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Hesketh on Hunt, Ferrari and the 1970s Superbears

Article by Max Jaxon

Lord Hesketh and James Page

Above: photo courtesy of Max Jaxon

Lord Hesketh revealed the inside story of the 1970s Formula 1 team bearing his name at the inaugural Motoring Literary and Art Festival in December.

The story of Hesketh Racing is told in the book Superbears, which has become the fastest-selling book Porter Press has ever produced since its launch in 2023.

Hesketh made a bold entrance to the Formula 1 World Championship at the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix. The team had a rising star driver in James Hunt, but no sponsors and extremely limited resources.

The decision to replace their customer March with a brand new car designed by Harvey Postlethwaite for the 1974 season showcased their grit and determination. The journey had its challenges, but Hunt’s victory at the non-championship Silverstone International Trophy demonstrated the team's ability to deliver results.

The emergence of the Superbear logo, a yellow teddy bear wearing a white helmet branded with a union jack, added a unique touch to their brand. It reflected their youthful spirit and dedication to racing for Britain. The bear highlighted the fact that they were their own sponsor and didn’t need help to succeed.

Hesketh revealed that Ferrari offered a potential engine supply, Maranello power promising higher straight-line speeds, but the offer was turned down as there were concerns of conflicts of interest. Had the team beaten Ferrari with their own engine, Hesketh thought sabotage from Ferrari was a very real possibility.

Hunt won the 1974 Dutch Grand Prix, but financial struggles continued. Parmalat had offered sponsorship but only if they could choose the driver. Meanwhile Hesketh struggled to raise the cash to pay James Hunt, so gave him his Porsche 911 road car in lieu of a fee.

“It was never easy,” Hesketh admitted to the audience. Much like the Sainte Devote right hander in Monaco, their fight for F1 was uphill all the way.

Hesketh's role in enabling Hunt's later success with McLaren adds another layer to his legacy. Team principal Bubbles Horsely and driver Hunt played a crucial role in building Hesketh Racing, something Hesketh harked back to throughout his talk.

The flair of 1970s racing could never be replicated today, Hesketh said, in an era with a million and one safety procedures, and the prioritisation of emissions, profits, and glamour.

Hesketh was reunited with an original Superbear team shirt treasured by a fan for the last 50 years. After signing the shirt Hesketh charmed the audience, saying that despite all the team achieved, “between the two of us Bubbles and I only had four O-levels”.

By Max Jaxon

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