Sometimes there just isn’t any justice in motorsport. For someone as talented as Derek Warwick to have competed for more than a decade and 150 Grands Prix without a single win beggars belief.
Yet there is scarcely a hint of discontent or bitterness in our exclusive interview with the humble man from Hampshire, who had the skill, but never the machinery, to achieve as much success as his compatriot Nigel Mansell.
His path to Formula 1 was unusual in the sense that he started out racing in stock cars, incredibly winning the British and World Championships while aged in his teens. The motorsport bug had bitten hard, and so he funded his venture into Formula Ford before he graduated into Formula 3 in 1977.
He was involved in a thrilling tussle for the 1978 F3 title with Nelson Piquet and Chico Serra, finishing runner-up to Piquet in the BP Championship while winning the Vandervell crown.
Two seasons of Formula 2 followed – with Theodore and then Toleman – and he graduated with the latter as it made its F1 debut in 1981, but he only qualified the beastly car for the last race of the season.
Things could only go up from there, and so he toiled for the next two years with the turbopowered, Pirelli-shod Tolemans, battling for every place as though he were aiming for a win. Eventually, results came his way and he was called up to the works Renault team for 1984, replacing Alain Prost.
A win on his Renault debut looked likely at Rio until his suspension collapsed, and this was very much an omen for the rest of the year, as his car would let him down all too often. Offered the seat at Williams that Nigel Mansell instead took, Warwick stayed on with Renault in 1985, but it was a disaster and the carmaker quit the sport as a constructor, leaving him without a drive for 1986 when Ayrton Senna blocked his move to Lotus.
A drive with the Jaguar sports car outfit was all he could get for 1986, but he drove brilliantly, missing out on the title by a single point. His efforts were enough to earn him a mid-season call-up to the Brabham F1 team when it was tragically the victim of Elio de Angelis’ death, but even Warwick couldn’t get the radical BT55 – which had the structural rigidity of a paper bag – to behave.
And so it was off to Arrows for 1987 and beyond, and he stayed there for three seasons, with both driver and team failing to take that elusive first win.
It was hardly Derek’s fault, for the cars were midfield runners at best.
He finally did join Lotus in 1990, but the outfit was a mess and he had to dig deep after a huge first-lap crash at Monza, which was followed up by the near-fatal crash suffered in qualifying by his team-mate, Martin Donnelly, at Jerez.
Derek took a two-year break from F1 and achieved great success in sports cars once again, triumphantly winning the 1992 title and the Le Mans 24 Hours for Peugeot.
It was enough to earn Warwick a swansong F1 season with Arrows in 1993, and the team enjoyed one of its better seasons in awhile, although Warwick was at best a top-six runner in the active-suspension car.
And so Warwick retired from F1, took a year off and then dabbled in touring cars for a few years while he invested in many businesses and later the Triple 8 Racing empire, which remains one of the front-running outfits in international touring cars.
Warwick now heads up his own Honda dealership on the island of Jersey, and he still actively follows motorsport, as out exclusive interview with him will attest. This is one of our biggest – and we hope, our best – interview published to-date, and a range of topics are covered that span the length of Derek’s fascinating career.
We offer our sincerest thanks to Derek for his time and support in making this interview possible.
|Full Name:||Derek Stanley Harper Warwick|
|Born:||27 August 1954, Alresford, Hampshire (GBR)|
|First GP:||1981 Caesars Palace Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||1993 Australian Grand Prix|
|1971||Superstox English Championship, 1st overall|
|1973||Stock Car Racing World Championship, 1st overall|
|1976||British Formula Ford DJM Championship, 2nd overall|
|1978||British Formula 3 Vandervell Championship, 1st overall|
|British Formula 3 BP Championship, 1st overall|
|1979||British Formula 1 Series, 1 entry, 1 podium, 6 points, 11th overall|
|1980||European Formula 2 Championship, Toleman Hart, 11 races, 1 win, 7 podiums, 2nd overall|
|1981||Formula 1, Toleman Hart TG181, 13 entries, 12 DNQ, 1 race, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1982||Formula 1, Toleman Hart TG181C / TG183, 14 entries, 3 DNQ, 11 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1983||Formula 1, Toleman Hart tG183B, 15 races, 9 points, 14th overall|
|1984||Formula 1, Renault RE50, 16 races, 4 podiums, 23 points, 7th overall|
|Hawthorn Memorial Trophy winner|
|1985||Formula 1, Renault RE60 / RE60B, 15 races, 5 points, 14th overall|
|1986||World Sports Prototype Championship, TWR Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-6, 1 win, 3rd overall|
