On this day in auto history - July 29th

Thu 29th Jul 2021

It was on this day in 1973 that popular British racing driver Roger Williamson was tragically killed in the Dutch Grand Prix in a harrowing accident which gained added poignancy through the heroic, but ultimately futile, rescue attempt from fellow British driver David Purley.

After a spectacular high-speed collision into crash barriers on the eighth lap, Williamson's vehicle burnt into flames, prompting Purley to end his own race and sprint across the live racetrack to assist him.

Purely valiantly tried in vain to turn the burning carcass upright but received no assistance from helpless marshals who weren’t wearing flame retardant overalls or fellow drivers who didn’t stop because they (wrongly) believed Purley was the driver of the burning vehicle.

Leicestershire-born Williamson - a 25-year-old dual British Formula 3 title winner who was competing in just his second Formula 1 Grand Prix - died of asphyxiation in the incident and the recriminations from his death prompted officials to make it mandatory for all trackside marshals to wear fire-resistant clothing in the future so that they could provide more assistance. The next few years also saw a noticeable increase in drivers stopping at accident sites.

Sussex-born Purley was a popular recipient of the George Medal for gallantry after the event but he only raced sporadically in Formula One afterwards before turning his back on the sport altogether after sustaining multiple lower body fractures in a crash during practise for the 1977 British Grand Prix.

Having recently moved into aerobatics, a 40-year-old Purley was tragically killed when his biplane crashed into the English Channel near his home city of Bognor Regis in 1985.