On March 5 1977, the third round of the championship was staged in South Africa. The first two had been won by Jody Scheckter in the neophyte Wolf in Argentina and Carlos Reutemann who took the win for Ferrari in Brazil. In South Africa, James Hunt took pole position by a whisker from Pace, while Niki Lauda was third.
Lauda got away well and closed up on Hunt and on lap 7, the Austrian passed the reigning world champion, who was also passed 11 laps later by an aggressive Scheckter, who didn’t hesitate to close the door on his adversary at the first corner. The race was marked by a tragedy involving Tom Pryce. On lap 22, the engine on Renzo Zorzi’s Shadow let go and he pulled up on the main straight in front of the pits. The car caught fire and a marshal diligently but unwisely tried to cross the track carrying an extinguisher. Tom, in the other Shadow, was hit on the helmet by the extinguisher and died on the spot, while his car, out of control, ran into Laffite’s Ligier at the next corner, as he was braking for the first turn.
The debris from the incident also affected Lauda’s race. A piece of the Shadow’s rollbar got stuck under the 312 T2, which began to lose coolant. Niki slowed and was thus caught by Scheckter, Hunt and Depailler, but still managed to fend off his rivals. Towards the end, Lauda also had lubricant problems which forced him to back off even more. The win was important for him as it meant he was now within two points of Schecktrer in the championship standings.