|1977 South African Grand Prix|
|Race 3 of 17 in the 1977 Formula One season|
|Date||5 March 1977|
|Official name||XXIII The Citizen Grand Prix of South Africa|
Transvaal Province, South Africa
|Course||Permanent racing facility|
|Course length||4.104 km (2.550 mi)|
|Distance||78 laps, 320.112 km (198.908 mi)|
|Driver||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo|
|Time||1:17.63 on lap 7|
The 1977 South African Grand Prix (formally the XXIII The Citizen Grand Prix of South Africa) was a Formula One motor race held at Kyalami on 5 March 1977, won by Niki Lauda of Austria. The race is principally remembered for the accident that resulted in the deaths of race marshal Frederick Jansen van Vuuren and driver Tom Pryce. It was also the last race for Carlos Pace, who was killed in an aircraft accident less than two weeks later.
Start and first 21 laps
James Hunt took his third consecutive pole position, with Carlos Pace alongside and Niki Lauda next. Hunt led off at the start, with Lauda and local driver Jody Scheckter following him after Pace struggled. The order stayed put until the seventh lap when Lauda took the lead and was never passed again, with Scheckter taking second from Hunt 11 laps later.
Lap 22 fatal incident
On lap 22, the Shadow-Ford of Italian driver Renzo Zorzi pulled off to the left side of the main straight, just after the brow of a hill and a bridge over the track. He was having problems with his fuel metering unit, and fuel was pumping directly onto the engine, which then caught fire. Zorzi did not immediately get out of his car as he could not disconnect the oxygen pipe from his helmet.[nb 1]
The situation caused two marshals from the pit wall on the opposite side of the track to intervene. The first marshal to cross the track was a 25-year-old panel beater named William (Bill). The second was 19-year-old Frederik "Frikkie" Jansen van Vuuren, who was carrying a 40-pound (18 kg) fire extinguisher. George Witt, the chief pit marshal for the race, said that the policy of the circuit was that in cases of fire, two marshals must attend and a further two act as back-up in case the first pair's extinguishers were not effective enough. Witt also recalled that both marshals crossed the track without prior permission. The former narrowly made it across the track, but the latter did not. As the two men started to run across the track, the cars driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck and Tom Pryce came over the brow of a rise in the track.
Pryce was directly behind Stuck's car along the main straight. Stuck saw Jansen van Vuuren and moved to the right to avoid both marshals, missing Bill by what journalist David Tremayne, calls "millimetres". From his position Pryce could not see Jansen van Vuuren and was unable to react as quickly as Stuck had done. He struck the teenage marshal at approximately 270 km/h (170 mph). Jansen van Vuuren was thrown into the air and landed in front of Zorzi and Bill. He died on impact, and his body was badly mutilated by Pryce's car. The fire extinguisher he had been carrying smashed into Pryce's head, before striking the Shadow's roll hoop. The force of the impact was such that the extinguisher was thrown up and over the adjacent grandstand. It landed in the car park to the rear of the stand, where it hit a parked car and jammed its door shut.
The impact with the fire extinguisher wrenched Pryce's helmet upward sharply. Death was almost certainly instantaneous. Pryce's Shadow DN8, now with its driver dead at the wheel, continued at speed down the main straight towards the first corner, called Crowthorne. The car left the track to the right, scraping the metal barriers, hitting an entrance for emergency vehicles, and veering back onto the track. It then hit Jacques Laffite's Ligier, sending both Pryce and Laffite head-on into the barriers. Jansen van Vuuren's injuries were so extensive that, initially, his body was identified only after the race director had summoned all of the race marshals the next day and he was not among them.
Lauda's Ferrari was barely able to finish the race after his car had picked up part of the wreckage from Pryce's accident in the underside of its monocoque. This damaged the car's water system and at the end of the race, the team found that only a third of the usual twelve liters of water remained in the system. Both the warnings for oil pressure and water temperature had been flashing at Lauda for the final 25 laps, in a car which he later described as 'completely gone'.
