Derek Warwick - Life after Formula One...

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“What I’m trying to do at the moment is to come to terms with the fact that there is life after Formula 1. I’m managing to get myself really fired up with a lot of enthusiasm for this new Jaguar WSC project, but every so often the realisation that I’m probably not going to be in a Grand Prix car this year hits me hard. That I won’t be at Rio on March 23rd. At the end of the day this is hard to accept because, whatever you might try to kid yourself, Formula 1 is the thing. . ..”

For Derek Warwick, just 31 years old, and surrounded by the material trappings of a successful life in his tasteful, comfortable Jersey home, the last 24 months have thrown into sharp relief just how unpredictable life can be for a professional racing driver — and how precariously one’s reputation rests solely on the last race. At the end of 1983 he was regarded as Britain’s golden boy, the man most likely to make it to the top. He had just left his “spiritual home” amongst friends at Toleman for a big money deal to drive for Renault. It looked like a shrewd move and he turned down an offer from Team Lotus to join the French equipe.

The details of Warwick’s recent negotiations to stay in Formula I are too recent and well-publicised to be raked over in any detail here. Suffice to say that Ayrton Senna, unconvinced over Team Lotus’s ability to field two competitively reliable cars, vetoed the inclusion of any other experienced driver in the line-up as his partner. In practical terms, this closed off the last possible berth for Derek who was already out of a job following the withdrawal of the works Renault team, more than two years after Alain Prost notched up its final Grand Prix success.

Warwick does not feel sore about the way the cards have fallen, not in any petulant self-pitying way at any rate. He finds it difficult to hide the traces of indignation over the way in which he was “messed about” by Lotus team manager Peter Warr and sponsors John Player. Inwardly he is not certain whether he could be quite as ucompromising as Senna, feeling that such tricks have a habit of rebounding on you later during one’s racing career. But in terms of self-confidence in his ability behind the wheel, Derek has shrugged off the enormous disappointment as merely a “hiccup in my racing career. I can promise you that, somehow. I’ll be back in Formula 1 in the future and, when I leave it next, it will be on my terms. Because I want to get out, not because I’m unable to get a drive…”

Meanwhile, 1985 beckons as number one driver for the prestigious Silk Cut-sponsored TWR Jaguar XJR6 team in the World Sportscar Championship. When we visited him recently in Jersey, he was bubbling over with excitement with this new project and absolutely determined to give it all he has got in the face of the ever-present, and undeniably proven, Porsche onslaught.

“It was very difficult for me to think about life after Formula 1,” says Derek reflectively, “because I still think of myself as young, good enough to be World Champion and capable of winning races, and I honestly believe if you got the world’s top journalists together I would be rated in the top ten. I think that most people in the business accept that I have the necessary qualities as a driver to justify a place in F1.

“If you had asked me about going to the Jaguar team three months ago, I wouldn’t have given it breathing space because I was 100% aiming for F1. But I went to the recent Daytona 24 hour sports car race to drive the B. F. Goodrich Porsche 956 just to get some time in a car — almost for a rest, if you can call a 24 hour endurance race a rest!

“I drove in that race largely to try and detach myself from my off-track problems, focusing my mind on the single objective of getting that Porsche to the finish line and doing a good job. But, it was there that I finally realised that there is life after Formula 1.”

Derek admits it also gave him time to think about the Jaguar offer which had already been put to him. When it finally became clear that he was not going to be signed by Team Lotus, he made the very positive decision to go with Walkinshaw and sign on the dotted line to drive the Jaguar rather than hanging on hopefully on the F1 sidelines in the vain chance that something would crop up in the short time remaining prior to the start of the year. At least with Jaguar he has got himself firmly entrenched with a well financed and professionally operated organisation, a fresh challenge which will absorb his attention for the rest of the season.

Reflecting on the recent Rio F1 test and the way in which new boy Johnny Dumfries was kept on the sidelines for the first day and a half while Senna monopolised the available equipment, Derek winces slightly with an almost ironic expression on his face. The message is clear: it might almost have been more than he could have put up with accepting such a brutally compliant supporting role. Perhaps, he tells himself, not getting that Lotus seat could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

“My Jaguar deal is a good one, no question,” he states firmly, “and I think it is a very positive development for me. I’m not sour-graping the Lotus situation. But I’m number one at TWR: we’ve got Eddie Cheever in the team. I’ve been guaranteed all the testing, or as much as I want. I set the car up at the race. I qualify the car and Eddie partners me in the race. He’s a very quick driver, so I believe we represent the strongest line-up in the entire WSC field.

“Tom Walkinshaw is doing this whole project in his usual meticulous style; he does nothing by halves! We’re building our own engines at Kidlington, which everybody knows, we’re hoping to have qualifying engines. Roger Silman, who was team manager at Toleman when I was there, has the experience of running an F1 show, so he is working hard to inject the sort of tightness, the sense of urgency, into the programme which we all take for granted in F1, but which WSC possibly lacks in some areas.”

