Monday, September 06, 2010

The Worst Sporting Champions of All Time ! - Part Three

As this blog is predominantly football orientated, it is on occasions refreshing to take the opportunity to write about an individual or a sport not associated with 'the beautiful game.'

Back in July I wrote two articles, one on the Aston Villa side of 1982, the other on the Blackburn Rovers side of 1995 - using them as examples of two teams who could be best described as undeserved 'Sporting Champions' - teams that were actually top of their field, yet were still pretty rubbish.

In this third installment I am going to investigate the credentials of an individual sporting champion.

In 1976 Britain's James Hunt, was crowned Formula One World Motor Racing Champion, but in my humble opinion he was more 'chump' than 'champ' and another example of an undeserved 'Sporting Champion.'
This is why!

On the face of it, Hunt was the most perfect Formula One star. Dashingly handsome, he lived a playboy lifestyle with champagne flute in one hand, and a bevy of beautiful women lusting and drooling over him, wherever he went.

He drove in a romantic, swashbuckling style, and the public were in raptures when he landed the coveted world title in 1976.
Sadly, but aptly the annus mirabilis of Hunt's career could be best described as a bit of a farce.

Lauda won the opening race in Brazil, Hunt was forced to retire. Spain was next.
Jarama hosted the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix. There was controversy after the race when Hunt was disqualified for a technical infringement. Although he was eventually reinstated, it took several weeks.

Long Beach was a new venue for 1976, the street circuit being chosen to host the United States Grand Prix West. Hunt endured an unhappy weekend, retiring from the race after colliding with Depailler.

After average showings in several other races, the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch saw Hunt and his McLaren team embroiled in further controversy. After the race was stopped for a first corner accident Hunt restarted in a repaired car. Despite winning the race on the track the repair work was deemed illegal. The Englishman's points were removed and the win given to his championship rival Lauda.

Hunt was left floundering miles behind championship favourite Niki Lauda in the race for the world title.
Lauda had now won five of the opening nine races, Hunt just two.

That is, until at the German Grand Prix at Nurburgring, when a horrific crash left Lauda hospitalised and severely burnt after his car caught fire.

During the ensuing weeks, with Lauda indisposed and fighting for his life, Hunt closed the gap at the top. Amazingly Lauda was back racing six weeks after his near-fatal crash, returning at Monza, Italy swathed in bandages and finishing a respectable fourth, while Hunt crashed out.

Following his accident and despite his bravery in returning to the track so quickly Lauda was clearly 'out of sorts' and he failed to win another Grand Prix that season, although he managed to finish third in the penultimate race at Watkins Glen, New York.

Lauda understandably baulked at the 'dangerous' wet conditions for the final Grand Prix of the season in Japan on the 24th October, and retired after two laps.

Hunt had no such qualms and skidded recklessly round the track to scrape a third-placed finish, and in doing so steal the title from Lauda by a single point.

From a man whose burnt face was hanging off and whose injuries had prevented him from driving for part of the season - well done James, you were indeed one of ''The Worst Sporting Champions of All Time.'

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