How would Babe Ruth compare to Mike Trout, or Bjorn Borg to Roger Federer, or Pele to Lionel Messi? No one can know for sure, but there will always be hypothetical discussions, and there are some stats that can back up certain arguments.
So, what of one of Formula 1's most recognizable figures in history, James Hunt? Would the late Brit stand a chance against the likes of compatriot Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso or Max Verstappen in today's Championship?
|James Hunt at Silverstone in 1975 in Hesketh 308B|
|Photo Credit: Gillfoto (CC By-SA 3.0)|
Firstly, it is without a doubt that Hunt had a natural and special talent, and that, of course, he could have been an F1 driver in any era. But the question is, would he have had the same success, or would his questionable lifestyle have been a factor?
Although his quality wasn't immediately noticeable when racing in Formula 3 and Formula 2, his fiercely competitive nature was.
It could be argued that Hunt may never have got the chance to race in F1, if the relaxed and like-minded Lord Hesketh didn't pick him for his team. But a second-place finish at the end of his debut season at the 1973 USA Grand Prix ahead of a whole host of iconic names – drivers and constructors – certainly got many people's attention.
|Mario Andretti (Black Lotus) and James Hunt at start of 1976 Japanese GP|
His first win two years later at the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix, together with second place finishes in three other races, led to him ending the season in fourth and thus earning himself a move to the more prestigious McLaren team, who were last champions at the time in 1974.
It was during his first season with McLaren that he became their leading driver, ahead of teammate Jochen Mass, and eventually edged out the unfortunate Nikki Lauda by just one point in incredible circumstances.
Many Lauda fans would argue that the then-defending champion would've won if not for his horrendous crash mid-way into the season and retirement in the final race. But there was nothing that could take away Hunt's success, and even Lauda congratulated his rival and friend.
Throughout all this and his entire F1 career, which spanned from 1973 until 1979, Hunt was renowned for his playboy and party lifestyle, both on and off the track.
Fellow Britons such as Hamilton, who is 5/4 favorite in the sports betting odds to defend the Drivers' Championship in 2018, and Jenson Button have led comparable lives alongside racing, but neither were at the same level as Hunt.
Could Hunt have still drank, smoked and partaken in other unmentionable activities while racing today? Highly unlikely, but there again teams and people around him wouldn't have allowed it.
His at-times reckless driving too may have caused him troubles, but in a safer era today his style may have been an even bigger advantage with less at stake.
Whatever people think, one thing's for sure – in what would've been his 70th year in 2017, F1 surely misses the talent, excitement and character of Hunt.