Peter Warr was best known for his management of the Lotus, Wolf and Fittipaldi Formula 1 teams in the Seventies and Eighties. A leading figure in the sport, he nurtured the careers of several world champions.
Born in Kermanshah in what was then Persia, he completed his national service as an officer in the Guards, and first tried his hand at motor racing as a driver. By one of those quirks of fate he went to work for the emergent Lotus company in Hornsey in 1958, when he had just turned 20, after unwittingly strolling into the factory at Cheshunt and being mistaken for a new employee. After being handed a spanner and told to “Get on with it,” within 24 hours he was working full-time. The link with Lotus would last, with various breaks, until he departed more than 30 years later.
He raced reasonably competitively in sportscars and Formula Junior – he was good enough to win the 1963 Japanese Grand Prix at Mount Fuji in a Lotus 23. But his greatest contribution to the sport came when he was invited by the founder of Team Lotus, Colin Chapman, to take over management of the F1 team in October 1969.
Warr’s natural gifts of leadership and officer training at Sandhurst shone through as he helped to keep the lid on the often simmering relationship between Chapman and the posthumous-champion-to-be Jochen Rindt in 1970; two years later Lotus’s success with a youthful Emerson Fittipaldi in the black and gold of John Player came in a much less acrimonious era of Team Lotus’s history and only the Brazilian’s second full season in the big league.
Warr was the perfect adjutant to Chapman. He was a meticulous administrator and forever found himself cleaning up after the Old Man back at the office. He was also a talented race engineer and an accomplished strategist at the track. Back in the ’70s the Lotus race team comprised the two drivers, two mechanics per car and a truckie, as well as Chapman and Warr. Rebuilding damaged cars and keeping up with some of the boss’s barmy but effective ideas inevitably involved working round the clock.
At the end of 1976 Warr accepted an offer from the Canadian oil baron Walter Wolf to run his new team, which he had taken over from Frank Williams. “While running the team I’m going to learn about the oil business from Walter and make some money for myself,” he said. They won on their debut in Argentina, with Jody Scheckter driving the Wolf R1 designed by Harvey Postlethwaite. The South African was also victorious in Monaco and Canada, and only lost out in his World Championship challenge towards the end of the season.
When Wolf was merged with Fittipaldi’s flagging eponymous teamat the end of 1979, Warr continued as team manager. In the middle of 1981, however, as Fittipaldi struggled, Chapman prevailed upon him to returnto Lotus. “PEW” became team principal after Chapman died in December 1982; he enjoyed a difficult relationship with an emergent Nigel Mansell,who was popular with the team sponsor John Player, but certainly not Warr. When Mansell slid on a white line in the wet in Monaco in 1984, when he was leading by a country mileand refused team exhortations toslow down, Warr trenchantly declared: “Nigel Mansell will never win a Grand Prix as long as he has a hole in his arse!”
Warr never pulled punches, frequently prefacing a dressing-down by pushing his thick black-framed spectacles up his nose, setting his shoulders and snarling, “Now look here, Chap…”
For 1985 he got his way and signed the upcoming Ayrton Senna to replace Mansell as the Englishman headed off to embrace a destiny much brighter than the Lotus chief ever envisaged at Williams. Senna won six races for the team before departing on bad terms for McLaren at the end of 1987, whereupon Warr moved quickly to sign the reigning world champion, Nelson Piquet.
Warr remained with Lotus until 1989, when he left to became a permanent steward with the sport’s world governing body, the FIA, and later Secretary of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, before retiring to live in the Bordeaux region of southern France. In March 2010 he returned to the F1 paddock in Bahrain, where he was clearly enthralled to be among old friends and to see Fittipaldi and Mario Andretti demonstrating their famed Championship-winning John Player Special Lotuses before an appreciative crowd.
Colin Chapman’s son Clive said of Warr: “He was a man of great ability and character who lived life to the full and put in very much more than he took out. He was a leading figure in Formula One in the Seventies and Eighties, and helped many great drivers to realise their dreams. At Team Lotus he managed not only the team, the sponsors and the drivers, but also, and perhaps most importantly, my father; he played a vital role in enabling him to realise the potential of his engineering brilliance.
“After my father’s death in 1982 he stepped up to lead Team Lotus and take it back into the winner’s circle with Ayrton Senna at the wheel; a fantastic achievement in difficult circumstances. He was a sophisticated man of great taste, who cared always for his family and his team; always thinking of those around him and always thinking of ways around the opposition, in the best possible spirit. He will be remembered fondly by so many people that he met throughout the course of his exciting life, during which he achieved so much.”
Formula 1’s principal powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone paid tribute,saying: “Not only have I lost a good friend who was the team manager for Lotus when Colin Chapman ran the company, but Peter Warr will be missed by the thousands of people that knew him. When Peter was in Formula One he helped me to build it to what it is today.”