Lord Thomas Alexander Fermor-Hesketh (b. 1950)

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Lord Thomas Alexander Fermor-Hesketh (b. 1950)

Lord Hesketh

The Hesketh Team

Although amateur racing teams were the rule rather than the exception in the earlier part of the twentieth century, most people thought that these were extinct, as far as competitive Grand Prix racing was concerned, by the 1970s. Any supposedly amateur outfit could not exist for long without massive sponsorship from, in most cases, one of the big tobacco companies; and even with this support, success was hard to come by.

This was all thrown to the wind when the Hesketh team arrived on the Formula One scene in 1973 and, amid laughter and ridicule fsom rivals, began to pick up good places in their rented March 731. It was not long before the laughter turned to envy and admiration, and the Hesketh team became accepted members of Grand Prix 'society'. Owner of Hesketh Racing was Lord Thomas Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, Third Baron of Hesketh. He was born in Northampton, UK, on 28th October 1950.

His family seat was at Easton Neston, near Towcester, which was right on the doorstep of Silverstone - so it was inevitable that this would become one of Lord Hesketh's favourite circuits. His Lordship was educated at Ampleforth School, in Yorkshire, from where he absconded at the age of fifteen. When he was sixteen, he gave up the idea of formal education altogether and went into the used-car business.

Hesketh Finance

As Alexander Hesketh (this was the name he was known by) said that he gained more useful knowledge from his two years selling cars than in all the time he was at school. His next move was to leave Britain and head for the United States, where he spent eighteen months working in a Californian investment bank before continuing his journey to Hong Kong to join a ship-broking firm. He returned to England in 1971 and set up his own company, Hesketh Finance, with the money given to him on his twenty-first birthday. Now he had his finances sorted, he turned his attention to his great passion, motor racing. He become friendly with Charles Lucas and through him met Anthony 'Bubbles' Horsley, long-time partner-in-crime of notable motor-sport personalities such as Piers Courage and Frank Williams.

Horsley was living in Chelsea with Piers and his wife, Lady Sarah, when the two met. As a result Alexander used to spend long hours at the Courage household, listening to the racing chat and meeting more famous names. Horsley eventually went off to Bhutan, on the edge of the Himalayas, to be what Lord Hesketh called 'a guru'. He returned in 1972, by which time His Lordship was completely bored outside working hours, and the two of them decided to enter motor racing. The plan was that they should buy a Formula Ford car for Horsley to drive, and take the machine around Europe, simply having fun on the way. However, the first snag soon arose, with Horsley being a little on the rotund side, and so fitting into the cockpit of a Formula Ford car was problematic, and the resultant loss in power-to-weight ratio would likely have left them very uncompetitive.

Formula Three and James Shunt

The answer seemed to be in Formula Three, so the pair looked around and then bought a Dastle Mk 9 from Geoff Rumble - but they were not successful. The only good thing about the series of races entered by this car was that the Hesketh ensemble acquired the services of James Hunt during the early summer of 1972. James had lost favour with the March team at the Monaco Grand Prix meeting, after an argument, and it was not long before he signed for Le Patron's budding organisation. One of the problems with Hunt was that he had a reputation for crashing anything he laid his hands on, earning the title 'James Shunt'. Hesketh could see that James' misfortune did not foreshadow any long-term jinx, so he had no misgivings about taking him on as a team member, although was quoted at the time as saying that James was about the only uncontracted driver with any talent who would work for the Hesketh concern.

As it turned out, James Hunt's employment was very timely, as after the British Grand Prix meeting, at Brands Hatch, Bubbles Horsley decided it was time he hung up his helmet. Admittedly, this decision was prompted, somewhat, by the fact that James chose that day to learn the art of aerobatics: Bubbles was so amazed, as he followed the gyrating car, that he crashed in sympathy. This accident could have left the team without a driver and, as Hesketh had never had a yearning to see a race track from the cockpit, preferring simply to pay for the team and enjoy the spectacle from the pits, it was fortunate that both drivers survived.

