As we sit down with a cup of tea in the garden of the West Sussex cottage where he grew up, Freddie admits that he’s usually pretty wary of journalists. Such an admission is unsurprising given who his father is, the 1976 Formula 1 World Champion James Hunt. There’ll always be comparisons between Freddie and his late father, but today we talk to the 22 year-old about his life in motor-racing, Polo, running over deer, Meatloaf, pre-race rituals, Raikkonen, and catching fish in Patagonia.
Freddie is chatty, talking openly and honestly about the many challenges facing a young driver such as himself with sights set on Formula 1. He’s also got a great sense of humour, and considering I cornered him in the local pub in order to get this interview, he has to have one really. Hunt is currently competing in the German-based series, the ADAC Formula Masters. If you want to find out more about his series, click here. Despite a crash in the last round he’s feeling optimistic for the next race at the Nurburgring, a circuit where he has done well before.
Did you know Henry Surtees?
I didn’t, no. I’ve never even met John I don’t think. I may have done when I was a baby.
There was his crash, which was absolutely tragic…
Yeah there was his and then Massa’s, simultaneously
Do you ever worry about the dangers of motor-racing? The safety?
No, not at all really, because you’re far more likely to be killed pretty much anywhere else than the racing track. You don’t get deaths very often [in motorsport], if you compare it with other sports, like motocross and polo. I did play professional polo beforehand, and coming from that. That you’ll see an ambulance on average, every other game.
Do you still play polo now?
I would like to. I can’t play tournaments with my contract. I can’t play any hazardous sport, but I can play practices. I haven’t yet. I’ve ridden, sticking some balls in but I haven’t played any practices. I haven’t got any horses. And there is the injury risk. Maybe towards the end of the season.
We begin to talk about drivers and what they do in their spare time, and get onto the conversation of Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen and his rallying.
I think it was 2007 and he [Raikkonen] entered a rally, I think it was in Sweden or somewhere, and because he wasn’t allowed to under his contract he had to enter under a different name. And it was quite funny because he entered under my dad’s name.
I knew he admired him a lot. He does talk about him.
He entered under James Hunt, and why he did that I don’t know, thinking no-one would notice, and of course that raised everyone’s attention didn’t it? And then everyone thought hang on a minute, I recognise him! [laughs]
Is that quite strange for you when someone like Kimi Raikkonen says ‘I really admire your father’?
I like it, I do. And Jenson Button as well. A German newspaper interviewed him, and they said ‘who did you look up to when you were coming up?’ and he just went on all about my father and he loved him so much.
We talk about the difficulties in finding sponsorship during this recession. It seems that it’s not just Formula 1 that is feeling the pinch at the moment, even when your name is ‘Freddie Hunt’. And as we’ve seen with McLaren’s recent resurgence, having a lot of money can really help you in the world of motorsport.
I imagine there’s a lot of people out there in motor-racing coming up through the ranks who are maybe a little deluded perhaps about the realities.
Exactly. A lot of them have a bit of talent. But they also have a tremendous amount of money. [Freddie’s black Labrador then proceeds to bark at a neighbouring house, until he finds a shoe to eat]. The money helps a lot. But then when they get on a level playing field, they start going from top 3, to top 15 and they start to wonder. But I think the advantage I’ve got, if I do start to win, that’s not because I’ve got more money, it’s because I’m driving off my own back. I think a lot of people know that. Even though I am James Hunt’s son, everyone expects that I’ve got lots of money, especially when I first started. We went to the team and they said that’ll be £140,000 for the season when they’re charging everyone else £100,000, and they soon realised that we haven’t got a pot to piss in. Eventually we managed to scrape up enough just enough money to race, but it was very tight. Last year I had no money at all, no sponsors. I only did 4 races last year. One I was invited up for the weekend to drive for free. That was nice. I won the race. Which was brilliant. And then I met my manager now whose organised all this [points to his polo T-shirt with sponsors including, somewhat bizarrely, Playboy] and we put a deal together and we did the last race of the season in Germany.
We talk for a while about the ‘rich boys’ in his series. Money seems to pervade, and possibly even overshadow, the talk about Freddie’s series.
Money might make you win in one championship, but whether it can do it in the next one. It certainly can’t do it in Formula 1! [we both laugh] All the big spenders aren’t necessarily doing that well. Brawn are doing very well on f*** all money [laughs again].
You didn’t do karting when you were younger?
No that’s my problem, I did nothing really.
Do you have any pre-race rituals?
A lot of people do, and I’ve been experimenting with trying different things. I tried trying to keep myself calm and isolated before a race, not talking to anyone, trying to picture it, but I found that it was building my nerves a bit too much. Another time I tried to rock up really late and just jump in the car, to sort of distract myself, to get my driver’s instinct. That has probably worked the best.
A lot of the Formula 1 drivers on the grid listen to their ipod.
Yeah, yeah, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is always a winner. But there’s so long between getting in the car and the actual start of the race. You’ve got about 20 minutes of sitting in the car. By that time ‘Eye of the Tiger’ is well forgotten, you’re just thinking well f*** here comes the start.
I tell Freddie that he seems so down to earth, and he recalls the many many schools he attended growing up.
