MAURICE HAMILTON

Warr Stories


Peter Warr, British GP 1988

Peter Warr, British GP 1988 

 © The Cahier Archive

Peter Warr had a habit of pushing his heavy-rimmed spectacles further up the bridge of his nose and looking you in the eye. If he then said in stern fashion: "Look, Chap; I have to say..." it was likely you were in for a bollocking.

I was on the receiving end of a few of those, particularly during that rather sensitive period in 1986 when Warr didn't take to the suggestion that Ayrton Senna might be running the Lotus team rather than this former Guards officer with the military bearing and forthright manner.

There is no question that Warr was in charge. Having grown up with Colin Chapman's regime and acted as Race Director during the championship years of Jochen Rindt and Emerson Fittipaldi, Peter was the natural choice to take over Team Lotus when Chapman died of a heart attack in 1982.

Getting Senna on board was a crucial tactic to ensure the team's survival - even if it did mean Ayrton vetoing the signing of Englishman Derek Warwick, a move which we Brits liked to remind Warr about and which led to the occasional court-martial in the paddock.

Those moments and more were recalled on Tuesday during a memorial service to give thanks for the life of Peter E. Warr following his sudden passing in October at the age of 72.

It was somehow appropriate that the proceedings were conducted in a very British manner, from the delightful St Mary's Church in the village of Whittlebury, within rev-range of Silverstone, to the ever-so-slightly out of tune choir of local elderly ladies. Despite the weather doing its best to close down most of Britain, the sun shone on this corner of Northamptonshire as more than 100 friends and family gathered to pay their respects.

Warr left Lotus at the end of 1976 to head a new team for Walter Wolf, the Austro-Canadian oil millionaire who literally bought his way into F1. Against all odds, the Wolf-Ford, designed by Harvey Postlethwaite and driven by Jody Scheckter, won its very first race in Argentina. And then Monaco a few months later.

Peter Warr, Jody Scheckter, Dutch GP 1978

Peter Warr, Jody Scheckter, Dutch GP 1978 

 © The Cahier Archive

Scheckter gave a short tribute and proved why he was a better racing driver (and now owner of a very successful organic farm) than a public speaker as he frequently addressed his shoes. But the very fact that he was putting himself through this actually spoke volumes about his respect for Warr, Jody recalling the Monaco win as one of the highlights of his career.

"It wasn't just the fact that we'd won Monaco, it was the look of joy on Peter's face," said Scheckter. "I'll never forget that moment. It said everything about Peter and the racer he was."

Clive Chapman said much the same thing when reflecting on Warr's role with his father's team. Recalling Senna's first win at Estoril in the wet in 1985, Clive referred to an iconic picture of Warr and the team greeting Senna has he drove the black and gold Lotus into parc ferme

"The look of absolute delight on Peter's face," said Chapman. "He was ecstatic, but the point was you could see he was happy for Ayrton and the team. That's what Peter was all about."

The photo catches one of the mechanics, Kenny Szymanski, with both feet off the ground as he leaps in the air. Szymanski was present on Tuesday. But this was not the work of a moment - and never had been.

Szymanski, a steward with American Airlines, managed to combine his day job with being a tyre man for Team Lotus by arranging his rosters around the Grand Prix calendar. Now a senior steward, Kenny had flown overnight from his home in New York and caught a train to Northampton, where he was picked up by his old mate, Clive Hicks. Kenny and Clive were a dynamic pair, frequently up to no good - much to the mischievous Warr's delight, so long as it didn't interfere with work.

Peter Warr with Gerard Ducarouge and Ayrton Senna, Italian GP 1985

Peter Warr with Gerard Ducarouge and Ayrton Senna, Italian GP 1985 

 © The Cahier Archive

On Tuesday, Szymanski wore an elderly sweatshirt bearing the insignia 'Naff'. This was typical of Warr and his boys as they punctured a few egos.

Boss clothing, to celebrate becoming a sponsor with McLaren, had issued team members with different sweatshirts for each Grand Prix. The front would carry the letters BOSS and the back would have a map of the world with the date and country in question highlighted. They were very smart. Very Ron Dennis.

Warr and Szymanski produced these Naff sweatshirts and, on the back, a globe. But the arrow didn't point to some glamorous location. It said, in bold: 'SNETTERTON 1963'. If you've never been to the British club circuit, let me just say it ain't Rio or Monte Carlo. Kenny says they paraded the Naff gear outside the McLaren motor home and, to be fair, Ron enjoyed the moment as much as everyone else.

Warr turned fifty while we were in Detroit for the 1988 USA-East Grand Prix. He hired the Belle Isle Yacht Club for the night and a riotous assembly ensued, the highlight being the arrival of a dominatrix who chained Peter to a chair - and did things that I can't mention here.

To gain admission, the men had been given ties embroidered with 'Warr 50'. I wore mine again on Tuesday. I was not alone carrying happy memories of a very good man who played a highly significant part in a sport he loved.

Maurice Hamilton , a freelance motor sport writer and broadcaster since 1977, is the author of more than twenty books and contributes to websites and magazines worldwide.

His weekly column for Grandprix.com was Highly Commended in the 2011 Newspress New Media Awards.

Follow grandprixdotcom on Twitter
Print Feature