Obituary: Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite

APRIL 19, 1999

Obituary: Dr. Harvey Postlethwaite

Harvey Postlethwaite was one of the good guys of Grand Prix racing. He was an engineer of enormous talent, a great racing enthusiast, a man who loved to nurture new talent - both drivers and engineers - and a man who, because of bitter experience, was intent on improving F1 safety.

Harvey was passionate about many things, not simply racing. He had an impressive collection of classic Ferrari road cars and loved all things Italian. He had an immense love of life although, sadly, was not given his full measure, dying of a heart attack last week in Spain at the age of only 55.

A doctor of mechanical engineering, Harvey got bored working as a research scientist at ICI's petrochemical and polymer laboratory. He soon found a job in motor racing, working as a development engineer for the newly-formed March Engineering company in 1970. Three years later he was lured away to work for LordÊAlexanderÊHesketh, who had big ambitions in F1 and a wild young driver named James Hunt. Harvey modified a customer March F1 car and Hunt rapidly became a serious contender in F1 in the course of 1974. That winter Harvey designed the Hesketh 308 and Hunt put the new car on pole for the Race of Champions. A few weeks later he won the International Trophy at Silverstone. That year Hunt took the 308 to three third places and finished eighth in the World Championship. The following year - as Postlethwaite developed his innovative rubber-spring suspension - Hunt won a famous victory at the Dutch Grand Prix. Hesketh's money was running out, however, and at the end of the year the team's assets were sold to Walter Wolf, a partner in the newly-formed Wolf-Williams team. Harvey went with the cars - which became known as Williams FW05s. The team was not a success and a few months later Williams and Wolf split. Williams set up Williams Grand Prix Engineering and Wolf created Wolf Racing. Postlethwaite designed the Wolf WR1, a conventional Cosworth package. JodyÊScheckter was hired from Tyrrell and the team surprised everyone (including themselves) by winning their debut race in Argentina. Scheckter went on to win the Monaco and Canadian GPs and scored six other podium finishes to end the year runner-up in the World Championship to Niki Lauda.

The package was the same in 1978 but the arrival of ground-effects made it a less successful season and Scheckter was lured away to Ferrari for 1979. Wolf hired James Hunt but his motivation was gone and he quickly retired, to be replaced by Keke Rosberg. By then, however, Walter Wolf had grown tired of his F1 adventure and sold the team to Emerson Fittipaldi.

Postlethwaite designed the Fittipaldi F8 and Rosberg drove it with some success, overshadowing Fittipaldi in most events in 1980. Emerson gave up driving that winter, intending to run the team, but the money dried up and in May 1981 Enzo Ferrari asked Postlethwaite to move to Italy and teach the Italians how to build competitive F1 chassis. Postlethwaite designed the 126C2, powered by Ferrari's remarkable V6 turbo engine. The team won the 1982 Constructors' Championship, but the achievement was overshadowed by the death of Gilles Villeneuve and by the accident which maimed Didier Pironi. The following year Ferrari won the Constructors' title again with Harvey's 126C2B. Postlethwaite loved Italy and stayed at Ferrari despite the politics until the summer ofÊ1987 when the team edged him out by hiring John Barnard. Harvey moved to Tyrrell where, working with Jean-Claude Migeot, he developed the groundbreaking raised-nose Tyrrell 019 with which Jean Alesi stunned the F1 community in 1990.

Harvey was in demand again and in 1991 joined Sauber to oversee Mercedes-Benz's return to Grand Prix racing. When the Stuttgart company decided to do it unofficially, Harvey went back to Ferrari. By then the political battles at Maranello had reached monumental proportions and after a year Harvey was pushed out again. He convinced the Tyrrell Family to give him 10% of their team and went back to Ockham.

While the Tyrrells tried to find the money, Harvey ran the team and eventually became managing-director. In many ways it was his team. Money was always short but Postlethwaite built up a young and talented engineering team, including Mike Gascoyne. They dreamed up the hydrolink suspension, a pneumatic semi-automatic gearbox and the famous X wings. At the end of 1997, the Tyrrells sold out to British American Racing. Harvey had little choice but to stay on to run the operation until it closed down. By then the new Honda F1 team was beginning to operate and Harvey moved to be its head. Most of the Tyrrell staff followed.

Harvey wanted the team to race this year, but the Japanese company decided to be cautious and so Postlethwaite had to settle for a year of testing. He was greatly looking forward to his new challenge.

Postlethwaite should also be remembered for his work on Professor Sid Watkins's safety group, which introduced many innovations which have saved lives in recent years.

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