Lord Hesketh once led a maverick Formula One team with James Hunt as their driver. In a glamorous sport they led the field in partying. This prowess was not translated to the track and the team to a solitary win at the Dutch Grand Prix in 1974 before the team was sold in 1976.
Lord Thomas Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, Third Baron of Hesketh was born at Easton Neston, near Towcester, right on the doorstep of Silverstone. He inherited his title when he was only five years old but he did not inherit the family money until 1971 when he reached 21.
By then he had already given up on the idea of formal education altogether, running away from the famous Ampleforth public school at 16 and going into the used-car business. He then moved to the United States, where he spent eighteen months working for a Californian investment bank. From there he went 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.
Always a motor racing enthusiast, Alexander had become friendly with Charles Lucas and through him met Anthony 'Bubbles' Horsley, long-time friend of Piers Courage and Frank Williams. Bubbles had gone off to Bhutan and when he returned in 1972, they decided to enter motor racing and set up a team called Hesketh Racing.
The plan was to buy a Formula Ford car for Bubbles to drive in European races and to have a bit of fun. However Bubbles was about the same size as Lord Hesketh and any thoughts of success were dashed by the unavoidable power to weight ratio handicap that the ensemble would face. They thus decided that Formula Three was a better idea and went off to buy two Dastle Mk9 F3 cars. The combination of Bubbles and the Dastle was as unsuccessful as it would have been in a Formula Ford. The only good thing to come out of this episode was the retaining of James Hunt's services in the summer.
In 1973 Hesketh bought a Formula 2 Surtees for James, who promptly wrote it off in practice for the Pau Grand Prix. In typical style, Hesketh decided to move up to Formula One and bought an out-of-date F1 Surtees in which Hunt made his F1 debut at the Race of Champions and impressed with a third place finish. Hesketh then went out and bought a March 731-Ford, hired Harvey Postlethwaite to engineer it and in June of that year, the Hesketh Team boarded a luxury yacht and cruised into Monaco harbour for their first F1 race. They only had one car and no spare chassis but finished ninth. Hunt finished eighth in the team's first season, ahead of both the Ferrari drivers.
Hesketh decided that he wanted to have his own cars for the 1974 season and got Postlethwaite designed the Hesketh 308. It won the non-championship International Trophy and scored three third places that year with Hunt finishing eighth in the World Championship again.
The car was updated for 1975 and midway through the year, Hunt won the Dutch GP at Zandvoort when he gambled on an early change to slicks, crossing the line just yards ahead of Lauda's Ferrari. Always renowned for their bon viveur life style, the post-race celebrations began in Holland and ended some time the following morning in one of the lakes on Hesketh's estate.
That year Hunt finished fourth in the World Championship.
Hesketh feeling the financial pressure of running an F1 team sold up at the end of 1976 to Canadian millionaire Walter Wolf and Frank Williams. Hunt moved to McLaren and won the World Championship the following year. Hesketh Motors remained in business rebuilding engines and doing fabrication work for other teams.
Hesketh concentrated on running the 9,000-acre family estate after that and began to take a more active role in politics, having a seat in the House of Lords. In 1981 he launched a short-lived motorcycle company and then in 1986 became a government whip in Margaret Thatcher's government. In 1990 John Major appointed him a junior minister at the Department of Trade and Industry and a year later he was elevated to the role of Privy Counsellor. After the reform of the Lords he decided not to stand for re-election.
In 1994 he became president of the British Racing Drivers Club replacing former Lotus racer Innes Ireland who had died the previous autumn. Hesketh resigned from the role in October 1999.