Despite this, Lauda held on to win his first victory since his near-fatal crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix the previous year. South African Scheckter was second, and Patrick Depailler's six-wheeler took third from Hunt in the closing laps. At first Lauda announced it was the greatest victory of his career, but when told on the victory podium of Pryce's death, he said that "there was no joy after that".
The sport reacted with sorrow at the loss of two young men. Tyrrell mechanic Trevor Foster viewed the incident from a distance, later recalling
I can remember quite vividly [Pryce's] teammate's car had already pulled off to the side of the track and it had started a small fire. Then the next thing I can remember is seeing Tom's car coming down the straight. I can almost remember now a momentary lift of the throttle much earlier than you would have expected and I looked and I saw something fly up from the car, which tragically turned out to be the marshal.
David Tremayne, a veteran biographer and motor sports journalist, recalled the feelings of disbelief and horror following the aftermath of the incident;
The tragedy itself – the sheer randomness of it – is so hard to take and still is. You tend to focus your anger on someone and for a long time it would be focused on a 19-year-old kid, called Jansen van Vuuren, who ran across the track.
The event was included in the motor racing film The Quick and the Dead.
|2||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:16,01||2|
|11||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||1:16,71||11|
|2||20||Jody Scheckter||Wolf-Ford||78||+ 5.2||5||6|
|3||4||Patrick Depailler||Tyrrell-Ford||78||+ 5.7||4||4|
|4||1||James Hunt||McLaren-Ford||78||+ 9.5||1||3|
|5||2||Jochen Mass||McLaren-Ford||78||+ 19.9||13||2|
|6||7||John Watson||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||78||+ 20.2||11||1|
|7||19||Vittorio Brambilla||Surtees-Ford||78||+ 23.6||14|
|8||12||Carlos Reutemann||Ferrari||78||+ 26.7||8|
|9||22||Clay Regazzoni||Ensign-Ford||78||+ 46.2||16|
|10||28||Emerson Fittipaldi||Fittipaldi-Ford||78||+ 1:11.7||9|
|11||18||Hans Binder||Surtees-Ford||77||+ 1 Lap||19|
|12||6||Gunnar Nilsson||Lotus-Ford||77||+ 1 Lap||10|
|13||8||Carlos Pace||Brabham-Alfa Romeo||76||+ 2 Laps||2|
|14||30||Brett Lunger||March-Ford||76||+ 2 Laps||23|
|15||14||Larry Perkins||BRM||73||+ 5 Laps||22|
|Ret||16||Tom Pryce||Shadow-Ford||22||Fatal Accident||15|
|Ret||17||Renzo Zorzi||Shadow-Ford||21||Fuel Leak||20|
|Ret||3||Ronnie Peterson||Tyrrell-Ford||5||Fuel System||7|
Championship standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
- Oxygen pipes were used to prevent drivers being suffocated if they were trapped in the car in a fire.
- Tremayne (2006), pp. 232–233.
- Tremayne (2006), p. 239.
- "South African Grand Prix: Pryce tragedy overshadows Lauda victory". ESPN. 5 March 1977. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- Tremayne (2006), p. 235.
- Dalglish (2012), p. 39.
- Tremayne (2006), p. 234.
- "Historic Racing – Tom Pryce". HistoricRacing.com. Archived from the original on 5 March 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2006.
- Hutchinson, Jeff (1977). Autosport. Haymarket. p. 12.
- Tremayne, David (2006). The Lost Generation: The Brilliant but Tragic Lives of Rising British F1 Stars Roger Williamson, Tony Brise and Tom Pryce. Haynes Publishing Group. p. 239. ISBN 1-84425-205-1.
- "North East Wales Sport – quotes". BBC. 24 March 2006. Archived from the original on 3 January 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
- "1977 South African Grand Prix". formula1.com. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
- "South Africa 1977 - Championship • STATS F1". www.statsf1.com. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
- Dalglish, Geoff (2012). Lost and Found: From Racecar Driver to Pilgrim, from Soweto to Findhorn. Findhorn Press. ISBN 978-1-84409-591-9.
1977 Brazilian Grand Prix
|FIA Formula One World Championship
1977 United States Grand Prix West
1976 South African Grand Prix
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1978 South African Grand Prix