Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1977: Tom Pryce – The original Welsh Dragon
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!
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.