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Tony Brise was an outstanding Formula 1 prospect who perished in the 1975 light-plane accident that also claimed the lives of Graham Hill and another four team members. The tragedy came at the end of the Englishman’s breakthrough season – the dominant driver in British Formula Atlantic and an impressive Grand Prix debutant. But his evident promise would not be fulfilled.
A champion in karts and cars
John Brise was a Formula 3 driver during the 500cc era and three-time champion in British stock cars. His son Tony was eight years old when he raced karts and he shared the 1969 national title. He moved into cars by the end of the following year with an Elden Formula Ford. Competitive once he acquired a Merlyn chassis in 1971, he finished runner-up in that year’s BOC FF1600 Championship. However, that most promising season ended with Brise rolling the works F3 Lotus 69 during testing at Snetterton, thankfully without injury.
Brise graduated to F3 in 1972 with a semi-works Brabham BT28 but he struggled before a mid-season switch to a GRD. He immediately challenged the previously all-conquering Roger Williamson and won three times. That success continued in 1973 as the Kent Messenger-backed Brise won two out of the three British F3 championships while completing his education at Birmingham University.
However, a lack of sponsorship prevented a move up the racing ladder and Brise appeared to be the forgotten man. Few would have predicted that he would soon be F1’s most sought after talent. Brise instead raced in British Formula Atlantic during 1974 and 1975 and he won first time out before dominating the 1975 John Player Championship in a works Modus M1. He also starred during that year’s Formula 5000 Long Beach GP by leading the American regulars in Teddy Yip’s Lola T332-Chevrolet.
Formula 1 breakthrough
That drive re-established Brise as a talent for F1 team managers to consider. Frank Williams gave Brise his GP debut in the 1975 Spanish GP and he was running seventh when the race was red flagged.
He then joined Graham Hill’s Embassy-backed team for the rest of the season – racing when his previously signed Atlantic commitments allowed. Seventh on the grid in Belgium for his debut with the team, he finished sixth in the Swedish GP. Seventh again (just outside the points) in Holland and France and sixth on the grid at Monza – Brise’s consistency and pace was noteworthy for a newcomer.
"The Lost Generation"
He re-signed with Graham Hill Racing for 1976 but was returning from winter testing at Paul Ricard when Hill’s Piper Aztec light plane crashed near Elstree airfield in hazardous fog. Brise, Hill, designer Andy Smallman, Team Manager Ray Brimble and mechanics Terry Richards and Tony Alcock all died in the accident. Inevitably the death of a charismatic double world champion captured Fleet Street’s attention, but in Tony Brise the sport had lost a potential winner just 10 races into his F1 career.
He was a calm and assured driver with a confidence that bordered on arrogance. But he had the talent to justify such inner belief. With his death coming soon after Williamson’s and less than two years before Tom Pryce’s, Britain was robbed of a generation of GP stars.
F1 World Championship
Embassy Racing with Graham Hill
Frank Williams Racing Cars
0% win rate
ShellSport 5000 European Championship
0% win rate
SCCA/USAC F5000 Championship
Theodore Racing Hong Kong
0% win rate
European F3 Cup
0% win rate
|1975||John Player British FAtlantic Championship||1st||-|
|1974||Polifac German F3 Championship||54th||200|
|1973||Lombard British F3 Championship||1st||-|
|1973||John Player British F3 Championship||1st||-|