1977 South African Grand Prix
The 1977 South African Grand Prix was a Formula One motor race held at Kyalami on 5 March 1977. The race is principally remembered for the fatal accident that claimed the lives 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.
James Hunt continued his streak of pole positions, with Carlos Pace alongside and Niki Lauda next. Hunt led off at the start, with Lauda and local hero 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.
During lap 22, two marshals ran onto the track after the Shadow of Renzo Zorzi suffered engine failure. The second marshal, Fredrik Jansen van Vuuren, was hit by the car of Tom Pryce and killed instantly by the collision; the fire extinguisher he was holding flew from his hands and hit Pryce in the face, killing and nearly decapitating him.
The race continued, however, and Lauda won, his first victory since his own horror 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.
On lap 22, the Shadow car of Italian driver Renzo Zorzi retired from the race with engine failure and moved off the track on the left side. Moments after the car came to a halt on a blind brow, the engine caught fire. Reacting to the emergency, two fire marshals carrying fire extinguishers ran across the track to put out the blaze as the race continued. At that very moment, Pryce, in the other Shadow car, and Hans-Joachim Stuck, driving a March-Ford car, suddenly crested the rise. Stuck's leading car swerved, narrowly missing the first marshal, but Pryce, who was unsighted behind the German, had no time to react before hitting the second marshal, Frederick Jansen van Vuuren, who was killed instantly.
At the moment of impact of the car with the marshal, the fire extinguisher that Jansen van Vuuren had been holding smashed into Pryce's head, killing him instantly and nearly decapitating him. The Shadow car then continued down the main straight at speed with Pryce still seated behind the wheel. The car finally left the track at the first corner taking the Ligier of Jacques Laffite out of the race in the process. The entire incident was filmed by a broadcast crew covering the race.
Jansen van Vuuren's injuries were so severe that, initially, his body was only identified after the race director had summoned all of the race marshals and Van Vuuren was not among them.
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.
Standings after the race
- Note: Only the top five positions are included for both sets of standings.
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