Anthony "Bubbles" Horsley
Anthony "Bubbles" Horsley.

Lance Reventlow standing beside the 1960 F1 Scarab
The original Harvey Postlethwaite designed Hesketh 308 - the car is most famous as the first car James Hunt drove to at GP victory at Zandvoort in 1975.

The Fun Team of Formula One

Hesketh Racing soon developed a reputation for being the fun team in Formula One. There was five-star accommodation for the whole team - including the mechanics - and Dom Perignon champagne on tap. When asked why he believed in the best hotels for the team, Hesketh said that "it was essential for the mechanics to be able to have a hot meal at dead of night, after carrying out an engine change or something similar, and this was only possible in the top-class establishments". But living the high life was not helping out on the track, and both Dastles had been written off at Brands Hatch. After a short meeting, it was decided that there was no point in carrying on in Formula Three, so the team headed for the F2 meetings.

Despite the fact that Hunt had been sacked by March, Hesketh managed to borrow a March Formula Two chassis, the team providing its own Ford engines. Things began to look up with this car, a few minor places being gained, including fifth in the Temporada series. By now, Bubbles Horsley had become team manager, the day-to-day running of the show being completely up to him. For 1973, he purchased a new Surtees F2 car. This chassis was competitive, but it was made to take a Ford engine and 1973 was the year of BMW Formula Two power. The BMW-propelled Marches swept nearly all before them and James Hunt eventually crashed at Pau in an effort to keep up.

Dr Harvey Postlethwaite

With yet another car at the wreckers, the Hesketh outfit had another decision to make. Formula Two had turned out to be very expensive, there being very little prize money or start money, so it was inevitable that the team was drawn to the big time of the Grand Prix. Their first race was the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, in which Hunt drove a rented Surtees to a creditable third place. This result provided great encouragement, so the next move was to rent a March 731 for the rest of the 1973 season, complete with two Cosworth DF engines. Renting this machine, in itself, probably would not have led to any success, since no works March of that year showed any form. However, Hesketh managed to lure assistant designer Dr Harvey Postlethwaite away from March to look after the modification of the car.

Sleepy Bear & Ball of String

The first outing for the 731 was at the Monaco Grand Prix, where James Hunt lapped steadily to finish ninth, despite the fact that his engine blew up just before he crossed the line. At the time of the Monaco GP Lord Hesketh's yacht was in dry dock undergoing repairs, so he chartered an enormous floating palace. This, together with the helicopter painted in the Hesketh colours of red, white and blue, soon had the other teams calling the Hesketh mere "Playboys". In addition, many of the team were given strange nicknames. Harvey became 'Sleepy Bear' because of his ability to sleep at any time of the day, and regardless of noise or comfort, while a mechanic, who had turned up for an interview with nothing but a roll of string in his toolbox, naturally became 'Ball of String'. However, it was not long before other organisations realised that this strongly patriotic outfit was deadly serious beneath all the laughter.

The next race for which the team was ready was the French Grand Prix, and James Hunt delighted everyone by finishing sixth and taking his and Hesketh's first World Championship point. From here on, things got even better - fourth in Britain, third in Holland. A breakage in Austria caused retirement, but the team's next outing, in North America, was rewarded by seventh place in the Canadian race. Fittingly, the best achievement of the season was in the last Grand Prix, the American. Here, James Hunt roared into second place early in the race and hounded Ronnie Peterson's Lotus 72 for the remaining laps, trying everything he knew to get past. In the end, the team was delighted by second place, especially as Hunt had set fastest lap on the way.

The Silly Nose

During the season, Harvey Postlethwaite had worked very hard on the March and made it a far quicker car than the works entries. He tried a variety of nose cowls, one being known as the 'silly nose', and did a great deal for the aerodynamics. It was conjectured that the Hesketh March was the fastest Formula One car, in a straight line, during 1973. At the end of 1973, it was announced that Aubrey Woods was designing a Hesketh V12 engine. A prototype was practically completed, but sadly the construction company failed to fulfil its contract, so nothing came of the project.

