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Formula 1

A lone hero in the flames who helped change F1

David Purley will forever be remembered for his bravery during the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix following a harrowing incident involving Roger Williamson. On what would have been his birthday, we take a look at how he helped change F1 as we know it.

One of F1's darkest days saw exciting Briton Roger Williamson crash badly during the 1973 Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort and whilst his life was lost, the bravery of David Purley - who would have celebrated his 79th birthday today - will long be remembered.

Williamson crashed out at high speed, with heavy damage sustained as the car flipped upside down. Whilst he had suffered no injuries, he was unable to release himself from the flaming wreckage.

Purley heroically stopped his own car, crossed the live race track and, with emergency services nowhere to be seen, reached into the flames to try and roll the chassis back the right way up. He then takes a fire extinguisher off a watching marshal - who was not provided with sufficient personal protection - and tries to put the fire out but to no avail.

His body language changes quickly from a man on a mission to a man of despair, gesturing desperately for help - all whilst the race continues on around him.

Purley cut a dejected figure as it became clear Williamson could not be saved - he died in what was only his second F1 race.

Award for bravery

Purley lashed out at one marshal who had escorted him away from the scene, perplexed at why he wasn't helped. But a day later, his perspective changed: "I was obviously coming out of a race car and full of adrenaline but after a night's sleep I can also imagine why others didn't approach the burning car.

"If the race had been stopped immediately, the emergency services could have got here much quicker. But the race officials sat a mile and a half away from the accident and only saw some smoke. They didn't know how serious it was. But that's something to be looked at."

Purley was awarded with the George Medal for Bravery for his heroic efforts but was himself involved in a serious accident four years later, recording an estimated 180g when impacting a wall at Silverstone - the most severe impact suffered in the sport.

After leaving F1, Purley became a stunt driver where a fatal accident in 1985 cost him his life. But his bravery in 1973 helped bring change to what had been an exceedingly dangerous sport up to that point.

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