Cheever on Warwick

The re-match: in May last year Derek talked about Eddie (left). Now the racing boot is on the other foot
By Nigel Roebuck

Cheever and Warwick…Warwick and Cheever… For several years, back in the 1980s, you spoke their names as one, and even now, when you think of the one, you think of the other. First, they were team-mates in Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguar sports car outfit, then in Jackie Oliver’s Arrows Formula 1 team. Sometimes they were close buddies, and sometimes they were ready to kill each other. “In some ways,” Cheever smiled, “it was a lot like a marriage…”

At Goodwood last June I was in the drivers’ tent, drinking a coffee when suddenly I was in an armlock, and someone was shouting at me. It was a voice I knew.

“I want to talk to you! I saw that story – ‘Warwick on Cheever’ – and I demand to do ‘Cheever on Warwick’!”

Eddie sat down, laughing. “Actually, a British friend called me one day, and said, ‘Are you mates with Derek?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Well, you ought to read this article in Motor Sport!’ I did – and I thought it was very humorous.”

The Cheever-Warwick story really began in 1986. For years they had been in F1 together, but had never really got to know one another. At the end of 1985, both Alfa Romeo and Renault withdrew from racing, and thus it was that Derek and Eddie found themselves on the street.

When Walkinshaw came calling, neither was wildly enthusiastic – as Cheever put it, “Sports car racing! We were Formula 1 drivers, for Christ’s sake!” – but needs must, and they duly signed. Unbeknownst to the other.

“We were both angry,” Eddie said, “that we were not driving Grand Prix cars, that we’d gotten shuffled out. I was hired as the number one driver for Jaguar – and so was Derek! Typical Tom, right? We went training in St Moritz, and we were chatting, ‘Well, why are you here? I’m number one…’ I said exactly the same, and at that point we just laughed about it, and got on with having a good time.

“So now Walkinshaw’s got his two number one drivers, and he put us in the same car. And it was a good pairing. We really did well in sports cars, in the beginning, anyway.”

There was, however, a certain learning curve. “Derek and I got to our first race together, at Monza, and here we were, two F1 drivers in a sports car team, and we both acted like we were above it all: we just turned up and drove. We had a very quick car, and I did the first stint, and led the race.

“Then it came time to change drivers – and we hadn’t practised it. I mean, not even once! These days, I guess, they practise that more than anything.

“Anyway, I’m getting out of the car – and I’m not getting out of the car quick enough for Derek! Now, Derek is not a weak man – I mean, he could pick up the back of the damn car if he had to. He grabs me, drags me out, and kind of throws me three feet away from him!”

A sly grin spread across Cheever’s face; he was getting to the bit he savoured.

“What he forgot, though, is that if I didn’t help him get in the car, he wasn’t going to get in the damn car! So I just stood there, and folded my arms, and looked at him. He started yelling at me, and I said, ‘No, f*** you! I’m not going to put you in…’ And Walkinshaw just stood there, with his arms folded.

“Anyway, after about a minute, I finally did up his belts – he’s growling, and I’m cussing at him, and we’re looking like complete idiots. At the next race, Silverstone, we’re told to be there two hours early. And Tom stood there, and made us practise driver changes for at least an hour – in, out, in, out… Didn’t say a word throughout – just stood there with a stopwatch…”

Cheever and Warwick won at Silverstone, but although they were starting to be friends, still they were also very much racing drivers. “We got on really well – but I wanted to be the one who qualified the car, and Derek wanted to be the one to qualify the car; I wanted to do the first stint, so did he… This bickering kept going, and then we went to Le Mans. I think Jean-Louis Schlesser was our third driver, and we didn’t even let him drive!

“I think that race at Le Mans was probably the best I ever drove – and maybe Derek would say the same. We had found a way to not use up the car, and yet be incredibly quick – and we were both very altruistic. I would do more, so he would get a longer rest, and he would do just the same. We started off with two-hour stints, then it became three, then four – and then right at the end some stupid little screw comes out of the gearbox! We all have Grands Prix that we could have won if this or that hadn’t happened, but that year’s Le Mans has probably been the lost race that bothered me the most.”

