- Book review: Team Lotus: My View from the Pit Wall
An honest and insightful memoirChris Medland February 20, 2012
In recent years the Lotus name in Formula One has been dragged through the mud somewhat as a result of the ugly naming row between Tony Fernandes' team and Gerard Lopez's outfit. While all seems to have been resolved as we're left with Caterham and Lotus F1 in 2012, neither can rightly lay claim to the original Team Lotus that won 79 races and took 107 pole positions between 1958 and 1994.
The timing is therefore right for a reminder of just what made Colin Chapman's Team Lotus great, and in Peter Warr Team Lotus: My View from the Pit Wall comes from through the eyes of a man who arguably knew the nuts and bolts of the team better than Chapman himself. Having joined the team in 1958, Warr was team manager from 1969 to 1976 and returned in 1981, becoming team principal after Chapman's death the following year.
While there were many great triumphs on the track during Warr's years, this book is solely his account of what happened off it. Having admitted that he took some convincing to even write the book, he sets out early on that his aim is to bring the reader in to the team.
"This then is one person's attempt to fill out some of the background, with the absolute proviso that this view from the pit wall is a purely personal one, probably lacking in impartiality, but an attempt to give the reader a taste of the complex, stimulating, trying, sometimes heartbreaking but always exciting world that is Grand Prix Racing."
While Warr has made it clear his impartiality may shine through on a number of occasions, balance is added via the commentary from Simon Taylor, who spoke to Warr on many occasions both during and after his career. Taylor's input is required due to Warr's sudden death in October 2010, but after a short prologue founded on one of his many chats with Warr, Taylor's hand is a slight one that only adds context when required.
The book opens with a chapter on - who else - Chapman. While Warr's fierce loyalty to the team owner is abundantly obvious, he's not afraid to point out his close friend's failings. It's his position as a link between Chapman and the rest of the team, sometimes as a mediator and others merely an observer, that really brings the team ethic to the fore.
His passion for the drivers he viewed at such close quarters is so obvious that you get the impression he could write another book on each one that graced the team, though his record of Nigel Mansell - with whom Warr endured a difficult relationship - would likely be a less than complimentary read. Having sung the praises of so many of the team's drivers, Warr maintains that Mansell had too high an opinion of himself:
"At Zolder Nigel finished third and Elio [de Angelis] fifth, giving the Team its best result for ages and a much-needed boost. Colin admitted later that when, after the race, he said to Nigel "You're a star!", he never realised that Nigel would take this colloquialism so completely to heart. Nigel reminded him of it many times and ventured that, if he was, he should be paid like one. Early in 1982, in a completely uncharacteristic moment of weakness or lack of concentration, Colin eventually conceded a substantial rise that served only to perpetuate the myth in Nigel's mind."
As you would expect, the drivers section is heavily weighted towards Ayrton Senna, who Warr brought to the team in his role as team principal for the 1985 season. It was arguably his greatest achievement, and he reveals that it would have happened a year earlier had it not been for sponsors John Player & Son blocking the deal in favour of retaining a British driver in the form of Mansell. When Senna joined Lotus a year later Warr was forced to pay him over ten times the original amount agreed for the driver the team nicknamed "Magic".
On the flip side, the issue of Jochen Rindt's death clearly still rankled with Warr, as his recollection of the incident at Monza is preceded by extensive bullet points outlining the factors surrounding his accident. It's a considered, honest and convincing explanation that betrays how he and the team tried to come to terms with the loss.
While the drivers are an obvious topic covered, the chapter on racing mechanics provides insight in to team members rarely acknowledged. Described by Warr as the "heroes who make up the engine room of Grand Prix racing", anecdotes flow for employees ranging from the mechanics who he watched burn out, to 'Brian the Broom'; the factory cleaner who remained with the team for nearly thirty years.
Working for a team that was so innovative, Warr is keen to acknowledge the engineers he so admired. One account recalls a period when Lotus was a breeding ground for those so influential on the sport today.
"Head of engineering and housed in the first Portakabin was Dr Harvey Postlethwaite. Number two to Harvey and taking the lead role in the design of the chassis and mechanical components, was Patrick Head.
"To make our own body panels and particularly to gain experience with the new lightweight woven-cloth glassfibre technology, we asked someone who was working in the machine shop to help out in the lock-up garage. His name was Ross Brawn.
"And finally, to help Harvey with his aerodynamic work in the wind tunnel, we hired straight from Southampton University a young graduate who took up residence in the new development shop. His name was Adrian Newey."
That the final chapter written by Warr is a glowing relation of Bernie Ecclestone demonstrates how My View from the Pit Wall is his attempt to take fans inside the sport from his perspective. The team's fortunes on-track are referenced sparingly throughout, and if there's a downside to the book it's the impression that Warr's death has left so much more untold.
Warr's book is an honest and insightful memoir that reveals as much about the way Formula One was shaped towards what it is today as it does the heroes of his era, and as a result is a must-read for fans of the sport.
Title: Team Lotus: My View from the Pit Wall
Author: Peter Warr (with commentary from Simon Taylor)
Published by: Haynes
Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1