Murray Walker was asked the following question on the ITV-F1 website. 26th March 2001
"Why and how did James Hunt get on his high horse about Riccardo Patrese?"
I worked in the com box with James, bless him, for 13 years. So 13 years times 16 Grands Prix a year times four days for each of them is a lot of time together (832 days according to my calculator) and I got to know him very well.
He was an absolutely unique person. A good looking eccentric who just didn't live or think like other people, enormous fun and with a fabulous personality who could charm the birds off the trees (and very frequently did!) but also a man with very strong opinions about absolutely everything.
The public loved him for his outspokenness on the air and he often got into hot water for what he said. Certainly not your modern politically correct chap and all the better for it, say I. Anyway I always knew that if it wasn't a very exciting race I only had to say how well Riccardo Patrese, was doing and James would gesture for the mike (we shared one between us in the BBC days to avoid both of us excitedly talking at the same time) and pour out a torrent of bile about him.
James detested Patrese although he is actually an extremely nice bloke. But James always blamed Patrese for the death of Ronnie Peterson at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1978 (unjustifiably as it happens) and never forgave him.
It was Hunt`s McLaren which had hit Peterson's Lotus and James said that Patrese, who was a bit of a wild driver in his early days, had moved over on him at the start to cause the horrifying multiple collision. Ronnie was trapped in his Lotus, which had burst into flames. James and Clay Reggazoni bravely pulled him out of the blazing car and the charming Peterson was rushed to hospital where, sadly, he died of an embolism that night. Riccardo was blamed by his rivals for the collision and the drivers actually refused to start in the next race at Watkins Glen in America unless he was excluded - which he was.
James was very bitter about all this so whenever he got the chance he gave him a hard time on the air which poor Riccardo certainly didn't deserve for he was subsequently completely absolved of any blame. Unfair of James? Yes it most certainly was but, like I said, he was a dominant person with strong opinions and when the feelings of such a forceful and excitable man run high...