The 3-litre formula was due for review at the end of 1975 and Lord Hesketh said that he would build his own engine should the capacity limit be altered. For 1974, Hesketh and the rest of his team decided to carry out a full season's racing, finding that half a season of Formula One had cost less than one third of a season of Formula Two. By this time, the March 731 had been purchased from its builders and it was used for the early-season South American races. Back in September 1973, Bubbles Horsley and Alexander Hesketh had set Harvey to work on building a brand new car. By this time, the team was operating from converted stables at Hesketh's Easton Neston home, having been based in a council car park in London until the middle of the year.

B & S Fabrications

Most of the work on the Hesketh 308 was done by B & S Fabrications, but the design was all Harvey's, looking very similar to the March it replaced the 'silly nose'. The Race of Champions saw the debut of this car, which immediately joined the elite by taking pole position, although it retired from the race. The Silverstone International Trophy Meeting saw the Hesketh team's first win. Once again, Hunt was fastest in practice and, despite nearly burning out his clutch on the start line, he picked off several Formula 5000 cars and all the Formula Ones to take the chequered flag. The 308 scored its first championship points by taking third place at the Swedish Grand Prix. Hunt also took points in Austria, Canada and the USA, but most of the season was marred by accidents and retirements.

At two successive Grands Prix - Zandvoort and Dijon - the Hesketh was eliminated at the first corner, both times after Hunt collided with Tom Pryce! 1975 saw the car equipped with rubber suspension elements, using specially developed Aeon springs. The team started the season well when Hunt took second place to World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi in Argentina. Hunt had led the race before falling off on the 35th lap but he had the consolation of setting fastest lap. The high point of Hesketh Racing's career came at Zandvoort, where Hunt won the Dutch Grand Prix after a long battle with Niki Lauda's Ferrari. The victory was a real team effort with the pit crew making a rapid, and strategically well timed, tyre change on Hunt's 308 as early rain gave way to dry conditions. It was the team's 29th race and Hunt won by a second.

Needing A Sponsor

Even as Hesketh were celebrating victory, things were not all untroubled, however. Much of the early extravagance had gone as the team felt the soaring cost of developing a car and keeping it competitive. The days of pure 'fun' racing were over and the business was now becoming very serious and very expensive. At the British Grand Prix the impressive 308C was unveiled, although the car did not make its race debut until Italy. To finance the team, various 'rentacar' deals had been initiated with the older models, and cars appeared for Alan Jones, Torsten Palm, Harald Ertl and Brett Lunger. The team continued to score points, but it soon became clear that without the major sponsor that they were seeking the future was very bleak. Some late season sponsorship from Ipokampos helped, but in November 1975 it was announced that the team was being disbanded.

James Hunt went to McLaren, replacing Emerson Fittipaldi, and Harvey Postlethwaite moved, complete with the 308CS, to Frank Williams' team. Anthony 'Bubbles' Horsley never lost faith and declared his intention of running the older 308 models whenever it was expedient; all was not lost. 1976 was a very lean year in terms of results, but at least the Hesketh name was still on the grids. While Hesketh sorted out his own personal tax problems and Frank Williams had his cars recognised under his own name, Horsley continued to send cars into battle from the Easton Neston workshops. Various sponsors paid the bills for Guy Edwards, Alex Ribeiro, Harald Ertl and Rolf Stommelen during the season, but the cars did not earn a single point.

Walter Wolf Racing

William's team - now under the Walter Wolf Racing banner - fared little better, with just a single point scored by Jacky Ickx in Spain and an air of desperation in the team. With Postlethwaite's departure, a new design staff had been appointed by Horsley, and it was Frank Dernie who penned the new car with which Hesketh were to contest the 1977 Championship. The 308E as it was originally, if not permanently, dubbed was tested in late February and introduced in the livery of its new sponsors Penthouse, Rizla and British Air Ferries, in March.