While Cheever remained with TWR Jaguar, Warwick left, but it was not the end of their association, for each was offered an F1 drive for 1987 – and by the same team. They would drive for Arrows for three seasons, but now the circumstances were rather different: in sports car racing, you want only good things for your co-driver because he is sharing your car, but in F1 invariably your team-mate is your major rival.

“We still fundamentally got along,” said Cheever. “Travelled together quite a bit, and had a lot of fun. But F1 is a different environment, no question about it.

“Having said that, while we raced hard, and bumped into each other occasionally, I think we shared all information, and… usually got along! If you wanted to beat Derek, you beat him in the pits more than you did on the track. His enthusiasm was so obvious and overbearing…”

There were, according to Cheever, two or three occasions on which he and Warwick almost came to blows, most notably at Monaco in 1989, when Derek claimed that what would have been his best qualifying lap, perhaps good for the second row, was ruined by Eddie.

“To this day I have no idea what he was going on about! He said that I held him up in qualifying, and ruined one of his laps, but I have absolutely no recollection of that.

“On the other hand, the Suzuka story – when I came into the pits on what was going to be his lap in – is absolutely true. I wanted to come in for tyres, I didn’t want to wait another lap, and I knew that if I came in earlier, it would be better for me – so I did! It’s true that Derek was probably more altruistic than I was, but to this day I don’t feel like I should apologise to him.

“Boy, he was pissed off about that! As I say, we’d get to a point when it was going to come to blows – and then Oliver would say something, and he would then become the focus of the argument, and Derek and I would go and have a beer somewhere!

“It’s true that there were periods when we wouldn’t talk for a couple of months, and just go about our work, but Ross Brawn was there at Arrows, and he did a very good job of making everybody tell us that we had to stop acting like children, and get on with it.”

In the years when Mansell and Patrese were team-mates at Williams, Patrick Head maintained that Nigel’s biceps played a role in his raw speed. In the same way Cheever, even now, is in awe of Warwick’s strength. “Jesus, Derek was just a brute! I trained more than he did, but he was incredibly strong – I mean, gorilla strong – and he had a head as hard as a piece of marble. It was irrelevant to him that he’d just crashed, irrelevant that he’d just had a terrible race, irrelevant that he was half a second off the pace – it would make no difference! He was like a bulldog. The only way that he would lose track of things would be if his teacup was out of place, or his socks were in the wrong place… then he’d get upset. Tell you what, though, of all the people I’d been around in racing, he was the guy I most looked forward to seeing when we did the GP Masters thing…”

Ah yes, the short-lived GP Masters series, and the last act in the Cheever and Warwick Show. The first of the three races was run at Kyalami in 2005. “It was fun, seeing everybody getting revved up – all these years on, and it’s right back to where it was! I thought it was just going to be a jolly good time at Kyalami – after 10 minutes of driving the car, I was out of breath, so I went back home, and trained like hell…

“Anyway, by the time we get to Qatar, in ’06, Derek’s exactly the same as he was before! It was like I’d never left Arrows! He’s all pissy in the morning, and glaring at everybody. It was great stuff, a jolt of youth – he was exactly the same person, completely convinced that he was going to win every race he ever entered.

“That was the greatest quality that he had, and the one I most admired. I really don’t mean this in a bad way, but he had an absolute disregard of reality: ‘I’m going to win today, and I’m going to throttle this guy and that…’ He always put 110 per cent into his racing, no question about that.

“Everyone thought that Mansell was hard, physically – well, I raced with Derek when he had a broken rib or whatever, and it made absolutely no difference. Nigel was always hurt in some way, always complaining. He wanted to look good, and he thought he would look even better if people thought he was overcoming some problem. Derek was the absolute opposite: he really would be hurt, and he’d make a point of not telling anyone – he would think that wasn’t manly, and he’d also think, ‘Well, if they know I’m hurt, they’ll know I’m at a disadvantage’.

“Tell you what, I consider my career richer for having spent the time I did with a driver like Derek. Looking back, I enjoyed just about every minute of it…”