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Fascinating F1 Fact: 52

In the middle France, in the region they call the Auvergne, there is a dramatic chain of more than 80 volcanic hills. There are beautiful lava domes, maars and cinder cones, stretching 25 miles. The highest is the Puy de Dôme, rising to 4,800 ft. The local département is named after it, although for some reason the region has hyphens, while the mountain does not. The prefecture of the Puy-de-Dôme is Clermont-Ferrand, which sits on the Limagne plains, at the base of this odd range of hills. Clermont was an ancient town, with a rich history, and was later merged with Ferrand, a medieval new town. It is best known, however, as the home of Michelin. It is a long story, but in the 1830s Edouard Daubrée arrived in the area with his young Scottish wife Elizabeth, with the aim of setting up a refinery to turn sugar beet grown on the plains, into sugar. A flood wiped out the business and Elizabeth, the niece of Charles McIntosh, the inventor of the rubberised coat, suggested that it might be a better idea to create a rubber factory to manufacture bouncy balls, loved by children the world over. The raw material had to come from Brazil, but there was a market for these toys and gradually the business expanded and 50 years later passed into the hands of André and Edouard Michelin. Air-filled tyres were still in their infancy and in 1891 Edouard came up with the removable pneumatic tyre for bicycles. To publicise the invention, they became involved in bicycle racing and four years later they embarked on doing the same with automobiles, entering a Daimler in the Paris-Bordeaux race. The business boomed and Michelin even started producing guides for automobilists, explains the best places to stay and where to eat. Further innovation in the tyre business followed and in 1905 the bid to host the Gordon Bennett Cup automobile race, after Leon Théry won the Cup in Germany in 1904. They funded the Circuit d’Auvergne, an 85-mile road course, which ran through the Puy-de-Dome, and Théry won again. The Cup then ended and the Automobile Club de France organised a new event, called the Grand Prix, held for the first time at Le Mans in 1906. There was talk of other races in the area, but nothing happened and it was not until after World War II that Jean Auchatraire, the president of the Association Sportive de l’Automobile-Club d’Auvergne, revived the idea and working with F1 racer Louis Rosier, designed a five-mile circuit on the local roads that looped around the Puy de Charade (2965 ft) and the adjacent Puy de Gravenoire (2697 ft). This was to the south of the original Circuit d’Auvergne, with easy access from the city and the two hills providing natural grandstands.

Before the project could be completed Rosier was killed in an accident at Montlhéry in October 1956, but the circuit went ahead with construction beginning seven months later. The first event at the Circuit Louis Rosier took place in July 1958 with Maurice Trintignant winning an F2 race and Innes Ireland taking victory for Lotus in a sports car race. The motorcycle French Grand Prix was held there in 1959, won by John Surtees and the track would remain a major bike racing track until 1974. The Trophee d’Auvergne car races continued and in 1964 the Automobile Club de France voted for Clermont-Ferrand to host the French Grand Prix in 1965. Jim Clark dominated. There was much politics at the time, with the Fédération Française du Sport Automobile (FFSA) battling to take over control of motorsport from the venerable Automobile Club. That occurred at the end of 1967 and the Formula 1 World Championship then returned to Clermont-Ferrand in 1969 with Jackie Stewart winning in a Ken Tyrrell-run Matra-DFV. There were plans for the race to move to Albi in 1970, but these failed and so the French GP stayed at Clermont, with Jochen Rindt winning for Lotus. The new super-safe Paul Ricard circuit hosted the race in 1971 but the Grand Prix returned to the Puy-de-Dome in 1972. Safety work had been done, but the terrain made it impossible to create more run-off areas. That day, the last F1 race at Clermont, Helmut Marko was blinded in one eye when a stone was thrown up as he chased Emerson Fittipaldi.

