughed back at the track, as Hesketh bumbled about in his bespoke white suit and Hunt prepared for the race by being sick as a result of nerves. But Hesketh Racing was taken a bit more seriously when Hunt drove the Surtees to sixth place before retiring with a blown engine. He then scored a point at the French GP, took fourth at the British, third at the Dutch and second in the U.S.

Flushed with success, Hesketh Racing developed its own car, the Hesketh 308, in which Hunt took three third places during the '74 season before going on to his historic victory in the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort to finish the Championship in fourth place.

But, just as the fairytale seemed to have come true, sponsor-free Hesketh Racing ran out of F1-style money. Hunt went off to McLaren and the rest, of course, is history - the sort that can never, ever be repeated.

Photos: Getty/Rex Features

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