|Formula 1, Brabham BMW BT55, 10 races, 0 points, Not Classified|
|1987||Formula 1, Arrows Megatron A10, 16 races, 3 points, 16th overall|
|1988||Formula 1, Arrows Megatron A10B, 16 races, 17 points, 8th overall|
|Hawthorn Memorial Trophy winner|
|1989||Formula 1, Arrows Cosworth A11, 15 races, 7 points, 10th overall|
|1990||Formula 1, Lotus Lamborghini 102, 16 races, 3 points, 14th overall|
|1991||FIA Sportscar World Championship, Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-14, 2 wins, 2nd overall|
|24 Hours of Le Mans, Silk Cut Jaguar XJR-12, 4th overall with J. Nielsen & A. Wallace|
|1992||FIA Sportscar World Championship, Peugeot Sport 905 Evo 1B, 3 wins, 1st overall|
|24 Hours of Le Mans, Peugeot Sport 905 Evo 1B, 1st overall with M. Blundell & Y. Dalmas|
|Autosport Awards ‘British Competition Driver of the Year’ winner|
|1993||Formula 1, Footwork Mugen-Honda FA13B, 16 races, 4 points, 16th overall|
|1995||BTCC, Old Spice Racing Alfa Romeo 155TS, 19th overall|
|1997||BTCC, Vauxhall Sport Vectra, 14th overall|
|1998||BTCC, Vauxhall Sport Vectra, 1 win, 2 podiums, 9th overall|
|2005-6||Grand Prix Masters, Team Lixxus, 5th places at Kyalami and Qatar|
|2011-present||British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) President|
How did you come to be involved in motorsport? Did you always harbour ambitions of making it to Formula 1?
My father and uncle, who were in business together building agricultural trailers, also raced karts. So I was brought up with everything that had a engine from cranes, diggers, forklifts, cars, lorries, you name it.
I then had my first year in karts at the age of 12 and won the southern championship, but ran out of money so stopped until I was 15 and started racing on the ovals in stockcars for a year, then moving up to Superstox where I won the English title at age 17 and the World title in 1973.
I never thought about F1 at this time, although at the end of 1974 we got bored with Superstox and went to Thruxton to watch my first Formula Ford race and that was it – I knew we had to do it and it was then that I started reading about F1 and all the drivers during that time.
Growing up, did you have any motorsport idols?
Not until the early 1970s, then I was hooked on how [Jochen] Rindt (who had won the World Championship posthumously), as well as great drivers like Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and then of course James Hunt.
You began your motorsport career in your teens driving stock cars, winning the English SuperStox championship at just 16 years of age and the World Championship by the time you were 18! What did this success mean to you?
It meant everything, because I was racing against my father and uncle at this time and raced four or five times a week, so Superstox completely consumed everything we did and winning the World Championship was the ultimate goal.
Your success helped fund your path into open-wheeler racing via Formula Ford, and then into Formula 3. You won the Vandervell F3 championship in 1978, and finished second overall to Nelson Piquet in the BP championship after a season-long battle with Piquet and Chico Serra, both of whom would graduate to Formula 1. What was this period like, and how fierce was the competition between the three of you?
I think that 1976 in Formula Ford was an iconic year, competing with the likes of Daly, Walsh, Serra, Kennedy, Bremner, van Royen, and more. Then in 1978 I came up against Piquet, Serra, de Cesaris, and Mansell, but the season was all about Nelson and I. I was still running my car privately and he was running his from the Ralt factory, but the racing was fierce, Nelson ran on £68,000 and I finished my season on a budget of £17,500.
After a race-winning stint with Toleman in Formula 2, they decided to plump on its own F1 operation in 1981 with the TG181 chassis powered by a turbo-powered Hart engine. Perhaps not unexpectedly for a rookie outfit, it wasn’t a competitive prospect, but it must have been rather galling to fail to make the grid for the first eleven races you entered. Were the problems you were encountering down to the car, the inexperience of the operation, or a combination of other factors?
I thought after 1980 Toleman was the team to be with, especially with Rory Byrne and Pat Symonds on the technical side. The car was designed around the same concept at the F2 car and it was completely wrong, plus the Hart engine was having quite a lot of problems which didn’t allow us to develop the car.
Of course, the team was new to F1 but that wasn’t the problem, we didn’t have enough money to redesign the car for 1982 so we carried the same problems forward. It wasn’t until 1983 that Rory was allowed to build a new car and then we started to score points.
It might have felt like a race victory to qualify for the final race of the season at Caesar’s Palace. Although a gearbox failure would kill your race, this was still a step forward for you and the Toleman team?
