F1 - Exclusive: Tommy Hunt talks RUSH, charity work,...
...and the now ‘infamous’ Raikkonen Monaco helmet debacle
Tommy Hunt, son of infamous 1976 Formula 1 World Champion James Hunt, has been thrown into the spotlight recently. If you are a fan of any era of Formula 1 racing, it is highly likely that you already know the name ‘Hunt’ and the probable reason as to why Tommy may be more recognised now than he has ever before.
But if you are new to all this F1 stuff, you may need a bit of a background. James Hunt raced in the Formula 1 World Championship from 1973 through 1979, making a series of attempted comebacks from ’79 to ’93. His most successful season was with Marlboro Team McLaren in 1976 when Hunt won six, and finished on the podium nine times over a 16 race calendar, enough to win him his Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship.
James Hunt died from a heart attack in 1993, prematurely ending his life at the age of 45. An extreme character, Hunt was known for his playboy lifestyle off the track and his racing skill on the circuit. A legacy that lives on to this day, Hunt was propelled further into fame when American film director Ron Howard (Happy Days, Apollo 13) immortalized the Hunt name by shooting the film ‘RUSH’ – an epic movie depicting the life of James Hunt in the 1970’s and his rivalry against three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda.
Since the announcement that RUSH would be made almost two years ago, one of James Hunt’s sons, Tommy, aged just seven when his father passed, has been busy looking after the family name whilst working to ensure the film, and everything else associated with his father’s legacy, was portrayed in the correct manner. But the movie RUSH has been just one of many things Tommy has been working on and with a lot of his personal time spent answering questions just on the movie, I wanted to get an insight as to what else is happening in Tommy’s life.
Little did I realise there would be so much for us to talk about, and just before RUSH premiered at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, Tommy and I talked RUSH, the Hunt legacy, charity work, and that Kimi Raikkonen Monaco helmet incident that everyone was talking about…
“From your perspective, there’s been the official launch of the movie RUSH now and the first reviews are starting to come in; it’s a very proud time for you I imagine. How has everything gone so far, seeing everything take off as quickly as it has?”
Tommy: “Pretty surreal to be honest and actually a long time coming. They’ve been making the movie for about two years now so it’s all kind of weird that it’s all here now and actually happening after so much time of them making it and planning it, but also the project that we’re doing; the Foundation and stuff. We’ve been gearing up for this, these few weeks, this month, for the last, well, over a year now so it’s pretty weird that its actually come around now and its actually happening.”
“Absolutely – and it [RUSH] seemed to get an overwhelming reception from the launch in London; a lot of people turned out and McLaren with a lot of support.”
Tommy: “Yes they did and one of the producers was saying to me that they hadn’t seen a premier that well attended since the last Batman film. It [RUSH] was a big big event and the amount of public that turned up for it was amazing, I couldn’t believe it.”
“Yes, the publicity for the film and the build up to it was stunning, and I personally think Monaco (Grand Prix) had a big part of it; Kimi Raikkonen’s helmet was quite a big thing, PR stunt or not, it certainly did what everyone was hoping and that was to make a lot of talk about the movie just in the build-up to the launch.”
“Well that wasn’t actually, you know the helmet had nothing to do with the movie?”
“I didn’t really know but if you have an insight into it for me, please tell me a little more about it.”
Tommy: “Well that was between Kimi and I really because we launched the official James Hunt website that weekend because it was the fortieth anniversary of Dad’s debut Grand Prix. So I called up Kimi and explained about the project and explained what we were doing and the clothing collection and the Foundation, told him we were launching the website and that we were having our first PR announcement that weekend because of the date, and I said ‘would you mind maybe wearing your replica again like you did last year?’. He said ‘no I don’t want to wear the same one again – send me your artwork from your clothing collection and I’ll put that on it.’ So that’s where that came from.
I think FOM had a problem with it because they thought it was something to do with RUSH, which of course it wasn’t at all. But that just added to the hype around it, which was brilliant for us.”
“That’s an interesting insight as the whole ‘scandal’ was almost kept in the dark. And as I said, whether it was PR for the movie or not, it certainly acted as PR for the movie so I think it had a huge benefit.
But perhaps we can talk a little bit about the movie itself. Having a Director such as Ron Howard, who is highly acclaimed and has done some pretty spectacular films including Apollo 13 or the Da Vinci Code, my question would be that Ron Howard is very much an American film director and likes to put an ‘American’ touch on his films; they have that little bit of extra ‘bite’ to keep the audience captivated. So from your perspective having seen the film, how well has Ron Howard captured it, and how well as he made it look along the lines of your fathers actual life without so much of the American flare on top of it?”
Tommy: “It’s a tough one to answer. I think he’s got the balance pretty well right to be honest. It’s not a direct, exact account of Dad’s, and Niki [Lauda]’s, life during that year or the years building up to it. But it is pretty good and I think you’re right by saying it has that kind of ‘American’ touch to it, which of course I think most films need something like that to make them successful in the biggest market, and that is the US market. So I think the balance is pretty good to be honest with you and I think overall he (Ron Howard) has done a really really good job.”
“Just speaking of American balance and getting RUSH to take off as a film, obviously America is a key area – how well do you think this movie will help not only shed light on what a fantastic and impressive person your father was and the life that he had, but also for the sport of Formula 1; it has struggled in North America and particularly in the USA, what is this film going to do towards that going forward?”
Tommy: “Interesting one. I think it’s hard to tell, it all depends on how popular the film is really. I think that it’s obviously going to open people’s eyes to F1 back in the seventies and even before. It might encourage people to start reading up on that sort of stuff. It might spark a new interest for Americans in Formula 1 but I think, I think when Ron was asked why it’s not so popular in the USA, I think he narrowed it down to there being that most of the Grands Prix are in the middle of the night, there’s only one Grand Prix in the US, and he reckons that if F1 wants to get big in the States they’re going to need two, three or four each year because it is such a vast country.
