Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Thoughts on Peter Warr

Like many people, I was very sad to hear of the passing of Peter Warr earlier this week.

Bernie was absolutely right to say that 'When Peter was in Formula One he helped me to build it to what it is today'. Peter Warr's F1 team management career ran from 1969, when he was asked by Colin Chapman to take the team manager role at Team Lotus, all the way through to 1989, taking in spells at Wolf, Fittipaldi and back again to Lotus along the way. His career encompassed the transformation of the sport from something of a gentlemanly pastime to the professional event recognised around the world that we're all so familiar with today.

Further, in this time Warr was not just another team boss, he distinguished himself as one of the most effective team managers in the sport, often in difficult circumstances.

I personally became aware of Peter Warr when I first followed the sport in the mid 1980s. I was an Ayrton Senna fan (and not one of the posthumous converts that seem to be so numerous!), so Warr therefore was a key figure in my F1 initiation, as Senna's team manager at Lotus. While Lotus's decline throughout the 1980s is well documented, it should be recorded that Warr's team did astonishingly well with the resources available to them in this time.

Warr recalled that during the 80s, when he revealed to Ron Dennis how much John Player Special, Lotus's main sponsor, was contributing money-wise, Dennis's response was incredulous. The figure was about a quarter of what Marlboro were contributing to McLaren. The Lotus team didn't have an in-house wind tunnel, and resources were so tight that their 1987 car was broadly the same as their 1984 car, with only incremental developments since. With these in mind, it's astonishing that they were even able to challenge for race wins in this time, let alone championships - even with Senna at the wheel.

But as Warr says 'we were a low-budget team but we made every penny count. We were punching above our weight'. Enthusiasm and graft helped this, as did large doses of innovation and ingenuity. Their piloting of active suspension is well known, but Warr also commented that in 1985 'we had bargeboards, and we had them miles before anyone else'. They can be seen on Senna's car as he won in the rain in Estoril early that year, and the very first versions of these were made from recycled rear-wing panels!

I also, by coincidence, just last weekend watched the film If you're not winning, you're not trying film, a fly-on-the-wall account of Team Lotus's 1973 season. It's very much a revealing and access-all-areas record of a 1970s F1 operation at the top of its game and competitiveness (you should try to get your hands on it if you at all can). While the film features a lot of Colin Chapman (understandably), Peter Warr's invaluable contribution as team manager can clearly be seen. Like all great partnerships, he and Chapman each contribute what the other doesn't. Warr was very much Chapman's straight man - providing quiet authority, attention to detail and clear logic to balance Chapman's effervescence, charisma and occasionally wayward brilliance.

Warr's attention to detail was also brought to the Wolf team, whom he was brought in to manage on their debut year in 1977. They, with Jody Scheckter at the wheel, won the first race that season, and won two more later in the year, coming second in the drivers' championship to Lauda's Ferrari. This led Autocourse to attribute Wolf the title of the team of the year, commenting: 'So good was the Wolf organisation...the team ultimately scored more than half the points of the Ferrari team. This, after 12 months together'. Indeed, had it not been for a couple of errors on Scheckter's part and some mid-season fuel pressure problems, Wolf could have run Lauda much closer for the title.

Warr, stoic as usual, merely commented 'The thing about coming second is that it just reminds you how close you came to winning'.

Peter Warr - rest in peace.

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