Derek concedes that the Jaguars might suffer slightly from not having a turbocharged engine, but, having said that makes the point that, having driven against the Group 44 cars at Daytona. there might be a few eye-openers this season to upset the WSC applecart

“I believe that we can run very strongly indeed,” insists Derek optimistically, “and if I hadn’t believed that I wouldn’t have committed myself to the project in the first place, bearing in mind I had the option to drive for a Porsche outfit. I am confident that I’ve got the best drive in the next best category after Formula 1. If you like, I lucked out to get this drive, because, by rights, I should be on the scrap heap, and this could be the way of keeping my name in the frame while at the same time winning motor races which, after all, is what we all want to do.” Of course, Warwick has had some WSC experience behind him, all achieved during 1983, his final season with Toleman. He handled the Kremer team Porsche CK5 special at Le Mans where he shared with Patrick Gaillard and Frank Jelinski. but isn’t inclined to comment about it in any depth: he just rolls his eyes and raises his eyebrows simultaneously!

Then came an outing with Franz Konrad in a Kremer Porsche 956 at Spa, followed up by his superb wet weather victory in the Brands Hatch 1,000 kms where he shared the J. David 956 with John Fitzpatrick, a driver for whom he has an immense amount of respect.

“The deal with Fitz was absolutely fantastic.” grins Derek with pleasure. “the car was obviously very competitive and it was on Goodyear rubber, which was to turn out to be an advantage, and by the end of my first stint in the cockpit I’d lapped the entire field. Fitz had told me that, if it was wet, I would start the race and do two stints behind the wheel, so that’s how we played it. But at the end of the first stint I was just bursting for a loo, and after an hour in really heavy rain I’d had enough. I just wanted to get out!

“So I was just unstrapping the harness and on the point of getting out when Fitz opened the door. said “you don’t want to get out, do you Derek?”, bang, slammed the door and ran away. He later told me “there was no way in the world you were going to get me in that car after you’d come in with a lap lead!”

Those preliminary sports car outings opened fresh challenges to Warwick and he makes no secret of the fact he would have liked to race in other WSC events in ’84 and ’85, but those Renault commitments obviously prevented it. “It was an experience that reminded me there were some very specific disciplines involved in sports car racing. It’s a slower pace, of course, but it can still be hard work, what with keeping an eye on economy and the need to conserve the mechanical side of the car and the speed differential as you are threading your way through slower traffic. I finished that Brands Hatch race feeling that WSC programme would ideally compliment a Formula 1 season: I even asked Renault whether I might do two or three endurance events when I was negotiating my contract, but the programme was just too busy to permit it. There was no way.”

Looking back, Derek has no doubts that his decision to go to Renault was correct at the time “It’s easy to be wise after the event, but at the end of 1983 who would bet that the team wouldn’t win another race for two years?” He made a fine impression on the French equipe during the first half of the 1984 season and, as a result, was offered a lucrative contract for the following season at around the time of the British Grand Prix. It seemed that his career was going to plan and he was on schedule to score his first Grand Prix victory.

After starting the year with a spell in the lead at Rio, third place behind the two McLarens at Kyalami and second place at Zolder, splitting the two Ferraris, Derek admits that his expectations rose considerably. Unless he was in a position to run at, or near, the front of the field, he was extremely disappointed. In that respect, when one compares the small crumbs of comfort he gained from relatively lowly placings in 1985, he admits that one’s outlook and standards change dramatically when faced with an uncompetitive car

“I remember at Imola in ’84 getting really angry with Gerard Larrousse when he said ‘well done Derek’ after I’d nursed the RE50 home fourth.” he grins reflectively, “I got involved in a right old shouting match and said that the whole thing was a bloody disgrace. By comparison, when I finished fifth at Monaco last year and inherited a similar position at Silverstone after several others ran out of fuel, I felt quite elated and satisfied.

“Of course, most drivers will tell you that it’s the easiest thing in the world to run up with the leaders in a thoroughly competitive car which is working well. People said I drove really well to finish second in the ’84 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, but I personally found it an extremely boring race. There was no way I could make any ground on McLaren, so I was pacing myself to Senna’s Toleman and Elio’s Lotus which were next up behind me, but not close enough to cause me any trouble. It was just the same when I finished third at Hockenheim behind the two McLarens: I just ran round alone for much of the race and it all seemed rather boring.”

A change in Renault fortunes came at the end of ’84 when Gerard Larrousse and chassis designer Michel Tetu left the team to join Ligier after a succession of policy disagreements with the company over the management of Renault Sport. Into the position of Renault Sport director came Gerard Toth, who was eventually to preside over the worst season for the French national Grand Prix team since its maiden full season in 1978. Warwick admits that he didn’t take to Toth warmly on a personal level from the start — and their relationship plunged downwards from that point onwards.

