APRIL 29, 2002
IT is with great regret that we must mark the death of Rob Walker, one of the great team owners of Formula 1 history - a great character and a great journalist. Walker died of pneumonia at the age of 84.
Born into wealth - he inherited the Johnnie Walker fortune when he was only three years old, Rob fell in love with racing when he watched a beach race at Boulogne in France when he was only seven. He started driving motorbikes and cars around the family estate when he was 17. One of his early purchases was a Brooklands racer which had been built by John Parry Thomas and in order to get rid of this his mother promised to buy him any non-racing car he chose. He picked a Rolls Royce.
On his 20th birthday he bought a Lagonda sportscar and, after learning to fly, began racing with a 10-year-old Lea-Francis. Two years later he bought a state of the art Delahaye which he raced that summer at Brooklands and at Le Mans (where he finished eighth with Ian Connell).
The outbreak of war ended his nascent career as a racing driver and in December 1939 he joined the Royal Navy as a pilot. He spent the early part of the war in Liverpool before being posted to North Africa. He survived the torpedoing of the ship on which he was travelling to Malta but soon afterwards was grounded because he did not have good night vision.
He was demobilized in 1945 and went back to racing with the Delahaye and won a series of minor events in the immediate post-war era. He then became an entrant and soon hired Tony Rolt to be his driver. He bought an ex-factory Aston Martin DB2 and entered it in races for Rolt and Eric Thompson. Rolt then persuaded him to buy a 1927 Delage racer, which had been revamped by Giulio Ramponi for Dick Seaman in the late 1930s and was still quite competitive. Rolt drove this during the 1950 and after it was fitted with an ERA engine in both 1951 and 1952. In 1953 Walker ran a Connaught for Rolt and the combination enjoyed some success and on occasion Stirling Moss drove the cars. It was a similar story in 1954 with Rolt doing most of the races but Peter Collins being the rising star and in 1955 when Peter Walker raced on occasion.
In 1956 Walker fielded Reg Parnell in a Connaught and Tony Brooks in Formula 2 in a Cooper while in 1957 the Cooper took over and Brooks was joined by Jack Brabham. The team made its big break through in 1958 when Walker convinced Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant to drive a pair of Coopers. Moss won the Argentine GP and Trintignant won at Monaco. That winter Walker was present when Mike Hawthorn crashed and was killed in an accident on the Guildford by-pass. The withdrawal of Vanwall gave Walker the chance to sign Moss full-time for 1959 and there was a victory in Portugal. In 1960 Walker switched to Lotus in F1 and Moss won a famous victory at Monaco and another in the United States after Moss had recovered from breaking his legs in an accident at Spa. In F2 Walker ran a Porsche for Moss although there was an attempt to build a Walker Special. This Alfa Francis-designed device was not a success.
The 1961 season saw wins at Monaco and the Nurburgring, while the team also did development work with the four-wheel-drive Ferguson F1 car, which had been built by Rolt.
Moss had his accident at Goodwood that Spring (driving for the British Racing Partnership) and so Trintignant took over with Walker's F1 team. At the end of the year the team rented a car to Ricardo Rodriguez in Mexico and he crashed and was killed. Six weeks later Gary Hocking drove one of Walker's cars in South Africa and also crashed and died.
In 1963 Walker bought Cooper chassis and ran Jo Bonnier and in 1964 the team switched to Brabham chassis. That year Jochen Rindt made his F1 debut in a Walker Brabham. For the 1965 season Bonnier was joined by Jo Siffert and Siffert took over in 1966. The Walker-Siffert combination remained together until the end of 1969 when Siffert joined BRM.
Having switched chassis on a regular basis, in 1970 Walker decided to use Lotus chassis and took on Graham Hill to drive. At the end of the year he agreed a three-year deal with Brooke Bond Oxo but Hill moved to Brabham and so Walker did a deal to work with John Surtees. Thus began a relationship with Mike Hailwood. When the Brooke Bond deal ended at the end of 1973 Walker went with Hailwood to a secondary McLaren team, sponsored by Yardley. Hailwood retired at the end of 1974 and Walker, by then 57 years of age, decided to concentrate on journalism with the US magazine Road & Track. The Rob Walker Racing Team was briefly revived in 1975 when he went into partnership in 1975 with Harry Stiller to run Alan Jones in a Hesketh but after that Walker remained a chronicler of F1 until well into the 1990s when age made travelling increasingly difficult for Rob and his wife Betty.
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