On This Day in #F1: 5th March

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1977: Tom Pryce – The original Welsh Dragon

Tom_Pryce

Tom Pryce is sadly remembered for the accident that killed him rather than the ability he displayed in a car. Yet the evidence from his career suggests talent that could have won titles.

The Welshman’s first foray into car racing was through what would become the formative path for decades – Formula Ford then Formula Three. His first significant victory was the F3 support race for the 1972 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch.

Driving an unfancied Royale RP11, his advantage over Roger Williamson, Jochen Mass and James Hunt was so large that other teams suggested the car was underweight – in fact they’d all been underweight due to technical issues with the circuit’s weighbridge!

RoyaleRP11small

Success continued throughout 1972 and 1973 – never better displayed than when it rained – and he found himself racing for Ron Dennis’ Rondel outfit.

The newly formed Token F1 team signed Pryce for 1974 but proved inept. Pryce took part in the Monaco F3 race and won by 20.8 seconds which led to him being signed to the Shadow team for the remainder of the season and in only his second race for the squad, qualified fourth.

“It was abundantly clear that Tom’s ability was above and beyond most of his contemporaries” John Watson

Prior to the 1975 season there had been talk that Colin Chapman wanted to replace Peterson with Pryce as he felt they had the same ability but Pryce would cost Lotus less. The deal never materialised and Pryce remained with Shadow.

The Race of Champions held at Brands Hatch would secure his place in history – becoming the first Welshman to win a Formula One race. He followed this up with a front row start at Monaco and pole position for the British Grand Prix.

In extremely wet conditions, Pryce once again showed his class by securing a podium in Austria and finishing fourth in Germany despite fuel leaking into the cockpit and ‘searing his skin’.

The following season brought another podium finish in Brazil before the season crumbled away with an old car. It’s replacement, the DN8, appeared in Zandvoort where he qualified third and finished fourth – his final points of his career.

For the penultimate race of his life – the 1977 Brazilian GP – he qualified in twelfth but had raced up to second position when his engine expired.

The 1977 South African Grand Prix witnessed Niki Lauda return to the winners circle for the first time since his near fatal accident at the Nurburgring the previous summer. But this race is primarily remembered for arguably the most appalling accident ever witnessed in Formula One.

A track marshal crossing the main straight to attend to a burning car is caught by Pryce’s car travelling at 170mph. The marshal was literally torn in half by the collision and the 40lb fire extinguisher he carried smashed into Pryce’s head and roll hoop; the staggering force was such that the extinguisher was launched over the adjacent grandstand. The dead driver carried on down the straight until hitting the barriers at Crowthorne. Mercifully, death was instantaneous for both men.

Initially Lauda celebrated it “as the greatest victory of his career”; but as he ascended the podium and was given the news he remarked “there was no joy after that”

This video shows the fatal accident, please be aware this is very graphic and some people may find this upsetting to view.

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8 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 5th March

  1. The steward was hit so bad, that they didn’t recognise him. They had to assembly all the stewards to see who was missing in order to identify the poor man…

  2. @Bruznic
    Not quite my friend – they knew it was Frederick Jansen van Vuuren (a marshal not a steward) because the first marshal to run across (who nearly got clipped first) was his brother.
    They were pit lane entry marshals who ran across the track to douse the flames on Renzo Zorzi’s burning Shadow (ironically Tom’s teammate) – race control knew who the marshal was almost immediately.
    So the marshal line-up you describe is good old fashioned BS.
    What actually happened is they could not find much of Van Vuuren’s corpse which almost disintegrated with the impact – but they knew who they were looking for!
    They also found the fire extinguisher which slammed Tom’s head – it flew about 50 metres and landed on the the side of the main Kyalami grandstand…
    And the distance the car travelled with Tom dead in the car was 600 metres
    I know I was there that day…

    • Thanks for the information, all historic accounts state they had to line the marshals up to identify who was missing. That in itself always seemed odd, especially considering the marshall who got to the car was stationed with him.

      I had no idea they were brothers which makes it mind-boggling because he carried on with his duties and put the fire out – it’s beyond my imagination!

      Did you witness the accident or you were just at the Grand Prix that day? I’m glad to say I have never been at an event where a fatality occurred. I know that cavallinorampante was near to where Ricardo Paletti was killed in Canada.

  3. I was there with school friends watching from on top of a scaffolding at Crowthorne Corner where the Shadow ploughed over the Ligier and came to a stop in the catch fencing.
    After the race we went up to the pit area – easy access in those days – and caught all the gossip going on like amateur sleuths. Clear as crystal to this day – and since then many things got hushed and/or covered up.
    Like who gave the order to the marshals to run across the track? Someone did…
    The first marshal was not even aware his brother ran across behind him…
    For a while they could not find the marshal’s corpse as it ended up disfigured and twisted like a maroon towel against the retaining wall…
    Tom’s helmet disintegrated, hence no helmet when they lifted him out the car…
    And then of course the news was full of it for weeks thereafter.
    As a pro photographer working in South Africa in 80s and 90s I have photographed death far too often – but only once at a race track – namely Kyalami when motorcycle champion Keith Petersen was killed in the early eighties – got a sequence of him going down.
    Years later was at Jerez when Donnelly nearly bought it – photographed the aftermath with Ayrton in attendance.
    Great career photography, but depending your genre it can be very sad too.

  4. One of the most bizzare , tragic , events at a GP event . Saw some interesting footage of the race before Tom’s fatal accident. Around one lap before his accident , Tom made a very brave , bold , pass on Gunnar Nilsson’s Lotus , Turn 1 , Crowthorne. He pulled off an AMAZING Banzai pass down the inside. His Shadow got really out of shape . His fantastic car control not only saved him from going off or colliding with Nilsson, he kept his lead on him !! Most drivers would have gone off there , and crashed. This just magnifies the tragedy. If he went off there, his tragic death would have been avoided in ” The What IF ” world. Hans Stuck , in a March was directly in front of Pryce on the main straight when the accident occurred. Flat out at around 170 + mph , Pryce could not see or react , when the marshalls were on the track . Stuck was quoted it was a miracle , that he had not hit the marshalls. When Tom’s Shadow , hit ,and killed the poor marshall , the 40 lbs fire extinguisher slamned into poor Tom’s helmet , literally ripping it off his head. His helmet was actually found on the track. If the brutal force of the impact hadn’t killed him , the neck strap on helmet , tore into his neck and caused horrific head , neck injuries. With his foot hard on the throttle , his car hurtled down the straight , bouncing into the inside barrier, back onto the track, where the Shadow , climbed over the top of Jacques Laffite’s Ligier -Matra at the end of the straight , both cars crashing into catch fencing. A miracle Laffite was not injured.Niki Lauda ended up winning the race , his first win since , his horrific crash in Germany in 1976. Lauda almost didn’t make it to the finish. His Ferrari had run over some of the debris from the accident. Part of the destroyed roll bar from Tom’s car , was wedged under the left side of Lauda’s Ferrari , damaging his coolant pipes , radiator. His water and oil temps were pegged to the limit. AMAZING !! Tom Pryce dominated wet practice for this event and was quickest . A terrible waste of a superbly talented driver . RIP , Tom Pryce.

    • Thanks for your comments, aren’t all tragedies what ifs? But if you could go back in time and advise people would they change their circumstances?

      Like a moth to the flame…

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