The Trophee d’Auvergne races continued until 1988, where safety concerns led to the circuit being closed, although the south-western end of the track was used to create a new 2.4-mile Charade track, funded by the local government. In 2000, the public roads were finally closed to the public, and Charade finally became a permanent facility. The remaining parts of the old circuit are still there, and still open to the public…

* If you like the Fascinating Facts series, it is worth considering that every edition of GP+ has an historical feature, in addition to the coverage of each race. Go to www.grandprixplus.com to find out more.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 51

Franco Rocchi was a Ferrari man. He joined the company in 1949, having previously worked with Ferrari engineer Aurelio Lampredi at the Reggiane aircraft company. After Lampredi left Ferrari, Rocchi stayed on working with Vittorio Jano and then Carlo Chiti. He helped to nurture a youngster by the name of Mauro Forghieri, who joined the firm in 1960. He stayed on after the upheavals at the end of 1961, when Forghieri was propelled into the role of technical director. Rocchi played a key role in the Ferrari revival in the mid 1970s, as the designer of the Ferrari 158, the 1.5-litre V8 with which John Surtees won the World Championship in 1964, and then the 1512, a 1.5-litre V12 which was used in F1 in 1965. This was followed by a 3-litre V12, developed from a sports car engine and eventually the celebrated flat-12 which would help the team to win four World Championships in the 1970s. His engines were also successful in sports car racing. But Rocchi had heart troubles and so retired in 1979, at the age of 56. He remained a consultant but dedicated his time to painting, although he continued to potter about with engine design ideas. In the 1970s he had studied the idea of a W12 engine. In theory this was a good idea because a three-bank W12 is as compact as a V8 and should have the power of a V12. The downside of the engine is that it has a higher centre of gravity and because it weighs more. Rocchi believed that one could create a better overall unit, despite the disadvantages. In the late 1980s, a new opportunity arose as F1 was switching to 3.5-litre normally-aspirated engines, moving away from the expensive turbos. In this period Rocchi met
a 38-year-old called Ernesto Vita, the son of a successful businessman, who had a factory in Maranello. Like many men his age, Vita was passionate about F1, and Ferrari in particular. In his youth he had dabbled in different businesses, including film production, construction and steel. He had raced as well, in Formula Ford and Formula 3 but in the end his father insisted he stop and go to work with the family business. It was through this that he met Rocchi, who told him about his W12 engine. Vita was enthused by the idea and rapidly bought the rights to the design, his aim being to sell the engine to F1 teams and become a modern version of Cosworth. He set up a workshop in Formigine, just up the road from Maranello, and the engine was built. He named the company Life Racing Engines, the name Vita meaning life when translated into English. He approached likely F1 teams (there were a lot more in those days) but no-one was interested in a supply deal.
Having failed to find a customer, Vita then decided that the best thing to do would be to demonstrate how good the engine was which, he believed, would bring him customers. The problem was that he needed to build a chassis in order to do that. At the same time, Formula 3000 racer Lamberto Leoni was trying to get his First Racing Formula 1 team off the ground. He had built a chassis, designed for a Judd V8 engine, but it had failed its crash tests and Leoni had given up. Vita agreed to buy the design and took on Gianni Marelli, who had worked in F1 as an engineer between 1966 and 1971 before moving to Alfa Romeo. He opened his own design office in 1981 and worked for various teams, notably Zakspeed in Formula 1 and Durango in Formula 3000. He was commissioned to convert the car to take the Life W12, and to get it through the crash tests. This became the Life L190. The whole project was done on the cheap, Vita believing that the engine would compensate for a poor chassis. The problem was that the car and engine were both overweight and the centre of gravity was too high. It did not help that the engine rarely ran without problems.

Gary Brabham was taken on to drive but he was kicked out after two races and Bruno Giacomelli was hired to replace him. There followed 10 more failures to pre-qualify. It was hopeless. In the summer, keen to get money to develop the engine, Vita sold his majority shareholding in the business to Verona industrialist Daniele Battaglino, who had done a deal with a Soviet Russian engineering company called Pilowki IC and the team became Life-PIC. It made no real difference. Soon afterwards the decision was taken to replace the Life W12 with a Judd V8 to try to qualify for a race, but this did not work either. The last European race was in Spain but it was a pointless exercise to spend more money to go to Japan and Australia at the end of the year.

Rocchi’s dream of success with a W12 was finished.

In the 1990s Alessandro Vita Kouzkin, Ernesto’s Russian-Italian son, tried his hand at racing.

* If you like the Fascinating Facts series, it is worth considering that every edition of GP+ has an historical feature, in addition to the coverage of each race. Go to www.grandprixplus.com to find out more.

