Monday, 13 December 2010

Tom Walkinshaw: 1946-2010


Apologies for the delay in posting. The last month has began to fill with coursework and other college-related work, so I haven't been able to spend enough time here as I would ideally want to. What with the end of the F1 season and the crowning of Sebastian Vettel as World Champion, it wasn't the best of times for this to happen. Nevertheless, now everything's out of the way, I will make sure I get back to posting properly from now on in.

Today's news in motor sport as a whole was dominated by the sad death of TWR founder and sometime Benetton/Ligier/Arrows F1 boss Tom Walkinshaw yesterday from cancer at the age of 64.
To say Mr Walkinshaw was an unsung hero in the field of motorsport would probably be right, although his career definitively speaks volumes about the influence he had on motorsport in general. Beginning his career as a driver in MG Midget races in his mid-20s, his progress was quick, winning the Scottish Formula Ford title in his first season, and becoming an Formula 3 driver in 1970,  only two years after starting his career in motorsports. His career in single-seater racing was not a particularly long or sparkling one, though: after breaking his legs in a shunt that year, he struggled for a few more seasons in Formula Two before being recruited to drive a Ford Capri in the British Touring Car Championship in 1974. This proved to be much greater in terms of results: Walkinshaw won seven race wins and a title in his class, alongside finishing fourth overall in the championship.

The year after saw the beginnings of Tom Walkinshaw Racing, which began by preparing BMWs for the BMW Country Challenege but within years had progressed to, and won the British Touring Car Championship with Win Percy in the TWR Mazda RX7s, as well as the Spa 24 Hours in 1981 (with Walkinshaw himself driving) and even the Paris-Dakar Rally, all within six years of the company's beginnings. There was some controversy involved, however. In 1983 the field-conquering TWR Rovers were found to be using illegal bodywork to improve their performance, and were stripped of their British title and banned outright. After 1983, the Rovers ran alongside TWR Jaguars in the European Touring Car Championship, where Tom Walkinshaw won the title in one of his own Jaguars. The partnership between Jaguar and TWR was a good one, and consolidated itself through their victories together in World Sportscar championships and the Le Mans 24 Hours, using the legendary XJRs. This also brought a young Ross Brawn his first taste of success, long before his F1 glory with Benetton, Ferrari and Brawn GP.

A Walkinshaw-prepared Rover Vitesse, 1985

Walkinshaw first entered Formula One in 1991, as a technical director for the Benetton team. One of his earliest coups was to lure Michael Schumacher from Jordan to Benetton in the 1991 season, to much uproar in the paddock and the threat of lawsuits from Eddie Jordan himself: the move turned out to be an extremely shrewd one. Schumacher was winning races within a year and by 1994, was looking set to win the driver's world title for the first time. Both, though, were soon to be caught up in controversy.  A number of controversies, from Jos Verstappen's horrifying fire at Hockenheim, to Schumacher's disqualification in Britain and subsequent two race ban, left many believing the team may cheated greatly on their way to the title. Team principal Flavio Briatore subsequently allowed Walkinshaw to run his newly-bought Ligier team for two seasons, without much success. After a falling out with Briatore, the Scot chose to buy into the Arrows team in early 1996, beginning a journey of 6 years with the British squad.

These years were a tumultuous time for the team as it struggled to find sponsorship and decent drivers to represent it. Once again though, Walkinshaw managed a coup by signing the out-of-work reigning champion Damon Hill to drive for the time in 1997, although the relationship didn't go as planned, with the pair both criticizing each other for their poor performances; despite Hill coming close to winning the Hungarian Grand Prix that year, he left at the end of the season and the team's fortunes went downhill once again. Despite sponsorship deals with Orange and Red Bull, the team's finances finally ran out and Arrows, along with TWR, went bust before the end of the season, ending Walkinshaw's involvement in F1, although he did set up a team in Australia's V8 Supercar series last year.

Tom Walkinshaw was a passionate and dynamic figure in motorsports whose talents led to great things across a great range of different formulae. A tough determined and complex character in the paddock, Walkinshaw never shied away from speaking his mind, but forged a great number of bonds in the business, as one of the sport's key players for over two decades. His legacy lives on through the large number of great drivers and teams he was involved with and the cars he helped to design and race throughout his long career, and the great success they have had in shaping the visions of racing we see today.

Rest in peace, Tom.

5 comments:

  1. F1 competitions will never be the same..

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  2. Not being much in to F1 sports I take this to be on equal footing with NASCAR losing Roush, Childress or Hendrick any of which woudl be a major blow to their respective teams. And the passing of anyone due to cancer (as compared to simple old age) is sad indeed.

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