Out of the whole season, there’s only three or four Grands Prix that are ‘normal’ watching hours for Americans at the moment, otherwise people are staying up late to watch them live. SO maybe the film will spark more of an interest and as a result of that maybe there will be one or two more US Grand Prix and maybe it will grow, but it’s pretty hard to say.”
“So going forward, I’m sure you’ve spent a lot of time speaking about the key figure here which is your father, but first of all just a quick run by – how much conversation, how much influence has Niki Lauda had on this film and how much have you been conversing with him? What are his views on the film now that it is out? Was he a key part of it or was he a side-step to your father being the main focus?”
Tommy: “I haven’t spoken to Niki about it to start with. I met him briefly on the red carpet on Monday night and that’s it. I know he’s had a fair amount of involvement, particularly helping with Daniel Brühl who plays him, and I know they spoke a lot. But he’s certainly more involved in the film than anyone from our family was. Other than that, I’ve no idea.”
“Ok – so on to yourself. Again, we’ve spent a lot of time (and I’ve sure you’ve spent most of your time talking about the film and your father) but what about you? What are you doing? You said you have spent two years building up to this. What are you up to, what are you doing day-to-day, and what are you doing going forward now that the film is out?”
Tommy: “Well because the film we announced and because we realised potentially how big it was going to be, we had to think carefully about preserving Dad’s image a little bit and making sure his legacy lives on in the right way. So we started talking about maybe launching a website and maybe launching a small collection of James Hunt clothing for example, which has never been done before by the family, there’s never been anything official out there. A couple of reasons for that – one was my uncle, one of my uncle’s controlled his estate and rights up until a couple of years ago and very much took a back seat on it and just protected it where it needed it. He didn’t do anything to make use of the name or exploit it in any way which is great and I thank him for that.
But we thought with this film coming out there could be plenty of people trying to just cash in on his name with the extra media around it and being brought back into the limelight for a few months. We thought the best way to police that and stop it being done in the wrong way would be to do it ourselves and see if we can do it to the best of our ability and just have a little bit of control over it.
It was a tough decision to make because I’ve always been very weary of being seen to be just trying to make money out of Dad’s name which is absolutely not what this is about. One of the ideas we came up with to show that was the launch the James Hunt Foundation as well. Each year we’re going to be raising money through our product sales and also some auctions and stuff we’ll be doing of various bits of artwork and other memorabilia. We’ll be raising money through this charity foundation which will be looked after by me, my brother and a couple of other trustees who we are going to appoint and then each year we’ll give the money to various charitable causes that firstly that Fred and I believe in, but also what we believe Dad would have wanted to support had he been around today.
We’ve been working on that for the last year or so. We’ve now got the first James Hunt Racing collection out and on the market. Our own online store went live yesterday on JamesHuntF1.com which is really exciting and it’s available in a couple of other places as well. But as I said: this for us is not just a short term thing, it’s not just catering for the film. We want to build a lasting brand and make sure that there are good quality products out there in memory of Dad for many years to come. So we’re already working on new collections for next year so it’s really exciting.”
“Great – and I just want to draw on what you were saying about keeping the legacy going. As a sport Formula 1 is going through drastic changes with engine regulations, teams are constantly changing, it’s not how it was in the older days and I think as well as the name being out there, one that fans hold on to, I think that having a lasting impression, a clothing line, is really impressive. I think that it is a great thing you are doing and I hope this carries well on into the future.”
Tommy: “Yes. Well I think going back to the whole legacy bit and how Formula 1 is changing; it was such a special time back then. I think everything pre-eighties was just so different. I think that everybody who has even the slightest interest in F1 loved looking back at those times because they were so much more colourful and almost glamorous in a way, and really because we all know that it will never ever be like that again; everybody gets a little sentimental around them. To be able to make sure that those memories are not going to be forgotten through doing something like this is really quite special.”
“I can certainly agree. And like you said, people wanting to hang on see everything that happened in the eighties and pre-eighties, I am particularly a huge fan of things like Goodwood Festival of Speed. I know you were there this year…“
Tommy: “That’s right we did a product launch there this year with McLaren.”
“Absolutely. And I think I remember seeing you there with Paul Oz and a couple other people I recognise. One of the main reasons that I travel halfway across the world specifically to get to something like Goodwood is to see those classic cars and be in touch with the things that I wasn’t even born for before so that’s a fantastic opportunity and keeping it going through something like Goodwood and some of the more vintage events I think is a great way of doing it because that is certainly, in my opoinion, a way that we will see the legacy go on for a very long time.”
Tommy: “Yes I think so. And you mentioned Paul Oz – we were there with him because we actually commissioned him to do a portrait of Dad to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death which was in June of this year. That painting is the first thing to be confirmed to go to auction where all the proceeds will go to the James Hunt Foundation, which is really exciting. We’re also hoping to use the two pieces of artwork done by Nicolas Hunziker – he’s the guy who has designed our clothing line which is inspired by two pieces of art which he did of Dad. It’s not confirmed yet, but that’s the kind of thing we’d like to go to the auction; the first of which we are looking at doing maybe early next year along with possibly one of Kimi’s helmets – either the one from this year or the one from last year. There is some really exciting stuff that could be in there.”
“Terrific – it certainly sounds like you have a lot on your plate going forward and I’m sure that the movie is just the start of everything. I appreciate you taking this time with me.”
Tommy: “My pleasure.”
RUSH is out in movie theatres around the world September 22nd 2013. More about the James Hunt Foundation, as well as the official online James Hunt store, can be found at http://www.jameshuntf1.com.