The Hesketh F1 team’s popularity in the mid 70’s was phenomenal. The British public, and the press for that matter, loved them. With a Teddy Bear wearing a helmet as the team logo and an image of fun, it seemed everyone had a soft spot for the initially unsponsored underdogs.
Hesketh Racing, formed in 1972, was the brainchild of Lord Hesketh and Andrew Horsley. The pair decided to start off in Formula Two, with future F1 World Champion James Hunt at the wheel of an old Formula Two Surtees. After ‘Hunt the Shunt’ managed to destroy the chassis in practice, the team went straight into Grand Prix racing in 1973, with a Cosworth powered March 731 chassis. James Hunt was retained as the driver.
Harvey Postlethwaite was employed to modify the car. At that time, the Brit was also working on the first Hesketh chassis that would be used the following year, 1974.
The white sponsorless car made it’s racing debut at the challenging Monaco track, with James Hunt running a creditable sixth place until the engine blew in the closing stages. A few weeks later, the team took their maiden points at Dijon in France, taking sixth place. At the British Grand Prix, Hunt was again in the points, this time fourth. The crowd was impressed by the underdogs, who had managed to beat much better funded teams.
1974 started off with the team having to use the ’73 March at the first two races, while the Postletwhaite designed 308C was still being built. The Hesketh 308C made its debut at the non-championship Race of Champions, with James Hunt taking a tremendously popular first victory for the team. The cars paintwork was still sponsorless, the colour white, with a blue and red stripe running down the side.
By now, Lord Hesketh was becoming famous not only for his racing team, but for the party-like lifestyle his team had. Yachts, Champagne, Rolls Royce’s and chauffeurs were commonplace, and the team caught the imagination of the public. Hesketh was in there for fun. But behind this almost comical appearence, there was a serious team, capable of great things from a small budget.
The 1974 car, the 308C, featuring a customer Cosworth engine, was a ‘mechanically conventional car, but the suspension featured radical Aeon rubber in compression as the springing medium for simplicity and to save weight.¹ The car had decent power with the Cosworth customer engine, and plenty of pace in the hands of James Hunt.
The car was not overly successful to begin with, but did show some speed in the season opening South African Grand Prix at Kyalmi. It was not until the GP circus moved to Anderstop that Hunt was able to registered some points for the 308C, with an excellent third place. Fourth at Mosport in Canada, and Third in Watkins Glen capped off another successful season.
For 1975, Hunt remained in the driver’s seat, and the 308C was retained. 1975 was to be the marques best year, but also it’s last in it’s present form, financial problems slowing development.
Hunt was an encouraging second in Argentina, but the teams greatest moment of glory came a few races later, in the Netherlands, at the tricky Zandvoort circuit. Hunt put his 308C on the second row, before going on to win from Niki Lauda, after a good choice to change to slicks on the damp track. Hunt held off a charge by Lauda in the works Ferrari, to take an amazing victory.
Hunt came second in France, and was leading in front of the Hesketh home crowd at Silverstone, before he was involved in a massive multiple accident on the 55th lap. At the Austrian Grand Prix, Hunt came second behind Vittorio Brambilla, in a rain-shortened event. For the Italian race, the car was modified with a new low-drag air intake, amongst other minor changes.
James Hunt was partnered by several drivers through the ’75 season. Alan Jones, Harald Ertl, Torsten Palm and Brett Lunger all drove Hesketh’s in the 1975 season, but without much success. By seasons end, Hunt and Hesketh were fourth place in the drivers and constructors championships. But the team was running low on financial resources. When James Hunt left for McLaren, and Harvey Postlethwhaite took the 308C chassis to Wolf Williams, were the car was renamed as the FW05.
Lord Hesketh pulled out, and the team was left with the 308 chassis for 1976, Andrew Horsly as team manager and Harold Ertl as the main driver. The latter brought with him much needed sponorship money from Warsteiner. Throughout the season, Harold Ertl drove the outdated car, often in the midfield or below. Guy Edwards joined the team for four races, bringing more money in the form of Penthouse and Rizzal sponsorship.
Despite a few creditable eight places, Ertl and Edwards were remembered not for their driving, but for their part in saving the life of Niki Lauda at the Nurburgring.
For 1977 the cars were redesigned by Frank Dernie, and re-named as 308E. Despite the new name, the cars were still based on the original Postlethwaite design, that was now three years old. Rupert Keegan started eleven races, and looked set for the teams first point since ’75 in Austria, until he spun with just a few laps remaining, allowing Jochen Mass to slip through for sixth. Throughout the season, Keegan was joined by Ertl, Ashley and Rebaque, the trio of drivers starting five races between them.
Olympus announced it would sponser the team for 1978, but the team desperately needed a new car to replace the aging 308E chassis. Divina Galica was to be the driver for the season, but was replaced by American Eddie Cheever, after Galica failed to get past pre-qualifying at the opening two races.
Cheever started 25th in South Africa, but retired early on. Cheever went back to Formula Two, and was replaced with Derek Daly, who had been running second in the Hesketh at the Race of Champions. He did not make it to qualifying for the first two events he entered, and although he got past pre-qualifying in the Belgian Grand Prix, he did not qualify for the race. It was to be the last time a Hesketh was entered for a Grand Prix. The little English team disappeared from the paddock forever.