After Motor Sport’s revered continental correspondent Denis Jenkinson had to shave off his beard when Jochen Rindt won the 1969 US Grand Prix in a Lotus, it was a moment of great amusement for the newly appointed Lotus team manager Peter Warr. Yet more than a decade later Warr rashly made a similar prediction about Nigel Mansell, stating that as long as he [Warr] had a hole in his backside the British driver would never win a Grand Prix.
Warr, who has died at the age of 72, learned to laugh at his own error of judgement. More importantly, he earned a crucial place in F1 history as the keeper of the Team Lotus flame during the 1980s after the company founder died of a sudden heart attack just before Christmas 1982. He played his personal trump card by signing Senna to drive for Lotus in 1985, a move which would have undoubtedly attracted Colin Chapman’s approval.
Warr originally nurtured his own racing ambitions, eventually purchasing a Lotus 7 which had been specially built for Graham Hill to drive in the traditional Boxing Day Brands Hatch fixture in 1959. He raced it enthusiastically for a couple of seasons before switching to the Formula Junior category.
It was an exiting and absorbing time for Warr. After working all hours at the Lotus factory, he would then rush off on Friday evening, towing his car, to get to a race on the Continent and be back to work on Monday morning. He won the Formula Junior Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring in a Lotus 20 and made two trips to Japan for races at Suzuka, winning the 1963 Japanese GP, then a sports car race, driving a Lotus 23B.
Warr retired from racing in 1964 and originally intended to follow Lotus with its move to Hethel, Norfolk, in ’66. But when it came to the crunch, Warr decided not to go and left the team, in part because the job he really wanted as Lotus F1 manager had gone instead to his colleague Andrew Ferguson. Then one day in 1969, Ferguson tipped Warr off that he was leaving the company, too. Chapman judged Warr as the right man for the vacant post.
Warr managed the team through the golden years of the Lotus 72, suffering the tragedy of Rindt’s death in 1970 and then presiding over the team’s re-birth in ’72 when Emerson Fittipaldi became world champion. This domination continued into ’73 when Ronnie Peterson joined Fittipaldi, but over the next two years their fortunes began to wane and things weren’t helped in the spring of ’75 when Warr broke both legs in a road accident.
At the 1976 British GP Warr was presented with a golden opportunity. He was approached by the Austro-Canadian oil millionaire Walter Wolf who had just acquired the assets of the bankrupt Williams team. Wolf wanted a clean-sheet approach for ’77 and offered Warr the job of masterminding the project. He quickly accepted the new challenge.
Colin Chapman was hugely disappointed to have lost his key administrator. For all his outward bluster, the Lotus chief retained a keen perception of Warr’s contribution. Warr could be tart and critical on occasion, displaying a brusque approach which could rub people up the wrong way. But he was immensely loyal to Lotus, conscientious and meticulous about the way in which the team was run. Chapman bade him good fortune and suggested that he regard his detour to Wolf as ‘temporary leave of absence’.
Jody Scheckter took the new Wolf to second place in the ’77 World Championship, a success which was as impressive as it was unexpected. But in the summer of ’81 came the call from Chapman. It was time for Warr to return to Lotus, but just 16 months later he was telling the team the tragic news that their leader had died. Warr now found himself unwillingly thrust into the Lotus driving seat. And he did a brilliant job. Alan Henry