It says something of his popularity and charisma that, despite not being in the absolute top-flight of drivers, Piers Courage seems to have been better, and much more fondly, remembered than so many of his contemporaries. An Old-Etonian and an heir to the Courage brewery fortune, Piers was not only familiar to the public as a Grand Prix driver.
But with his equally charismatic (and wealthy!) wife Sally (Born Lady Sarah Curzon, she was the granddaughter of pre-war Grand Prix driver Earl Howe, and later married zoo owner Sir John Aspinall), formed a very popular partnership on London’s fashionable, swinging-sixties social scene. Piers was also Frank Williams’ first ever Grand Prix driver. He’d already been driving in Formula 1 for a couple of seasons, and had been a member of the Williams Formula 2 team during the previous season, when he was invited by Frank to be the pilot of his newly acquired Brabham-Ford in a full-blown assault on the World Drivers Championship.
The Williams team made their Grand Prix debut in the 1969 Spanish Grand Prix. And finished the very next Grand Prix, at Monaco, in an eye-brow raising 2nd place. A feat they’d repeat in the United States Grand Prix at the end of the season. Thereby racking up enough points during their debut season, for Piers to claim a very pleasant 8th place in the championship. Frank continued to run his Formula 2 team as a sideline to the Grand Prix effort though. And had formed an alliance with the Italian-based, Argentinean constructor Alejandro De Tomaso. To run his new Gianpaolo Dallara designed chassis as a joint effort. And the project had proved sufficiently satisfactory, that a plan to move the partnership into Formula 1 for the following year, was hatched up.
Frank Williams would supply the team structure and the engines. While De Tomaso would supply a brand new Dallara conceived, Cosworth DFV powered, Formula 1 chassis. And Piers Courage, naturally, would do the driving thing. So following the promise of Frank’s 1969 campaign, the future was looking really rather rosy. But of course it was all too perfect. And couldn’t possibly be allowed to continue. The Formula 1 De Tomaso wasn’t disastrous, but it was somewhat disappointing. And very unreliable. So by the time they got to 1970 Dutch Grand Prix, at Zandvoort that August, Piers hadn’t managed to finish a single championship race. And now a world class turn-for-the-worse was about to appear on the cards. Not only did Piers fail finish the race in Holland, but someone else in the Courage family would suddenly, unexpectedly, find themselves picking up the tab of his beery inheritance.
The Williams team would finish the season with other drivers (Brian Redman and Tim Schenken to be exact), but the heart had gone out of the show. Alejandro De Tomaso lost interest in Formula 1 completely. And never came back. Frank Williams though, would of course, soldier on. Initially as a privateer, before racing a car of his own construction for the first time in the 1972 British Grand Prix.
But it would be years before his team got a man on the podium again (and, for the record, it was also be Jacques Laffite’s first podium), with a 2nd place in the 1975 German Grand Prix. And they’d have to wait until 1978 before they ever managed to regain the sort of promise they’d shown in that first season with Piers Courage way back in 1969.