The 1970 Crystal Palace Formula 3 event was an unusual race; unusual in the sense that it was being broadcast live on BBC television, which was an oddity because even Formula One wasn’t beamed live in those days.
But a slot became available in the BBC’s Saturday afternoon ‘Grandstand’ show, and the timing of the event, plus Formula 3’s reputation for close racing, made it the perfect filler.
The presence of television cameras resulted in a much larger than normal entry for the race, and so, two qualifying rounds were required to sort the order of the grid for the main event. James Hunt, who had recently won the big international race at Zolder in his Lotus 59, qualified easily by finishing second in his heat.
From the outset, there was no doubt who the winner of the race would be, as Dave Walker galloped away into the distance. But the battle for second was a hotbed of excitement, with five cars, including Hunt’s Lotus, swapping places on an almost lap-by-lap basis.
The number of cars vying for second whittled down to three within the last few laps, with Hunt, Mike Beuttler and Dave Morgan all in contention for the second spot on the podium. Morgan, in particular, was fighting like a man possessed for the place and, with millions watching at home, it was an opportunity of a lifetime to shine.
Well sure enough, Walker took the chequered flag with relative ease. Beuttler was on course for second place, but Morgan hadn’t given up, and in rather desperate attempt, hurled his March 703 at the last corner to try and get ahead of him.
But it wasn’t to be. Instead, Morgan inadvertedly swiped Hunt’s Lotus, ripping the right side wheels off his chassis in the process, whilst Morgan’s March careered straight into the pit wall and showered the track with debris.
With the finishing line in sight and other cars whizzing by, a red mist had descended over Hunt as he clambered out of his vehicle towards a dazed and confused Morgan.
Oblivious to the fact that the television cameras were still rolling, Hunt then landed Morgan with a single right hook to the jaw (13:30 mins onwards in the video below), sending him to the ground like a sack of potatoes, before nonchalantly walking away.
In the commentary box overlooking the altercation, Murray Walker, who would later co-commentate with Hunt on the BBC’s F1 coverage, couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed. At the time he likened Hunt to a “loud-mouthed, totally irresponsible, hooray henry,” before adding that he was “emotional, erratic and violent,” for good measure.
The repercussions of the quarrel would be long lasting. Upon arrival within the paddock Hunt gathered his fellow drivers and lodged an official protest to the stewards about Morgan’s driving standards.
Morgan’s desperate lunge at the finish looked like a cut and dry case, but in an attempt to make a public example of him – dangerous driving was prevalent in F3 at the time – the matter was taken to a tribunal.
Inevitably, Hunt was cleared of any wrongdoing – despite the punch – while Morgan received a hefty 12-month ban from racing, which effectively put the brakes on what looked to be a promising career.