Not really, I knew we were lucky to qualify and we weren’t really expecting to finish, but we always attacked every race like we were going to win it.
Things could only get better, and they started to for 1982, where you were at least able to make the grid more regularly and scrap for every position, no matter where it was in the field. Some rather cruel wags had dubbed your car a ‘turbopowered truck’. But you stunned everyone with an incredible performance at the British Grand Prix, where Clive James described you and the car ‘performing far better than any car with a 12-ton lead chassis has a right to’ as you climbed up to an unbelievable second place. The inevitable retirement happened and you were out from what would have been a magnificent result. Can you talk us through that race in particular?
The car was known internally as the flying pig!!! Around the British GP we were really struggling for sponsors and needed to keep [title sponsor] Candy, so we qualified quite well because the Pirelli tyres were working well there.
Then come the race we started with lower fuel and that gave us the edge. With it, we passed the Ferrari for second place and we were suddenly the heroes!
Things finally started to come together in 1983, with a flurry of points’ scoring results in the final races of the season. These results would prove crucial in securing you a drive with Renault for 1984, but the pleasure in finally achieving points with Toleman would certainly have been palpable?
I remember getting out of the car in Zandvoort after scoring our first points and everyone was crying from team members to journalist who supported us over the years.
Yes, finishing in the points in the last four races definitely gave us a chance with top teams and I ended up signing for Renault. I still remember that moment as the biggest moment in my career.
Alain Prost had quit the team after he had failed again to land the Drivers’ Championship, but what were your initial impressions of the Renault squad when you joined them for 1983?
Fantastic, I had a great team mate in Patrick Tambay who was totally trustworthy. I think the team were relieved to move on from Prost, having said that the team self-destructed at the end of 1984 after we lost [team boss] Gerard Larrousse and [chief designer] Michel Tetu to Ligier.
Perhaps the closest that you would come to a race win would be your first race with the squad in 1984 at Rio, where you led until your suspension collapsed. In a season of many retirements mixed with strong points’ finishes, did this almost set the tone for your time with Renault?
At the time I thought we were doing a good job but had a lot of bad luck with reliability, but on reflection it wasn’t what they needed, although they must have been happy with what I was doing because they put a lot of pressure on me to re-sign at Brands during the British GP.
You were offered a drive with Williams for 1985, which you turned down and it instead went to Nigel Mansell. How do you look at that decision 25 years on?
I don’t reflect on it until I get asked about it, to be honest. At the time it was the right decision to stay with a factory team and Williams were having their own problems with the Honda engine. With hindsight it was the wrong move, but I can sleep at nights.
The 1985 season would prove to be very difficult results-wise, and Renault opted to pull the plug on its F1 operation and concentrate solely on being an engine supplier. There was an opportunity to join the front running Lotus team, but Ayrton Senna famously vetoed the decision – he would publically justify this as harbouring concerns that Lotus couldn’t have fielded two competitive cars, but many felt that, privately, he was worried about the threat you would pose to his stature. While this was no doubt a devastating blow for you at the time, did you draw some comfort later from Senna’s acknowledgement of your talent, and did he ever reconcile with you over his decision to block your appointment?
This was probably the turning point in my career. Renault lost all the good guys at the end of 1984 and didn’t replace them, when Patrick and I first drove the new car in Rio it was 3.5 seconds slower than the old car, so we knew we were going to have a bad season, with the biggest problem being that the big bosses wouldn’t build a new car. So at the end of the year we didn’t get the results and the decided to stop.
I had signed for Lotus when out of the blue – just before Christmas – they asked me to come to Lotus’ headquarters. I went over and it was then that they said that unfortunately Senna and the sponsor had decided that they didn’t want me to be Senna’s teammate. Buy this time all the drives had been taken up and I was left without a drive for the 1986 season.
I then got a letter from Senna in the New Year wishing me all the best for 1986!!! It was obvious that Senna was worried that Lotus couldn’t run two number-one cars and he was worried, I believe, that I would take over the team being quick and being a British driver? Yes, I can look back and say it was a compliment but that doesn’t help the fact that he probably destroyed my career, because I never got back to a top team.
You ventured to sports cars for 1986, and found this to be a discipline in which you particularly excelled in subsequent years, winning the title and the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1992. How did the longer distance endurance races of sports cars compare with the (relative) sprints that were a Formula 1 Grand Prix? Did your driving technique evolve to cope with these changes?
It wasn’t a case of suiting me at all. It was pure and simple: I was driving the best sports cars and then winning came very easily. I drove for Jaguar in 1986 and 1991, finishing second in the World Championship both times. Then I signed for Peugeot in 1992 and won Le Mans and the World Championship. Easy!