It took me a long time to realise, well it took me until after school to realise, that nothing was wrong with the schools at all it was me. I just didn’t like school very much at all. I just concentrated on my polo, and didn’t really look back. And racing, I want to get to the top. If I don’t get there, I’m not really interested in scraping a living off 10th place, in some crappy touring car. I’m not interested in that. I want to get to the top or nothing at all. Whether it’s Formula 1, Touring car, or Nascar. But my real goal is Formula 1, and I want to get to the top of that. I’m not in it for 2nd place at all.
I have a quote here from an interview you had a couple of years ago. “I want to make a horrendous amount of money, have a big house in England, a stud farm in Argentina, play polo everyday, and come home to a nice wife and kids.” I don’t know if you still feel the same as you did then?
That’s a dream, that’s not what I’m expecting at all. From my father’s history, he basically got to the top of his ladder and then I don’t think he’d given any previous thought as to what would happen after that if he does get there. As a result, his depressions and everything else he’s done, his spiral, which everyone knows about, I think it was as a result of that. I don’t want to end up like he did. He got to the top, but he soon went downhill after he retired. And it took him a good few years to get his head back and be happy again.
The new F1 driver Jaime Alguersuari is 19. Do you think that is too young?
It’s very young indeed, and I think he did a great job. I think it is bordering on too young. Hamilton was very young, but he was very well prepared mentally. I think it really depends on the person. It’s like bringing on a polo pony. Some are ready at 4 and a half, some aren’t ready until 7. You can play them at 4 and a half, but they’ll only last half a season before they’re cooked. From what I saw at the weekend he looked like a very good mature job. He did a bloody good job.
There are an awful lot of fathers, sons, and brothers in motor-racing. Do you think there is such a thing as a ‘racing gene’? Something in your blood?
I hope there is! Yeah, I guess there must be. There’s Rosberg, he’s obviously got a lot of talent. There’s Piquet, I think Piquet’s got talent but he’s had an awful lot of money coming up through the ranks. But then again Damon Hill did really well, Jaqcues Villeneuve did really well, and Bruno Senna is doing a pretty good job. So there must be something in the genes.
You’re driving a Ford Focus right now. What would you ideally like to be driving?
If money was no object at all? I don’t know, I haven’t driven many top flying cars. The only real top car I’ve ever driven was a Ferrari something or other, and on the same day a Porsche GT3 and the Porsche was much nicer than the Ferrari, so I’d probably go with the Porsche. If I had the money I’d be testing driving all these cars first to make the right choice. If I came into a little bit of money, not a lot of money, instead of buying a nice new Golf, I’d just improve that car [gestures to the Focus], because that is the best hatch back on the planet. Without the whirring though? [Freddie very kindly came to pick me up for the interview, and his car was making worrying noises all the way] I just spent £800 quid on that thing with a new bonnet because I hit a deer! About a month ago or so. A fallow. It was either hit them or go in a ditch. I slowed down to 30 and smashed up the front of the car.
So what is your favourite circuit?
Does it have to be one?
Several? Several is good.
Nuburgring, Brands Hatch and Thruxton. I haven’t driven the Nordschleife yet [the ‘long’ Nurburgring circuit], I’ll probably top it when I do. And I haven’t driven the great Spa or Monza yet.
What gets you laid more? Being a racing driver or being the son of James Hunt?
Being Freddie Hunt, how about that?
The not-so-quick-quickfire Round
Hamilton or Button?
Dancing with Wolves
Countryside or city-life?
No brainer. Countryside.
Ferrari or McLaren?
Probably a bit of a nice lie-in, fry up (if I’m not in a racing season at the time), and ideally it wouldn’t be in England. In Patagonia. I’d wake up, do a spot of fishing in the morning, have fish for lunch on the barbie, by the riverside, and hunt some wild boar in the evening. But I do love having a roast lunch at home in England watching the grand prix.
I was going to ask ‘dream holiday destination?’, but I think you’ve already answered that one?
Dream holiday destination? Probably the planet itself. I want to see the whole lot. That’s one of my other serious ambitions, and passions is to travel as much as possible, see as much as possible. So perfect holiday? Ask me again when I’m 40 and I’ll tell you what place I really like best.
I guess that’s why Kimi Raikkonen said he admired your father. Off the track he seems to be finding a lot more of a balance [in life] than the others.
I think Kimi is a prime example, and I think it just proves that you don’t have to be a complete stiff with a bloody log shoved up your arse to be successful, you can have fun at the same time. My father proved it, but that was 35 years ago. And Kimi’s doing a wonderful job now. He won the world championship in 2007, having a lot of fun at the same time, which everyone knows he does, and now people are wondering, having won the championship, has he going off the ball a little bit? Having a bit too much fun? But I think yesterday [the Hungarian grand prix in which Kimi came 2nd] proved that’s not the case at all.
You’ve said that Formula 1 is your goal and aim, but what team are you going to be driving for?
Well any team that wants to give me a drive! But ideally? 2 months ago I wouldn’t have said McLaren because they’re not doing very well, but now. Well any of the top teams really, I don’t think it really matters as long as they’re competitive. Of course if they gave me a big cheque that would be a bonus!
Freddie Hunt will be racing at the Nurburgring on the 23rd August.