“From the start Toth felt that we didn’t need a new chassis engineer from outside Renault Sport, preferring to rely on the technicians we already had,” reflects Derek, “but I can tell you that the RE60 felt bad and was a lot slower than the RE50 the first time we tried it at Rio. Patrick (Tambay) and I just looked at each other and said ‘we’re in the …’. It seemed impossible that things could get worse, but that’s what seemed to happen.”

Look at the hard results of 1985 and they suggest firmly that Warwick handled the trials and tribulations which befell Renault with rather less in the way of resilience than his team-mate. Reorganising his private life moving the family to Jersey at the end of ’84, with all the attendant minor trials and tribulations, allied to a virus infection which took a long time to shake off, rather took the edge off his sharpness. He readily accepts that, in several races, he didn’t really do himself credit.

“By the end of the season it was getting difficult to motivate myself because I could see the problems approaching and I was getting almost frantic. I mean, to be honest, Patrick did his deal with Carl Haas quite early and he really didn’t care too much by the end of the year, but I could see my whole career beginning to slip away from me and it was an extremely difficult time. I mean, to be honest, Renault did a disgraceful job in many ways: recently I visited Ken Tyrrell’s base at Ripley and when you see what he manages to do with such limited facilities, the way that Renault carried on, with almost limitless resources, was really a scandal. . . .”

It is ironic in some ways that, after a difficult year adapting to life in Jersey, away from the “family compound” in rural Hampshire which revolves round the Warwick trailer business at Alresford, Derek really feels relaxed and comfortable in his new home. He, his wife Rhonda and their two daughters have left that initial feeling of unease about their new surroundings far behind. Derek likes the convenience of Jersey — “I can be in London quicker than I could from Hampshire” — loves the feeling of relaxation it offers and reckons that he has the best of both worlds. “I’m away a lot racing and can then come home to relax and get away from it all in these lovely surroundings.” he grins, “and in that respect I consider I am very fortunate.”

However, Derek is honest enough to admit that he does miss some aspects of living in his native Hampshire. “I miss the business. I miss the Swan Hotel which we own, but most of all I miss my baby brother. I’m enormously impressed with the way he has handled his stock car racing career, winning everything and sold up all the equipment by the time he was just over 16. There was a great temptation for him just to continue ‘for a little longer’, and I know my Dad and Uncle Stan were quite prepared for him to do that, but he decided that he’d done all that and it was time to move on to the next item.”

Derek Warwick displays an almost paternal affection for young Paul who, after this interview was conducted, won his first two Formula Ford races at the wheel of a Warwick “family team” Van Diemen.

He laughed when we laid down our theory that the younger brother in a racing family, historically, has always proved to be better than his elder. “Perhaps.” smiled Derek, “but all I can tell you at the moment is that Paul is better than I was at his age. But, in terms of experience and maturity, he is effectively five years older than I was at 17. I mean, we were just a bunch of country bumpkins going motor racing when I started and had no experience at all. We were so daft that I even ran with virtually no rear wing on at Monaco when we went there for the first time in F3!

“In that respect Paul has an enormous advantage because he can plug into my experience and I can give him advice to short-cut problems he would otherwise have to sort out for himself. I always tell him ‘you’re quick, Paul, but no matter how quick you think you are now, I’m quicker. And that’s because I know, I’ve got the experience. I know how to do it. . .’ That might not always be the case, but he has enormous potential. I’m determined that he should not try to progress too fast too soon. On the face of it, he could be in F1 by the time he’s nineteen or twenty, but I don’t believe he should be. No matter how good you are there’s just no way you are mature enough at that age to handle all the outside pressure that’s involved. He must progress steadily and smoothly. I’ll be able to help him with that…”

It’s perhaps premature to see a 50 year old Derek Warwick standing in the back of some Grand Prix pit lane presiding over his 36 year old brother’s progress on the World Championship scene — doubtless still with Dad Warwick and Uncle Stan quaffing the ale in the background! — but the family racing dynasty clearly has a long way still to go before it’s finished. The fact that Paul Warwick has started out on the long road doesn’t mean we’ve heard the last of his elder brother by any stretch of the imagination.

Although he is out of F1 for the time being, I was struck by Derek’s mature, philosophical outlook to his fate. Rightly, he dismisses the irrelevant suggestions that “if” he had joined Team Lotus at the start of 1984 he might have been the man who was vetoeing Senna’s inclusion in the team, not vice versa. As Keke Rosberg always says. “if my aunt had been a man she’d have been my uncle” if is a word which doesn’t exist in any realistic racing driver’s vocabulary. So as I listened to Derek talk about a return to F1, it was not surprising that he was talking in terms of when, not if. When he does get back, he will be welcomed by all, for his talent and sunny demeanour will be missed in the F1 pit lane. — A.H.

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