Your return to the F1 grid would occur under the most tragic of circumstances when Elio de Angelis was killed testing his Brabham at Paul Ricard. The car your disposal was Gordon Murray’s famous low-lying BT55, which was certainly not the success the team had hoped it would be. What were the fundamental problems with the car?
Elio was the perfect racing driver: good-looking, fast, consistent, very intelligent and above all a great guy. When he was killed, it was big shock to all of us.
I got a phone call from Bernie [Ecclestone, Brabham’s team owner], who said that he really appreciated the fact that I didn’t call him five minutes after Elio had died and would I like to drive for him. So I went to Brabham, looked at the car and thought OK, the car not good at the moment but we have [chief designer] Gordon Murray and he is the best engineer-cum-designer in the world.
Unfortunately he wasn’t really focused on F1, maybe he was tired or ‘something’. Anyway, while the car was arguably the prettiest car in F1 with the most powerful engine with a BMW turbo, unfortunately the car was not stiff enough and it was a pig to drive. Basically, the chassis suffered from horrible twisting.
Nonetheless, it was enough to land you a three-year stint at Arrows, where you peaked with several points’ scoring finishes in those years while working alongside the likes of Ross Brawn, who was very much in the formative stages of his illustrious career. What was your time at Arrows like?
I thought Arrows was a stop-gap team for me, but until Ross arrived for the 1989 season the cars were not the best. Then Ross designed the little A10 and we led two races but it quite often broke down; we just didn’t have enough money, which was a real shame.
I enjoyed my time with Arrows, it was a great little team that was propped up by Jackie Oliver who was a real wheeler-dealer – without him the whole team would have crashed.
You would eventually join Lotus in 1990, but the outfit was very much a shadow of its former self, and you picked up a total of 3 points. How tough a period was this for you and the team, particularly in the light of your team-mate Martin Donnelly’s massive qualifying accident at Jerez, from which he incredibly survived. How did his accident affect you personally?
This was one of the biggest disappointment for me of my career. I went there thinking I had the might of Lotus behind me, which I did, but (like you say) it wasn’t the same Team Lotus and they had had some budget problems.
The car was not stiff enough and we had some engineers who were new to F1 and new to composites construction, so the car was twisting. While the engine although sounded unbelievable, it was old and lacked power.
Again, the car kept breaking down and then Martin was almost killed at Jerez.
I thought Martin was dead and after they got him to hospital everyone was saying it was just a matter of time. Thankfully he survived although the end result was a waste of a great talent. Getting back into that car the next day was without doubt the bravest thing I have ever done. But I felt that if I didn’t drive the car that day the team would have folded.
You yourself have also had a couple of particularly monstrous accidents from which you incredibly walked away from with scarcely a scratch. I personally recall two rather more spectacular ones – Italy 1990 and Germany 1993 (both of which we featured in a top-ten ‘How the hell did they walk away from that one?’ countdown article). What are your thought processes during ‘the big one’?
I don’t really want to be famous for my crashes, I was kind of hoping it would be about all the races I won and winning the F1 World Championship!
Jokes aside, at Monza in 1990, I was exiting the Parabolica too close to the car in front and understeered off and hit the barrier. This ripped off the left side of the car and I barrel-rolled down the straight at 150mph, as the car was sliding upside down I had the time in the car to think ‘If a car hits me, I’m done’. Then as I was still sliding down the road I took off the steering wheel and turned off the engine for two reasons: I wanted to get out ASAP in case it caught fire; and if the car was in the middle of the track I could take the spare car. So when the car stopped I got out and ran back to the pits for the spare car, I was fully aware of what I was doing because as I got to the pits I was screaming for set eleven, which was my next best set of tyres. Having said all that there’s no way I should have raced.
Hockenheim was simple, I was following Prost in the Williams in the Sunday morning warm-up, it was almost impossible to drive because it was raining so much. I was right under his rear wing, not able to see anything when he suddenly darted left, there was a slow car going round and he saw it and I had no chance to avoid it. The impact tore off the right-hand side of the car, and therefore I had no brakes, and when I eventually got to the chicane I was still going about 120mph. I hit the curb and turned upside down in the gravel. The first people on the scene were Gerhard Berger and [my team-mate] Aguri Suzuki. When they got to me they just stopped and said ‘Are you all right?’. I said ‘What do you think?!’.
You had one final stint in F1 in 1993, rejoining Jackie Oliver at Arrows, although it was now known as ‘Footwork’. There were the odd points’ finishes, and the FA14 was a top-six car at best despite the advent of the TAG/McLaren active suspension system it had fitted. Of the various technical regulations that you competed under – turbo power, ground effect, computer-controlled ride-heights – was there a preference?
