The long blonde hair, the red 24 and the James Hunt liveried helmet left many on-lookers feel they’d stepped back into the 1970s. Of course, they hadn’t. This was Freddie Hunt driving his father James’s Hesketh 308, but the close family resemblance meant that plenty of nostalgia buttons were being pressed. Not least for Freddie himself, for whom this had clearly been an emotional experience. ‘Does anyone have a cigarette?’ It’s the first thing on his mind after several high-speed laps of the Goodwood circuit in the Hesketh 308 raced in period by his father, James Hunt. ‘I’ve given up smoking, but I want a cigarette right now,’ he says, bottle of beer already in hand.
He has driven the car before, but the high-speed demonstration of high-airbox F1 car – which was free of a pace car – gave him his first opportunity to get some heat into the tyres and drive it in anger. His talk on the grid of taking it easy soon evaporated when he had the chance to get some heat into the tyres and really feel how the car reacts. When asked how it compares to the contemporary F2000 cars he races, the response is instant: ‘It’s a lot, lot faster.’ But it’s not all about straight lines speed. ‘You get so much more feedback than you do with a carbon fibre tub, and there’s a lot more grip than you’d think.’
So how hard was he pushing? As hard as he dared: ‘I was told that the first corner is flat on a dry day, but I didn’t try it. In a modern car I would have, just to see what happens, because I know if I hit the wall I’d be OK. But these older cars don’t have the safety.’ But he left on-lookers in no doubt that he was pressing on, using all the revs and leaning on the car when he could. ‘I would love to drive it again, and really get to know it.’ And race it? ‘That would be great, but it’s a big ask of the owner,’ he says. Today’s outing was only confirmed this morning…
You might be surprised to learn that Formula One isn’t Freddie’s ultimate goal – he has his eyes on the Le Mans 24-hour prize. He has recently signed with Tiga Racing to develop an LMP2 car, and will be racing in the Britcar 24-hour race later this year. He will also be racing in the Renaultsport Clio Cup this year, but will have to miss some races because of his commitments to Formula E for which he is an ambassador and spokesman.
But right now, he’s enjoying the moment in the Goodwood paddock, and eager autograph-hunters signal that my time with him is at an end.