A member of the famous brewing dynasty, Piers Courage deceided to stay with Frank Williams in 1970 instead of accepting an offer from Ferrari and crashed fatally in Frank's F1 de Tomaso in the Dutch Grand Prix.
Piers was the eldest son of the chairman of the Courage brewery group. Born in 1942 in Colchester and brought up in Shenfield, Courage attended Eton and was destined for a career in the family brewing business until he caught the racing bug. However any thoughts that these connections were an asset to his motor racing aspirations were mistaken.
His initial racing experience was gained regularly gyrating the Lotus Seven funded by his father, but after that Piers was on his own as far as finance was concerned. He teamed up with old pal Jonathan Williams in 1964 and the pair terrorised the circuits of Europe, initially with a Lotus 22. Entered under the grandiose Anglo-Swiss Racing Team banner, in reality Courage and Williams lived the sort of hand-to-mouth existence that most privateers had to endure, but third place at Reims and second at Zandvoort in a Brabham encouraged Piers to contest a full F3 season in 1965.
Charles Lucas entered a pair of Brabhams for Piers and Frank Williams, and it proved to he a very successful campaign for Courage, with four wins in major events at Silverstone, Goodwood, Caserta and Reims. This led to an invitation to race the Lotus 41 F3 car for 1966. and although it was inferior to the rival al Brabhams Piers still managed a string of wins, earning a ride in Ron Harris' works F2 Lotus in the German GP where he blotted his copy book by crashing.
BRM signed both Courage and Chris Irwin in for 1967 the idea being to run them under the Tim Pamell banner grooming them for a drive in the works team in the future. It all went sour for Piers very quickly, however, all his good work being repeatedly undone by silly spins. After the Monaco GP, Parnell stuck with Irwin but Piers had to content himself with a season of Formula 2 in John Coombs' McLaren. His speed was not in doubt and some excellent drives netted him fourth place in the non-graded drivers' championship, but - and it was a big but - the disturbing tendency to crash remained, with major shunts at Pau, Enna and Brands Hatch. Coombs advised him to quit, but Piers was determined to continue.
Early in 1968 he bought the McLaren from Coombs and took it down-under to contest the Tasman series. Pitted against the Lotuses of Clark and Hill, Amon's Ferrari and McLaren's BRM in the seven-race series, Piers was second. fourth, fifth, third, third and fifth before the final round at Longford. In pouring rain Courage simply outdrove the opposition - Clark included - to win the race, but more importantly finally established his credibility.
Turning down an offer to replace the late Jim Clark at Lotus, Piers instead chose to race for Tim Parnell in Grands Prix while teaming up with his old pal Frank Williams in Formula 2, and so successful was their partnership that it was decided to enter Fl with a Brabham in 1969. Aside from a shunt at the Nurburgring, things could hardly have gone better, Courage driving superbly for the fledgling outfit to take second place at Monaco and Watkins Glen. He was also still racing in Formula 2, scoring a win at Enna and five third places, while an invitation to join the Matra team for Le Mans saw Piers take fourth place with Beltoise.
For 1970 Williams took the brave and possibly foolhardy step of running the newly constructed de Tomaso-Ford in place of the proven Brabham. The early part of the season was inconclusive with only a third place in the International Trophy to show for their efforts. Meanwhile Piers busied himself in a hectic schedule of endurance events for Alfa Romeo, highlighted by a win with de Adamich in the Buenos Aires 1000 Km. By the time of the Dutch GP at Zandvoort in June, progress seemed to have been made with the de Tomaso, which was placed ninth on the grid, but in the race tragedy struck when Courage slid wide, ran up a bank and crashed. The red car rolled over and burst into flames, and the unfortunate Piers stood no chance.