Going back to Arrows – which the was, effectively – was great for me. The car was designed by Alan Jenkins, but again it had a quite a few failures which was a shame because the car was quite good.
I feel very lucky, privileged and relieved that I was a part of the eras of ground effect, 1350BHP turbo engines, carbonfibre chassis’, and computer-aided cars, and that I survived was a miracle and a pleasure. It’s something I think the drivers of today would like to have experienced.
You retired from Formula 1 and took a sabbatical before joining the Alfa Romeo works team in the British Touring Car Championship in 1995. The outfit had dominated the series the year before, but it certainly wasn’t the case in 1995 and it seemed like another case of ‘wrong car, wrong time’. Your opening race saw you memorably collect a TV camera, prompting Murray Walker to quip ‘That’ll be six grand please, Derek!’ Did you offer to cough up the cash for the broken BBC equipment?
No I didn’t pay for the camera! Again it was a case of ‘wrong car, wrong time’, it’s the story of my life, I’m afraid.
You moved on to set up Triple 8 Racing, which has – including and beyond your departure in 2001 – expanded to achieve success in the BTCC and V8 Supercars Australia. How did team management compare with driving (although you did juggle both during your time at the helm)?
It was really tough because as well as Triple 8 Racing, I had six car garages and employed almost 250 people.
I sold the UK arm of Triple at the end of 2002 and all of my UK garages in 2003. I was trying to do too much and paid the consequences in terms of my health. I still own a part-share of Triple 8 Racing in Australia with my good friend Roland Dane.
You joined the short-lived Grand Prix Masters series, and had the opportunity to compete alongside many of your F1 contemporaries. What was it like to race against your peers once again?
I initially thought it was a joke. There was no way they would get the likes of Nigel [Mansell], Emo [Fittipaldi] and their like over the age of fifty to race again in a sort-of F1 car.
Anyway, I went to the first test because I wanted to challenge myself, could I still be quick and keep my foot in aged over fifty? ‘Yes’ was the answer and I loved every moment of it. It was very different to the actual F1 days because we were not doing for our careers, we were doing for fun. But it was very much more than fun, it got very serious rather quickly!
Having now retired from motorsport, you’ve owned and operated a successful Honda dealership on the island of Jersey for several years. The FIA instigated a policy of bringing in former drivers to join the stewards’ panel at each round of the 2010 season, and you were appointed for the Spanish and Hungarian rounds. What has your experience been like on the ‘judging panel’, as it were, and would you return to the panel again if asked to do so?
I’m busier now than I’ve ever been. I have three property companies in the UK, a very big building project here in Jersey and the dealership, my role at Triple 8 Racing. I also sit on the main board of the BRDC and its Club Committee, and I run the BRDC 13 SuperStars and 40 Rising Stars categories. So I’m very, very busy.
I found being part of the FIA stewards group really interesting, for the first time I’ve had to read the sporting and technical regulations. I would like to do more next year and have been asked to do more than I did this year.
You were a key figure in penalising Michael Schumacher for his particularly robust defence of his position against Rubens Barrichello at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and were part of the panel that awarded him a grid penalty for the following race. How did he handle the call-up to have a chat with you that weekend?
This is very difficult for me to answer because I’m not supposed to talk about the decisions I made as an FIA steward.
But I will say that if it had been my decision alone I would have given him a black flag there and then, not only because it was dangerous but also to show our young drivers that you cannot drive like that and get away with it.
But there are four of us on the panel and we all have to agree! The good thing about having a driver as one of the stewards is that we can give a driver’s perspective – no matter how long a steward has done this job he doesn’t know what it’s like from behind the wheel.
Who was your favourite team-mate in Formula 1?
Patrick Tambay and Eddie Cheever, although Eddie and I sometimes had a love-hate relationship during our time together.
What would you say were your best moments of your motorsport career?
Getting into F1, my first GP and winning the Le Mans 24 Hours.
What is your favourite racing circuit in the world and why?
Monaco. It’s tight, fast, and dangerous – it’s the ultimate test for any driver.
What is your opinion on the current state of Formula 1, and does more need to be done to improve the show, given that the 2010 season has been the closest in years?
I love my sport and I love everything about it. The 2010 season has been one of the best. I don’t think you can compare the current crop of driver with the drivers of my time or any other time, however. All I can say is the drivers today are amazing, committed, fast and the best drivers in the world.
Images via Corbis Images, Deviant Art, F1 Nostalgia, Sutton Images