Tony Brise was one of this sport's most promising talents. He died in the plane crash that also took the life of Graham Hill and four other team members on 29/11/1975
Anthony William Brise was born in Erith, Kent. His father, John Brise was a pig farmer who, two years before Tony was born had started competing with a Jaguar SS100 finishing 3rd third in club races Goodwood in the May and June of 1950.
He switched to 500cc F3 in 1951 and in his first race finished third in a MkV Cooper at Ibsley and it wasn't long before he was winning taking the Junior Championship Final at Brands Hatch in September. He started 1952 racing a Keift but after impressing Daphne Arnott with his drive at Castle Coombe in April when he finished 4th behind Moss, he joined the works team.
Early in 1954, he sold the Cooper and switched to racing Stock Cars. A pioneer in the sport, John put a car together using a Mercedes chassis and an Oldsmobile V8 engine bored out to 7.5 litres. Power was transmitted to the Jeep rear-axle via a Massey-Ferguson tractor gearbox. Robust if nothing else. However it was something else and with it he took the 1956 World Stock Car Championship and the British title in 1957. We should mention a British Stock Car was a very different animal to an American one as you can see from the photos. He won the World Stock Car Championship again in 1959 and 1960. In 1960 he started karting, racing a Getkart before turning his attentions to developing his own machine, the Brisekart, in 1961, winning the Class 1 title that year.
By now Tony was 8 and, along with his brother Tim, had also stated karting. As the two boys started to make an impression, John hung up his helmet to support them.
Tony won the British championship in 1969 and, the following year, made his single seater debut in an Elden MK8 Formula Ford. For 1971 he acquired a Merlyn and finished second in the BOC British FF1600 Championship.
In the mean time Tony had obtained a B.A. degree in business administration however a career in motor sport was what he had set his mind on and to that end he graduated to Formula 3 in 1972 with one of Bernie Ecclestone's Brabham BT28 with works support. However after a run of disappointing results he switched to a GRD 372, earning himself a works drive from GRD's Mike Warner in 1973 to replace Roger Williamson who was moving to F1. Tony became the driver to beat and won both the John Player and Lombard North Central Championships (sharing the later title with Richard Robarts). At the end of the season he won his second Grovewood award along with Tom Pryce.
For 1974 Tony wanted to move up to F2, the next step on the ladder to the highest echelon on the sport, however although a works March F2 seat was on offer he failed to come up with the necessary budget. Instead he made do with purchasing a second hand March 733 car into which he fitted a Holbay Tuned Ford and entered the MCD Formula Atlantic series. Against the odds he won the first round of the British Championship but unfortunately he wrote the car of in a massive shunt at Snetterton. However he had done enough to impress Teddy Savory at Modus, who stepped in to offer him a work drive in the series. Despite the fact that the car was another modified F3 chassis, he still managed to score the occasional win and secure a drive for 1975 in a purpose built car. He also drove a Modus M1 F3 in the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix F3 support race where he finished a fine second to Tom Pryce in a March 743.
It was a different tale in 1975 and his six consecutive wins at Brands Hatch (x2), Snetterton, Silverstone (x2) and Oulton Park were enough to see him take the MCD International Formula Atlantic Championship.
This run of finally brought him the attention that he undoubtedly deserved and in April he received a call from Frank Williams and made his F1 debut at the controversial and tragic Spanish Grand Prix at Montjuic Park near Barcelona. The race was beset with problems which started with the Grand Prix Drivers Association going on strike in protest to the condition of the safety barriers that were not bolted together properly. Once resolved, partly though threats of cars being impounded by the Guardia Civil, the race started. Immediately Vittorio Brambilla's March had a coming together with Mario Andretti's Parnelli. Andretti hit the back of Lauda's Ferrari (which was on pole), sending him into Regazzoni. With Wilson Fittipaldi and Arturo Merzario withdrawing in protest, five cars were out on the first lap. On lap 3 the engine in Jody Scheckter's Tyrrell let go and the resulting oil dumped onto the circuit was the downfall of both Alan Jones and Mark Donohue. Three more cars into retirement and by lap 24 they had been joined by 7 more cars. On lap 23 Tom Pryce ran into the back of Tony's Williams. Pryce retired a few laps as a result and Tony continued but only after a lengthy pit stop to checked for damage. On lap 25 Peterson crashed while trying to lap François Migault but worse was to came when two laps later when the rear wing on Stommelen's Embassy Hill-Lola broke. He hit the barrier, ironically at a point where the Embassy Hill mechanics had helped repair in the run up to the race, and rebounded across the track, vaulting the opposite barrier and killing four spectators. Carlos Pace also crashed trying to avoid Stommelen's accident. the race was stopped four laps later with Jochen Mass taking his maiden and only F1 win in the McLaren M23. Tony finished 7th two laps down.
