Roger Williamson (02/02/48 – 29/07/73)Written by Αναστάσιος Ίσαρης
Translated by Ioannis Binas
He was born in Germany on February, 2, 1948, and was one more enthusiastic admirer of the exemplar pilot of his era, Jim Clark.
Date of 1st publication: 08/07/13
Just 4 years old, he was masterfully driving the… lawn mower of his father, Dodge (racing rider), and his engagement with racing started at the age of 14 with triumphs in karting, later in the Mini category and lastly with a Ford Anglia that was a major success and made clear that he was the biggest young talent in his country at that time.
Next, he participated in the British Formula 3 and was declared champion for 2 consecutive times, in 1971 (in fact with 14 wins in 18 races) and 1972 (even in the two independent F2 leagues).
The young driver was a special case, not interested either in money (he never accepted payment in the lower categories) or glory, but only in racing under the directions of his friend, manager and mentor, Tom Wheatcroft.
In 1973, in Formula 1, he was initially tested by BRM, which offered him a contract, but because of his manager’s persistence, it was eventually March – Ford that signed with him in the middle of the season.
His team-mate was the 3 year older compatriot David Purley (another… victim of Clark’s aura), with whom he bonded with a close friendship.
His first race was at Silverstone, when, starting from the 22nd position, he didn’t manage to avoid a huge pile up of 9 single-seaters at the Woodcote turn before the completion of the first lap and retired.
His second race though, at Zandvoort, with the March 731 GS, was destined to be the last for the 25 year old pilot.
He started 18th and his team-mate 21st, and just on the 7th lap he had a flat tire on the front left, as a result of which, his single-seater lifted off, turned upside down and slid on the track for 275 meters!!!
It stopped at the edge of the track, trapping the pilot underneath it, and, at the same time, a small fire broke out from the fuel tank that had ignited whilst being scraped along the track.
Purley, who was following, immediately stopped on the opposite side of the track, jumped out of his car and ran like mad, crossing the live racetrack DIAGONALLY in order to help his colleague and friend.
He grabbed the flaming car with his hands and desperately tried to turn it upright.
The whole scene was burdened by Roger’s desperate shouts for help.
As David later stated, Roger was shouting to him: «For God’s sake, David, get me out of here», because, miraculously, he wasn’t injured!
Soon, 2 marshals approached but frozen by fear and not wearing any fireproof overalls, just stood there, watching David’s efforts, who, after seeing another 2 marshals approaching, rushed and grabbed the only fire extinguisher one of the marshals had, and tried to put out the fire that had gradually engulfed the car.
The tragic incident was altered only as it has to do with the number of the persons who were watching stone-dead the heroic pilot’s pointless efforts.
The fire however, kept spreading, in complete contrast to his colleague’s plight.
Some spectators, furious with the marshals’ inaction, started approaching the outskirts of the track in order to assist too, and then, as by wonder, the frozen up to that time marshals, took action, and reinforced by security staff and dogs… pushed the spectators back and led the exhausted pilot away, by force.
He then ran into the middle of the track and waving his hands, was signaling the passing drivers to stop and aid him.
That was in vain too though, as nobody stopped, because everybody thought he was the pilot of the flaming car and he had safely exited it.
Some 8 minutes after the crash, a fire truck put out the fire and righted the car, but it was already too late.
The diagnosis was death by asphyxiation but I personally have my doubts.
I think they are always trying to “prettify” the death of a pilot, as the idea of a half burned corpse is completely disgusting and appalling for the audiences.
The criminal negligence of race control to stop the race immediately didn’t allow a fire truck that was 135 meters away to assist at once, as the driver (rightfully) refused to drive even a few meters against the direction of the race that was underway!
Let it be noted that the public was shocked, as there was full tv coverage that revealed the weaknesses of the organizers for the tragic loss of a young driver who only managed to complete 8 laps in 2 races.
A sad record that remains unbroken to this day.
If you have ever wondered why number 13 never appeared on a car from then until 2014, keep that in mind: normally, Roger’s car should bear the number 13 (he had been given 14 on the last moment), that race started 13 minutes late and when the accident happened, Roger was on the 13th position!!!
David Purley was awarded the George Medal for his unprecedented –in the F1 chronicles- brave actions, as well as 15 more awards from around the globe.
David Purley himself scored an unprecedented record for his era.
Initially, in the same year, he competed in only 2 races: in Nurburgring (15th from 22nd) and Italy (9th from 24th) and in the next 3 years he was involved in Formula 2 races.
He was the son of a millionaire however, and in 1977 he appeared with a team of his own, Lec-Ford, with only one single-seater, which was completely unreliable.
In the race of Silverstone, the throttle jammed and in spite of his desperate effort, he vertically hit a barrier at 173 kilometers per hour, reaching a complete halt in a matter of 66 centimeters, which means he sustained 179,8g.
He managed to survive, despite the multiple fractures in legs, pelvis and arms.
For many years he was considered the only man to have survived such a tremendous impact.
He eventually recovered and got engaged with acrobatic airplanes.
There, he met his end during a biplane accident, in 1985, aged 40.
February 2, 1948 – July 29, 1973
Active years in Formula 1: 1973