Its race debut was in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch on 20 March, where 21-year-old Rupert Keegan, British Formula Three Champion, and son of the owner of BAF, upheld the Hesketh tradition for silencing the sceptics. In true James Hunt style he shrugged off his reputation as a wild driver and scored a well earned eighth place, despite a pit stop forced by a tyre problem. The Hesketh team, like Lord Alexander himself, had slimmed down to a more manageable size and declared their intention of chasing the World Championship. Ertl would leave, to be replaced by Ian Ashley, but by now Keegan's was the only entry that usually made it to the grid, and his 7th place at the Austrian Grand Prix would be the team's best finish of the year.

1978 saw the team slimmed down to a single car, with backing from Olympus Cameras. The car itself was barely upgraded, and Divina Galica unsurprisingly failed to qualify for the first two races. Eddie Cheever then managed to get into the South African Grand Prix, retiring with a fractured oil line. Derek Daly was the next to try the car, and at the wet International Trophy at Silverstone on his debut diced for the lead with James Hunt's McLaren before a stone cracked his visor and ended his race. However, in World Championship events he failed to qualify for the next three races, after which the team folded.

The Ibec-Hesketh 308LM

The Ibec-Hesketh 308LM, also later referred to as the Ibec P6 or Ibec 308LM Cobra, was a one-off sports prototype racing car that was built in 1978, and was designed by Harvey Postlethwaite around many components of the Hesketh 308 Formula One car. The car was funded by Lloyd's of London insurance broker Ian Bracey, who formed the Ian Bracey Engineering Company (Ibec, pronounced eye-beck) to oversee the project. Unlike many privateer sports car entrants in the late 1970s, Ian Bracey harboured serious hopes of winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. Rather than buy an only partially competitive off-the-peg chassis on which to build, Bracey commissioned former Hesketh Chief Designer Postlethwaite to design a brand new chassis around a detuned 3.0 litre Cosworth DFV engine.

Postlethwaite used his Hesketh connections to buy both front and rear suspension componentry from the F1 team, and the building of the car was commenced in the Hesketh workshops. However, as the Hesketh racing team's fortunes dipped, the Ibec chassis dropped down the priority list and eventually Bracey moved production to Lyncar in Slough. Here, facing a tight deadline, the Lyncar team managed to complete the car in only just over five weeks. The Ibec design, while bespoke, was not adventurous. The main chassis was formed by a riveted and bonded aluminium monocoque, behind which the DFV engine and Hewland FG400 gearbox were bolted as stressed chassis members.

Suspension was by double wishbones at the front, with twin trailing arms, parallel lower links and single top links at the rear. The car was clothed in fibreglass bodywork which had been properly wind tunnel tested, and which proved highly effective at generating both downforce in corners and stability at high-speed. The total cost of designing and building the 308LM was less than £100,000, approximately £0.5m at 2005 prices, more than most privateer teams, but far lower than many contemporary factory race programs. The car's first competitive outing was, as planned, at the 1978 24 Hours of Le Mans race, driven by Ian Grob and Guy Edwards, with Bracey himself acting as reserve driver. Edwards's presence in the team had an additional benefit as his skills at sponsorship negotiation landed the small Ibec team with backing from the giant Chrysler corporation, desipte the 308LM being Ford-powered! Edwards also qualified the Ibec in 13th position, at an average speed of 133 mph.

However, in the race itself the car suffered from mechanical troubles which dropped it to 42nd position after just a few hours. Despite recovering well from this early setback, in the 19th hour the DFV engine failed completely and the Ibec's race was over. The Ibec 308LM also failed to finish at its one further Le Mans outing, in the 1981 event, driven by Tiff Needell and Tony Trimmer, before the car was converted for use in the UK Thundersports championship during the mid-1980s.
Rupert Keegan debuted in the 1977 Hesketh at the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch
Rupert Keegan debuted in the 1977 Hesketh at the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.
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