The commanding figure of ‘Big Lou’ swept through the Formula One paddocks of the 1960s and 70s like an ocean liner. When cowed ‘foreigners’ mistakenly addressed him as Lord Louis, he never corrected them; he liked to live up to his image. Likewise, his initial connection with BRM was tenuous, and his contribution to it has been debated fiercely: he has, in the main, been condemned for running the team into the ground; but people forget that he played a small, but key role in its early-1960s turnaround.
A managing director of the Dorchester Hotel, Stanley was the second husband of Jean Owen, sister of BRM patriarch Sir Alfred. The Stanleys attended the Monaco GP of 1959 – and fell in love with the sport. It was a propitious moment, for Jo Bonnier ended the team’s long drought by winning the next grand prix, the Dutch at Zandvoort.
Sir Alfred, a devout man, did not go to Sunday races, and so the Stanleys became his eyes and ears. And despite his lack of a racing background, Louis proved astute, initially. In the immediate aftermath of the 1960 Dutch GP, with BRM’s drivers in open revolt, he organised the hotel meeting that saw the weakening of Raymond Mays’ and Peter Berthon’s grip on the team. Not everyone saw that a widening of Tony Rudd’s power base within the team was its best hope of success, but Louis did – and he helped push it through. By 1962, Rudd was in charge of all aspects of the Bourne outfit and that season was to prove its zenith.
There is a downside. After brokering ground-breaking deals with Yardley and Marlboro in the early 1970s, Stanley was incapable of halting BRM’s gradual slide. He was up against it, to be fair: the 1971 deaths of Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez were hammer blows; and the thought of bolting a Cosworth DFV into the back of its cars was an anathema to BRM. From ’75, the team carried the Stanley name – but this proved to be a sorry episode that did little for the reputations of BRM or Stanley.
It was during this time, however, that Stanley laid down his most important Fl legacy. After Jackie Stewart’s crash in the 1966 Belgian GP, Stanley was the Scot’s strongest supporter in the fight to improve track safety and medical back-up. He helped create the International Grand Prix Medical Service in 1967 and funded a mobile medical unit which was made available to every GP circuit in Europe. Not all accepted his ‘offer’ – he could be extremely brusque – but Stanley had started the ball rolling.
A prolific author on a bewildering array of topics, Stanley seemed to know everybody of note and have been photographed with most of them! He succumbed to a stroke, aged 92. PF