Piers Courage (27/5/1942 - 21/6/1970)Written by Αναστάσιος Ίσαρης
Translated by Giannis Binas
Tribute to a F1 driver that didn't have the time to shine…
Piers Raymond Courage was born on the 27th of May, 1942, by Richard and Jean Elizabeth Courage, in Colchester, Essex, Britain.
He was the oldest child of a very wealthy family and hair to the 6 generations old homonymous brewing dynasty.
Having studied at the famous Eton College, he gained the attidute of a gentleman, and there he felt the first attraction to motorsports.
In 1962, his father gifted him a Lotus 7 in kit.
With the aid of his friends he assembled it, but his first racing efforts didn't bring any success.
In the following picture, the forementioned sinlge-seater with someone... known and non-excempt later friend at the side.
Occupied in an accounting office in 1964, he accasionally competed in the European F3 with Lotus 22, together with Johnathan Williams, this time with encouraging results, which led him to engage regularly next year.
From that moment - as expected - he lost his father's financial support, who saw the hair of the business focus in racing.
In 1965, with Charles Lucas' 1000cc Brabham F3, he met with his team-mate for the first time... a young driver-mechanic who carried the name Frank Williams, with whom he instantly connected under a strong and deep friendship.
The season proved successful and even brought 4 wins for young Piers (Goodwood, Rouen, Silverstone & Caserta).
Of course, the capstone was winning the title of the most promising driver of Britain (Grovewood) that he accepted by the hand of Jim Clark himself.
In 1966, Colin Chapman, impressed by his performance, gave him a Lotus 41 for the F3 championship.
Even though the single-seater was inferior to Brabham’s corresponding one, Piers distinguished again, achieving 4 wins and many finishes in the first 3, and as a result Colin decided his participation at the German F1 race… at which, traditionally F2 single-seaters were participating too, to fill the necessary participants list, but the British, at his first time in an F1 race, had an exit off the track, “crumpling” the car.
1967 marked his first contact with a thoroughbred F1 single-seater, with the BRM team, but his “wild” driving style and his obsession with “always full throttle” tactics led him to many exits with catastrophic results.
That way, after two races with an unfortunate ending (Kyalami, Monaco), he was removed… and his career faced an early termination.
He raced in F2 for the rest of the season with a McLaren M4A on behalf of John Coomps’ team and he classified 4th overall.
At the esnd of that season, he bought the M4A and competed in the Tasman Series championship in which he claimed a win under heavy rain on the last race (Longford).
The impetuous youngster however, needed the advice-warning of the experienced Coomps: “you have to learn to slow down where you have to, otherwise you’d better leave racing before any harm comes to you”… in the same spirit, Tim Parnell told him that he looked like a child trying to race even before it learned how to walk; from that point, Courage literally transformed.
Tim Parnell, now satisfied, offers him a seat in 1968 at his team, Reg Parnell Racing, which was cooperating with BRM.
Previously, Piers denied Lotus’ offer to move to F1, in the place of tragically lost Jimmy Clark.
In Rouen of France, the Brit with the BRM P126 started 14th and claimed his first point (6th place), while in Monza he had his best performance, finishing 4th after starting 17th, even if in both occasions he finished 1 lap behind.
Meanwhile, as was customary at that era, he competed with his old friend Frank Williams in the F2 championship driving a flawlessly prepared Brabham BT23C, achieving a win in Buenos Aires, a 2nd place in Emma Pergusa and three 3rd places (Reims, Albi, Hockenheim).
When the later Sir decided to enter Formula 1 in 1969 with just one single-seater, naturally, Piers was his choice.
What’s interesting in this occasion is how he managed to secure the Brabham-Ford BT26A that the resourceful British manager eagerly wanted:
“I wanted a current Brabham BT26 chassis, the same as the works cars.
Ron Tauranac wouldn’t sell me one, of course, but I found he’d flogged one to a British club racer called David Bridges, on the understanding that it would be converted to F5000.
I got myself up to Lancashire and persuaded him to sell it to me.
Ron was absolutely livid, because I now had a chassis that was the same as the works cars!''
Thus, with the dark blue shaded Brabham of Frank Williams Racing Cars, he showed his true potential in 1969, even though the single-seater was already considered obsolete.