Williams has confirmed that Sergei Sirotkin will join Lance Stroll in the team in 2018, with Robert Kubica as the reserve driver. Both drivers are supported by sponsorship, while other choices have been overlooked because they could bring any funding to the party. The team is thus signalling that it is trying to return to its usual philosophy of spending money on engineering, rather than on drivers and will hopefully then improve to a point at which the top names will want to become Williams drivers, as was the pattern in the past. The big question this year is whether Paddy Lowe and other new recruits will be able to lift the team to challenge Force India, the other Mercedes customer team, which it really should be doing. The problem for Williams is that McLaren and Renault should both improve significantly this year and that could result in the team slipping down the F1 pecking order.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 50

In the 1960s and 1970s, the city of Dallas was known for just one reason. It was the place where President John F Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald (and others) in 1963: Dealey Plaza, the grassy knoll, the Texas School Book Depository and so on… The folk in Dallas wanted to change that image and for the city to be seen as cool, international and cosmopolitan. Things were not helped when CBS created a prime time TV soap opera called Dallas, the story of a fictional wealthy feuding Texan family. In 1980 this led to one of the family shooting the evil JR Ewing character, but it was a mystery who had done it. The intrigue resulted in the highest ever TV ratings for any show up to that point, with 90 million Americans tuning in to find out “Who shot JR?” What the show did, however, was add to Dallas’s image problem.

In 1984 a group of businessmen came up with the idea of hosting a Formula 1 race in the city, the authorities were excited, although this did not mean that they dived into public funds to support the idea. The individuals concerned were all car fanatics, but they embarked on the idea because they thought they would either gain status in Dallas society, or make a pile of money, or both.

Donald Walker was a quiet Oklahoma-born accountant who had turned to investing and at 40 seemed to be doing pretty well. He had around 5,500 investors in various DRW companies. He seemed to know how to make money. Although not an outgoing individual, he lived an extravagant life, owning a $6 million French-styled mansion in North Dallas, employing a butler and flitting around other residences, including an 800-acre woodland ranch in Terrell, Texas; a ski lodge in Crested Butte, Colorado; a house near the sea in Carmel, California; and another on the Atlantic coast, near Jacksonville, Florida. There was also a yacht in Florida and a house in the Cayman Islands. When he and his wife travelled, they did so aboard chartered Lear Jets. His wife Carol liked to be seen as a society maven.

Walker’s partner in Dallas Grand Prix of Texas Inc. was Larry Waldrop, a 38-year-old property developer and construction contractor, who had made a considerable fortune building and selling apartments, before diversifying into finishing construction projects, fitting out apartments, offices and retail outlets.

A third partner in the business was Jarrett “Buddy” Boren, a 40-year-old entrepreneur had been active in entertainment industry during the 1960s and 1970s, as a record producer, a concert promoter and a film producer. His best known film was Wheels of Fire, a 1973 film about professional drag racing. As things were beginning to come together Boren was diagnosed with throat cancer and stepped down and was bought out, although he believed that he was pushed out so that Carol Walker could have a bigger role and believed that the race was really being held “as an excuse to hold a party”.

Dallas’s mayor Starke Taylor, who was new to the job, thought it was a great idea and hoped that it would bring 200,000 people to Dallas and boost its claim to be “The International City”. The promoters hired Long Beach’s Chris Pook as a consultant and Carroll Shelby as an ambassador and they set to work organising the event, and grinding through the required red tape. The venue chosen was the 277-acre Fair Park, just to south-east of the downtown area, which had been operation since the 1880s, hosting exhibitions, sports events and the annual State Fair, held for three weeks every autumn. At the centre of the park was the Cotton Bowl Stadium, once the home of the Dallas Cowboys, which was then best known for the Cotton Bowl Classic, a major college football annual event and for the Red River Showdown, an annual game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns. It was also a major concert venue and in the 1970s was home to the Texxas World Music Festival, hosting names such as Van Halen, Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, the Steve Miller Band, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Blue Öyster Cult, the Eagles, Foreigner REO Speedwagon, Bryan Adams, Santana and many others.
Many of the buildings in the park dated back to 1936 when the city hosted the World Fair and the Texas Centennial Exposition and so there were restrictions about what could be done. Around $6 million was spent preparing a 2.8-mile, 16-turn circuit, repaving roads and creating the necessary concrete barriers and debris fences, in addition to promoting the race, hoping to attract a large number of Dallas’s one million people. A five-year contract from 1984 to 1988 was signed with Bernie Ecclestone.