With Jacques Laffite returning to the Williams at Monaco, Tony was back in Formula Atlantic, though he was in attendance at the Principality for the F3 support race. 66 cars were entered for the 36 places in the two heats. The first nine from each heat would then qualify for the final. Fastest in qualifying was Larry Perkins in the works Ralt, Tony was second quickest in the Formula Atlantic Modus converted back to F3 specification. Tony was slow away from pole at the start of Heat 2 and he struggled on the first lap with a misfire. At the end of the lap he pitted and returned to the fray well down some 34 seconds behind the ninth place he needed to make the final. Brise was flying, making his way through the pack at such a rate that when he finally came up behind Richard Hawkins who was running in the valuable 9th spot, he actually moved over to let him through thinking he was being lapped. In the final Perkins got away first but Conny Andersson shot past Zorzi off the line and had passed Perkins at the Casino. However it was a bit too good and the stewards deemed Andersson had jumped the start and was docked a minute. Brise was up to tenth by lap 4, 25 seconds behind Andersson at the front. On lap 17 Brise passed Svensson for fourth and a lap later took Neve at the Gasworks for third. Next he disposed of Zorzi and took off after Ribeiro who was effectively in the lead once Andersson's penalty was taken into consideration. As the pair approached the Mirabeau Brise pulled out from behind Ribeiro as both cars lapped a backmarker. Ribeiro stayed on the racing line, whilst Brise dived down the inside. It was to end in tears as there wasn't room for two cars. Brise hit Ribeiro and they both retired.
It was at Monaco that his return to the F1 fold was realised as, when Graham Hill failed to qualify the Hill GH1 and retired on the spot (though he did not announce it officially until later), he handed the drive to Tony for the rest of the season.
At Zolder, Tony qualified in an impressive 7th but in the race his engine failed on lap 17. At the Swedish Grand Prix at the Scandinavian Raceway, Anderstorp, he qualified 17th but in the race ran a high as 5th before his gearbox jammed in fourth letting Mark Donohue passed and having to settle for 6th to score the teams first point. At the Dutch Grand Prix he out qualified his latest team mate, Alan Jones by just under 2 seconds and in the race finished 7th with Jones back in 13. In France he was over 2 seconds quicker than Jones in qualifying and once again finished 7th with Jones 16th. A disappointing 13th in qualifying for the British Grand Prix was followed by an even more disappointing race. A loose wheelnut necessitated a pit stop and then he had the misfortune of being the first to arrive at Club which had turned into a lake but a sudden cloudburst and hail storm! he wasn't the only one to come unstuck and as a result only 6 cars were actually running at the finish. The RAC thus decided to take the result from the last lap when a decent number of cars were still running with Emerson Fittipaldi taking the win. In Germany Brise was 8 seconds quicker than Jones in qualifying but in the race crashed out on lap 9 when a rear radius rod failed on the T car (His race car having already been damaged in a practice accident when a tyre punctured). Austria and Italy were both disappointing races and with the Canadian Grand Prix cancelled, Tony entered the first Long Beach Grand Prix driving Sid Taylor's Lola T-332. The race, run for F5000 cars, was made up of two heats and a final. Tony won the first from Andretti, out braking Mario at the end of Shoreline Drive. In the final he set the fastest lap and twice led the race before being forced into retirement.
At the final F1 round of the season, the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, the team took just one car for Tony. However his race was over on lap 5 when he was pushed off by Brian Henton. However both the car and Tony had showed real promise and much was expected for 1976. Little did they know that it would be the last race for many of them.
With Tony signed for 1976 and a new Andy Smallman designed car, the GH2, in November the team went testing at Paul Ricard. Graham Hill, Tony, Andy Smallman and three of the mechanics, Ray Brimble, Tony Alcock and Terry Richards, returned on the 19th in Hill's Piper Aztec (He had purchased the plane in 1966 after winning the Indy 500). On approach to Elstree airport in the fog, Hill crashed on the Arkley golf course, near Barnet. They all perished.
Tony Brise was only 23, and was survived by his wife, Janet, daughter of triallist Reg Allen. He was almost universally accepted as a future World Champion but like many before and since his brilliance was never given the opportunity to display it's full potential.
Tony's brother Tim also drove but switched disciplines and took up rallying in the late '70s and winning the Esso-BTRDA championship in 1978 driving a Escort RS1800.