In Monaco, he started 9th and finished 2nd, just 17΄΄ short of the winner (Hill), getting his first podium in F1 and making broke Sir Frank particularly happy:
''Formula 1 was very different then...seven of us went to Monaco: me, three mechanics, the truckie, Piers and his wife Sally.
Sally did the timekeeping.
I was paid £900 to turn up with one car, and £900 didn’t go very far in Monte Carlo, even then.
I had to borrow money from Piers to pay the hotel bill!''
At the home race of Silverstone, from 10th, he finished 5th.
Another win followed in F2 with a Brabham BT30 in Emma Pergusa, which was Frank Williams’ last participation in that league.
Returning to F1, he started 4th in Monza and gave a great fight for the win with the first 3, who were accredited names (Stewart, Rindt & McLaren) with successive slip streaming notwithstanding the apparent lack of engine power… until he faced a fuel consumption problem in the last laps and had to slow down, finishing 30'' behind, in 5th place.
In Watkins Glen he had his best moment, when, starting 9th, he finished 2nd, being the only one on the same lap with the winner Jochen Rindt.
Undoubtedly he had achieved great progress and had now secured the general acceptance of being a hopeful future champion.
On parallel, he kept a close friendship with Jackie Stewart & Jochen Rindt and had the burning desire of reaching their level.
The excellent season he was faring in F1 was accompanied with his participation at Le Mans, where he finished 4th with Jean-Pierre Beltoise , while in Buenos Aires 200, he took the victory, driving an Alfa Romeo.
1970 found him at the same team but Frank Williams in an attempt to go “one step further”, had secured cooperation with De Tomaso, which supplied him the newly designed chassis, under the code 505.
Reality though, proved totally different… the car was overweight and unreliable.
In that “black” in terms of results year, there was a bright exception…at the International Trophy that was held at Silverstone, Piers with the 505 claimed very honorable 3rd place.
In Kyalami, he started 20th to retire on the 40th out of 80 laps with a broken suspension.
He was 13th in the qualifying of Jarama, but had an accident during the formation lap and didn’t even start the race.
Things went a little bit better in Monaco, where he was starting 9th: after having won a few places, on lap 37 he was forced to enter the pits for… a steering wheel rack replacement, which meant great delay.
He merely completed 58 out of the 80 laps of the race and, of course, was not classified!
He started 12th at Spa but retired from engine just on the 5th lap.
It was in Zandvoort that the premature ending arrived… he started 9th and made it to 7th when on lap 23, on the bump of the fast corner Tunnel Oost, either his front suspension collapsed or the steering broke, causing the single-seater to continue straight, hit an embankment and turn upside down trapping him.
Meanwhile, the front wheel moved backwards with great force, literally tearing apart the chassis and hitting the unfortunate pilot on the head, resulting in his helmet being removed and rolling with the wheel in the middle of the circuit, whilst a big fire had already broke out, worsened by the fact that several suspension elements and body parts were built with magnesium for weight reduction purposes.
The magnesium was burning so fiercely that the fire immediately moved to nearby bushes and trees.
The final report about the 28 year old Piers was instant death by crush fracture in the head or broken neck, before being caught in the horrific fire.
His loss came just 19 days after the perish of the great Bruce McLaren… 11 weeks later he was followed in the same destiny by his close friend, Jochen Rindt, who became the only post mortem F1 champion.
If we specify it a bit, Piers’ greatest ability was in quick turns of the fast circuits… where his talent alongside the lack of fear made even Sir Jackie Stewart express admirably that his young compatriot was “driving like a tiger with clean lines”, even in the notorious Curva Grande of Monza... and goes on” he was a very good racing driver, a very good friend, a typical English aristocrat with excellent manners, always smiling with a natural sense of humor”.
The above characteristics, combined with his steel determination and trust Frank Williams he had to him… formed a mixture that was bonded perfectly and was destined for great things.
In my opinion, Piers Courage can easily be included in the exquisite list of the prematurely lost British drivers… also known as Lost Generation (Roger Williamson, Tony Brise, Tom Pryce).
He left behind his 25 year old widow Sally Curzon and 2 sons, the 3 year old Jason and Amos, and his nickname was Porridge.
According to Adam Cooper, he was ''the last of the Gentleman Racers''... an excellent driver and character that was sadly “gone” before writing history.