In 1984 the July 4 Independence Day holiday fell on Wednesday, giving people the chance to take a couple of days off and get a very long weekend on July 6-8. The weather was hot and in practice Martin Brundle had a very nasty accident when his Tyrrell hit a concrete barrier and then bounced into another. He suffered serious fractures to both feet in the second impact. The grid was unusual with Nigel Mansell on pole poistion in his Lotus-Renault, ahead of his team-mate Elio de Angelis. Derek Warwick was Renault for Renault with Rene Arnoux in his Ferrari, Niki Lauda in his McLaren-TAG, Ayrton Senna in his Toleman-Hart, Alain Prost (in the second McLaren) and Keke Rosberg in the Williams-Honda.

The weather was very hot on race day but former US President Jimmy Carter turned up, while Larry Hagman (the actor who played JR Ewing) waved the green flag at the start of the parade lap.

Arnoux’s Ferrari failed to fire up on the pre-grid and so he had to start from the back. Mansell went into the lead, chased by de Angelis and Warwick while Senna passed Lauda to take fourth. Senna hit a wall hard on the second lap and so had to pit for new tyres, while Warwick moved ahead of de Angelis to create a British 1-2. He was challenging Mansell for the lead when he crashed on lap 10. By then Rosberg had climbed up to second, ahead of de Angelis, but the heat began to take a toll with cars expiring and drivers making mistakes. Patrick Tambay crashed out of sixth place in his Renault on lap 25. Prost then moved up to second before an error dropped him behind Rosberg again. Three laps later Rosberg overtook Mansell to take the lead. Prost would later make another mistake and crash so Rosberg ended the day ahead of Arnoux, who had driven through the field, with de Angelis third. Mansell ran out of fuel while running fifth but pushed his Lotus to the finish line and then collapsed dramatically.

It was clear, however, that the date needed to change to avoid such hot weather and that created a problem. Walker and FOCA could not agree on a date for 1985. It did not help that he failed to come up with the required race fee. This meant it lost its place on the F1 calendar and in March 1985 Dallas Grand Prix of Texas Inc. went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The DRW empire soon became the target of investigations by the FBI and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and it emerged that the company owned 80 apartment blocks and office buildings but had debts of $255 million, with around 300 secured creditors, scrapping over the assets. It was a mess. Walker disappeared from Dallas society.

Buddy Boren, who had got over his cancer, made a comeback and ran seven non-F1 Grand Prix events on various tracks in the Dallas area between 1988 and 1996.

Dallas, in the interim, embraced its history – Kennedy and all – and in 1993 Dealey Plaza was named a National Historic Landmark. The city around it may have changed sigificantly, but the plaza is forever stuck in 1963 and today Dallas attracts around 2.7 million international tourists a year, who all depart wondering “Who shot JFK?”

* If you like the Fascinating Facts series, it is worth considering that every edition of GP+ has an historical feature, in addition to the coverage of each race. Go to www.grandprixplus.com to find out more.

Dan Gurney 1931-2018

Dan Gurney, who had died at the age of 86, was a colossus in motor racing history.

A racer, a team owner, a car manufacturer and a sage. Gurney was so popular in the United States in the mid-1960s that Car & Driver suggested that he run for President.

Gurney was tall (6ft3), graceful and handsome, dashing and charming. He was the archetypal schoolboy hero. He had it all. He won races in Formula 1, Indycars, NASCAR, CanAm and TransAm, not to mention sports cars. His biggest victory came at Le Mans in 1967, when he and AJ Foyt shared a Ford GT40, afterwards spraying champagne from the podium, starting a tradition that is now integral to all celebrations in motorsport today. That same summer he won the Belgian Grand Prix in one of his Eagles, to become only the second American to drive an American car to a Grand Prix victory, following Jimmy Murphy’s win in France in 1921, in a Duesenberg.

Gurney also invented the gurney flap, a small metal attachment that was bolted to the trailing edge of a rear wing to create more downforce without too much additional drag.

He was the first F1 racer to use a full-faced helmet.

In F1 circles, there was only one Dan.

Born on the affluent north shore of Long Island (Gatsby country), in New York in April 1931, Gurney was the son of John Gurney, a celebrated bass-baritone who sang with the Metropolitan Opera. After he retired in 1947 John Gurney moved his family to sunny California, settling in Corona del Mar, where he became a portrait artist and furniture designer. He still sang on occasion, notably the national anthem at the inaugural Long Beach Grand Prix.

