YouTube can be a funny old thing at times. You begin searching for something and, before you know it, you’re somewhere else with no real concept of how you actually got there.
Take the video below this paragraph for example. I genuinely can’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but it’s one of those unbelievable moments in Formula 1’s history, and not in good way.
James Hunt had a habit of seeing red at the best of times and would often struggle to contain his fury.
In qualifying for the 1977 Canadian Grand Prix, Hunt had managed to place his uncompetitive McLaren M26 on the front row of the grid alongside Mario Andretti. The two retained position as the race begun, and the rest of the field were nowhere to seen.
Hunt eventually took the lead from Andretti on the 61st lap, but when he came up to lap Jochen Mass – his teammate – he managed to collide with him, despite Mass waving him through. The end result was a collision that punted Hunt into one of the most serious accidents of his racing career.
Hunt, not realising that Mass had braked to let him by, ran straight into the back of him. The 1976 world champion then lost control and pierced the catch fencing before hitting a concrete wall at over 100mph.
Recalling the situation in his autobiography, Hunt said: “This was by far the worst accident of my Formula One career. I was very lucky not to have a broken leg or worse. My legs were trapped but by removing the steering wheel and wriggling out of my shoes I managed to extract myself from the remains.”
Having freed himself, Hunt then went on to do his usual trick of standing on the sidelines, moving into Mass’ line when he appeared, which caused him to lose concentration for the three laps Hunt remained there.
When a marshal ordered him away from the track, Hunt turned round and punched him square in the face. The marshal then fell to ground like a rag doll, and Hunt quickly realised what he had just done.
He quickly picked up the poor marshal and helped him back to the pits, apologising profusely along the way. But, despite his best efforts to say sorry, Hunt was hit with a CDN$2,000 fine for assaulting a track official and a further CDN$750 for being a nuisance by remaining on the track.
He would go on to receive a further dent to his wallet when the marshal, who had initially accepted his apology, was approached by a lawyer who convinced him to sue. The matter was settled out of court with a confidentiality clause as part of the agreement. Rumour has it that it cost US$5,000 for his silence on the matter.
The incident made headlines worldwide, and the newspapers were in their element, with two of the more memorable headlines being: ‘Hunt the Punch’ and ‘Prima donna’s punch-up.’ Jody Scheckter eventually won the race, but no one seems to remember that. And Mass? He limped home in third, much to Hunt’s annoyance.