1977 South African Grand Prix

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1977 South African Grand Prix
Race 3 of 17 in the 1977 Formula One season
Kyalami 1968layout.svg
Race details
Date 5 March 1977
Official name XXIII South African Grand Prix
Location Kyalami
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)
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

The 1977 South African Grand Prix 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.


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.

On lap 22, the Shadow-Ford 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. As they did so, Pryce, in the other Shadow car, and Hans-Joachim Stuck, driving a March-Ford, 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 hit Pryce's head, killing him instantly and nearly decapitating him. The Shadow then continued down the main straight at speed with Pryce's body 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 incident was filmed by a broadcast crew covering the race.[1]

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'.[2]

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".[3]

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

David Tremayne, a veteran biographer and motor sports journalist, recalled the feelings of disbelief and horror following the aftermath of the incident;

The event was included in the motor racing film The Quick and the Dead.


Pos No Driver Constructor Laps Time/Retired Grid Points
1 11 Austria Niki Lauda Ferrari 78 1:42:21.6 3 9
2 20 South Africa Jody Scheckter Wolf-Ford 78 + 5.2 5 6
3 4 France Patrick Depailler Tyrrell-Ford 78 + 5.7 4 4
4 1 United Kingdom James Hunt McLaren-Ford 78 + 9.5 1 3
5 2 West Germany Jochen Mass McLaren-Ford 78 + 19.9 13 2
6 7 United Kingdom John Watson Brabham-Alfa Romeo 78 + 20.2 11 1
7 19 Italy Vittorio Brambilla Surtees-Ford 78 + 23.6 14
8 12 Argentina Carlos Reutemann Ferrari 78 + 26.7 8
9 22 Switzerland Clay Regazzoni Ensign-Ford 78 + 46.2 16
10 28 Brazilian military government Emerson Fittipaldi Fittipaldi-Ford 78 + 1:11.7 9
11 18 Austria Hans Binder Surtees-Ford 77 + 1 Lap 19
12 6 Sweden Gunnar Nilsson Lotus-Ford 77 + 1 Lap 10
13 8 Brazilian military government Carlos Pace Brabham-Alfa Romeo 76 + 2 Laps 2
14 30 United States Brett Lunger March-Ford 76 + 2 Laps 23
15 14 Australia Larry Perkins BRM 73 + 5 Laps 22
Ret 9 Brazilian military government Alex Ribeiro March-Ford 66 Engine 17
Ret 10 West Germany Hans-Joachim Stuck March-Ford 55 Engine 18
Ret 5 United States Mario Andretti Lotus-Ford 43 Accident 6
Ret 33 Netherlands Boy Hayje March-Ford 33 Gearbox 21
Ret 26 France Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra 22 Accident 12
Ret 16 United Kingdom Tom Pryce Shadow-Ford 22 Fatal Accident 15
Ret 17 Italy Renzo Zorzi Shadow-Ford 21 Fuel Leak 20
Ret 3 Sweden 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.


  1. ^ "Formula 1: List of Deaths". F1 Complete. Archived from the original on 20 February 2009.
  2. ^ Hutchinson, Jeff (1977). Autosport. Haymarket. p. 12.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "North East Wales Sport – quotes". BBC. 24 March 2006. Archived from the original on 3 January 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2010.
  5. ^ "1977 South African Grand Prix". formula1.com. Archived from the original on 21 October 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  6. ^ a b "South Africa 1977 - Championship • STATS F1". www.statsf1.com. Retrieved 5 March 2019.

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