1977 South African Grand Prix

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.

1977 South African Grand Prix
Race 3 of 17 in the 1977 Formula One season
Race details
Date 5 March 1977
Official name XXIII The Citizen Grand Prix of South Africa
Location Kyalami
Transvaal Province, South Africa
Course Permanent racing facility
Course length 4.104 km (2.550 miles)
Distance 78 laps, 320.112 km (198.908 miles)
Weather Sunny
Pole position
Driver McLaren-Ford
Time 1:15.96
Fastest lap
Driver United Kingdom John Watson Brabham-Alfa Romeo
Time 1:17.63 on lap 7
First Ferrari
Second Wolf-Ford
Third Tyrrell-Ford
Lap leaders

Practice sessions Edit

The first two practice sessions were wet, and only a dozen cars took part in the first session, with Hans-Joachim Stuck fastest in his March despite having to abandon the session with an oil pressure issue. Eighteen cars took to the track during the second session, with Tom Pryce fastest in the Shadow despite brake problems. Three drivers did not take part in either timed session thus far: Patrick Depailler, Pryce's team-mate Renzo Zorzi (engine) and Boy Hayje.[1]

The last timed session was dry, and therefore all the qualifying times came from this session. James Hunt took his third consecutive pole position, with Carlos Pace beside him on the front row. Niki Lauda took third despite a broken seat and tyre problems, alongside Depailler, ahead of Ronnie Peterson. Mario Andretti was sixth despite an engine failure. Other drivers who experienced mechanical problems included Jochen Mass (handling), Vittorio Brambilla (engine), Hans Binder (engine), Pryce (engine), Zorzi (fuel metering unit, electrics, exhaust), Alex Ribeiro (handling), Hayje (brakes) and Larry Perkins (water pump), while Brett Lunger only managed one flying lap before his engine failed.[1]

Start and first 21 laps Edit

James Hunt led off at the start, with Niki Lauda and local driver Jody Scheckter following him after Carlos Pace struggled. Tom Pryce lost ground at the start, leaving him 22nd, ahead only of Larry Perkins, although he quickly gained places, climbing to 16th by the end of lap six.[1] On the same lap Ronnie Peterson dropped out while eighth, with a fuel pressure problem. The order at the front stayed put until lap seven when Lauda took the lead and was never passed again, with Scheckter taking second from Hunt 11 laps later.

Lap 23 fatal incident Edit

On lap 22, the Shadow-Ford of Italian driver Renzo Zorzi, running 19th, 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 again 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.[2] George Witt, the chief pit marshal for the race, said that the policy of the circuit was that in case 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.[3] 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 (12th) and Tom Pryce (13th) came over the brow of a rise in the track.[4]

"As we got to the top I suddenly sensed this marshal running across the track from my right, carrying an extinguisher. I took a big chance and I don't know how I got away with it. There was no time, I just reacted on pure instinct."

Hans-Joachim Stuck[5]

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).[6] 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.[7] 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.[5]

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 14th-placed Jacques Laffite's Ligier, sending both Pryce and Laffite head-on into the catch fencing and a concrete wall. 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.[8]

Finish Edit

Lauda's Ferrari was barely able to finish the race after his car had picked up part of Pryce's roll bar in the underside of its monocoque, after the fatal accident. 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 litres 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 finished'.[1]

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".[9]

Aftermath Edit

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.[10]

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.

Classification Edit

Qualifying classification Edit

Pos. Driver Constructor Time No
1 James Hunt McLaren-Ford 1:15,96 1
2 Carlos Pace Brabham-Alfa Romeo 1:16,01 2
3 Niki Lauda Ferrari 1:16,29 3
4 Patrick Depailler Tyrrell-Ford 1:16,33 4
5 Jody Scheckter Wolf-Ford 1:16,35 5
6 Mario Andretti Lotus-Ford 1:16,38 6
7 Ronnie Peterson Tyrrell-Ford 1:16,44 7
8 Carlos Reutemann Ferrari 1:16,54 8
9 Emerson Fittipaldi Fittipaldi-Ford 1:16,64 9
10 Gunnar Nilsson Lotus-Ford 1:16,65 10
11 John Watson Brabham-Alfa Romeo 1:16,71 11
12 Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra 1:16,74 12
13 Jochen Mass McLaren-Ford 1:16,99 13
14 Vittorio Brambilla Surtees-Ford 1:17,08 14
15 Tom Pryce Shadow-Ford 1:17,11 15
16 Clay Regazzoni Ensign-Ford 1:17,21 16
17 Alex Ribeiro March-Ford 1:17,44 17
18 Hans-Joachim Stuck March-Ford 1:17,49 18
19 Hans Binder Surtees-Ford 1:18,07 19
20 Renzo Zorzi Shadow-Ford 1:18,42 20
21 Boy Hayje March-Ford 1:19,59 21
22 Larry Perkins BRM 1:21,77 22
23 Brett Lunger March-Ford 1:24,35 23

Race Classification Edit

Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 11   Niki Lauda Ferrari 78 1:42:21.6 3 9
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 9   Alex Ribeiro March-Ford 66 Engine 17
Ret 10   Hans-Joachim Stuck March-Ford 55 Engine 18
Ret 5   Mario Andretti Lotus-Ford 43 Accident 6
Ret 33   Boy Hayje March-Ford 33 Gearbox 21
Ret 26   Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra 22 Accident 12
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 Edit

  • Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.

Notes Edit

  1. ^ Oxygen pipes were used to prevent drivers being suffocated if they were trapped in the car in a fire.[2]

References Edit

  1. ^ a b c d Hutchinson, Jeff (1977). Autosport, 10 March 1977. Haymarket. pp. 12–19.
  2. ^ a b Tremayne (2006), pp. 232–233.
  3. ^ Tremayne (2006), p. 239.
  4. ^ "South African Grand Prix: Pryce tragedy overshadows Lauda victory". ESPN. 5 March 1977. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  5. ^ a b Tremayne (2006), p. 235.
  6. ^ Dalglish (2012), p. 39.
  7. ^ Tremayne (2006), p. 234.
  8. ^ "Historic Racing – Tom Pryce". HistoricRacing.com. Archived from the original on 5 March 2007. Retrieved 23 November 2006.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "North East Wales Sport – quotes". BBC. 24 March 2006. Archived from the original on 3 January 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
  11. ^ "1977 South African Grand Prix". formula1.com. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  12. ^ a b "South Africa 1977 - Championship • STATS F1". www.statsf1.com. Retrieved 5 March 2019.

Sources Edit

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1977 Brazilian Grand Prix
FIA Formula One World Championship
1977 season
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1977 United States Grand Prix West
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1976 South African Grand Prix
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1978 South African Grand Prix