Roger Williamson was the son of a speedway rider and he was karting from the age of 12. His first experiences in cars were with a Mini in 1967 but it was racing a Ford Anglia that the down-to-earth Midlander made his name. Title success in the 1970 Special Saloon Car Championship brought him to the attention of local builder Tom Wheatcroft.
Formula 3 success
Together they plotted Williamson’s graduation to single-seaters with a switch to Formula 3 in 1971 and a new March 713M-Ford. Williamson clinched the Lombank British F3 title at the first attempt and was also runner-up to Dave Walker in the Shell and Forward Trust-sponsored championships. His promise was recognised with the Grovewood Award at the end of the year – a £1,000 prize for the most promising Commonwealth driver of the year.
Another year in F3 confirmed Williamson as one of the country’s brightest prospects – winning two of the three British championships having switched from GRD to March 723. He tested a BRM P180 during the close season before a full Formula 2 season in 1973 with Wheatcroft’s GRD 273. It was only when they switched to a March 732-BMW that his promise was allowed to flourish. He qualified on pole position for the Monza Lotteria but crashed with Vittorio Brambilla at the start of the second heat. However, he recovered from the back of the field to win his first international race.
Formula 1 with March
Williamson was a Formula 1 driver two weeks later. Wheatcroft’s continued backing saw him replace Jean-Pierre Jarier in the works March team for the British Grand Prix but his 721G-Ford was eliminated in the multiple accident triggered by Jody Scheckter’s second lap spin.
The car was rebuilt for the Dutch GP and Williamson qualified in 18th position. He had gained five places when he crashed on the ninth lap. The March hit the barrier and rebounded down the track – overturned and ablaze. David Purley stopped and fought vainly to save his friend. Williamson died from asphyxiation before the hapless marshals could put the fire out.
It was an appalling incident that helped galvanise Jackie Stewart and others to launch a much needed safety crusade. Like Tony Brise and Tom Pryce, Roger Williamson died with his promise unfulfilled.