Dan was a part of the 1950s sports car boom in California and was quickly spotted by Ferrari’s US agent Luigi Chinetti. He was invited to join the Ferrari factory team at Le Mans in the summer of 1958. His smooth and elegant driving style and his speed won him a place racing a works Ferrari F1 car in selected races in 1959, beginning at the French GP. He moved to BRM in 1960, but in Holland suffered a brake failure which caused him to crash, breaking an arm and killing a young spectator. He changed his driving style after the accident and developed a marked distrust of engineers.

The change in F1 regulations led him to a switch to the Porsche factory team in 1961 and he won his first World Championship victory the following year at Rouen, before moving to Brabham from 1963 to 1965, when he showed his pace but was often let down by mechanical trouble. With the arrival of the new 3-litre Formula 1 in 1966 he started his own Anglo American Racers and began competing with the Eagle-Weslake, winning his first victory in Belgium in 1967. His Eagles were successful in the US but struggled with the Weslake V12s and Gurney shut down the F1 operation in 1968 and he raced for McLaren on and off that year and in 1970. His Eagles – in Indycars and later in IMSA sports cars won 78 races (including the Indianapolis 500, the Sebring 12 Hours and the Daytona 24 Hours. His factory cars won eight different championships, while customers using his cars won three Indianapolis 500s and three championships. He was one of the founders of CART.

In later years he developed a low-rider motorcycle called the Alligator, hoping to license the design to a major manufacturer.

Gurney married German Evi Butz – Norbert Haug’s sister – in 1969 and they had four sons, Justin, Alex, Dan Jr. and Jimmy.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 49

Helmet designs are very personal things, but some of them have fascinating stories behind them. Jo Siffert, the Swiss racer from Fribourg, was one. His famous red helmet with two white stripes and the white cross of Switzerland at the front was actually a design that had been used previously by Benoît Musy, the man who inspired Siffert to race.

Benoît’s father Jean-Marie Musy had been a lawyer before he was elected to the Swiss National Assembly in 1914. He then became one of the seven Federal Counsellors, in charge of the Department of Finance, effectively the Finance Minister, and in 1925 was elected the President of the Swiss Confederation. He was in power for five years and then retired to advise financial institutions and foreign governments. Benoit was born in 1917 and in the late 1930s joined the Swiss Air Force and became a pilot. Towards the end of the war he and his father became involved in an extraordinary mission to negotiate the release of Jewish prisoners in German concentration camps, on behalf of an organisation called the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada.

Jean-Marie wrote to Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, requesting a meeting and then father and son drove to Berlin for a meeting. Himmler agreed to liberate 600,000 Jews, in exchange for a large number of vehicles, which the Germans needed. It was then early in 1945 and the war was not going well. The Musys went back to Switzerland and tried to secure the vehicles needed but it was impossible to do, so they drove back to Berlin to find that Himmler was not there, but was in the Black Forest. They drove there and Himmler agreed to accept five million Swiss Francs. The plan was for one train a week to take prisoners to Switzerland. The first train arrived at Konstanz in February 1945, carrying 1,200 Jews from the Theresienstadt camp, near Terezin, in northern Czechoslovakia.

Hitler then discovered what was happening and ordered no further release of prisoners, but the Musys went back to Berlin, despite being bombed and strafed by planes, on the road near Bayreuth and managed to negotiate further releases of specific individuals before returning to Switzerland. They had to travel at night, without lights, after their car was shot at on the way back. A few weeks later Benoit travelled alone to Weimer to meet Hermann Goering in order to negotiate a deal for prisoners in Buchenwald. There was fighting in the area and Goering could not get through and so Musy drove to Berlin, arriving with his car riddled with bullet holes. He met Goering and they travelled to Theresienstadt in order to release more prisoners, but they had disappeared and so Musy went back to Berlin, despite the fact that Hitler was threatening to execute anyone liberating Jews. Musy worked with General Walter Schellenberg, Himmler and Count Bernadotte to negotiate the release of 13,500 women prisoners from Ravensbruck and he accompanied them to freedom in Sweden in the final weeks of the war.

He then went back to farming for a couple of years before he began racing motorcycles professionally, winning six Swiss titles between 1947 and 1953, and inspiring the young Siffert, who would eventually follow in his footsteps. Musy then switched to car racing, driving Maserati sports cars, until October 1956 when he suffered a steering column failure at Montlhéry, hit the wall violently and was thrown from his car and killed.

Fifteen years later in October 1971 Siffert was killed in a fiery accident at Brands Hatch.

The two men are buried close to one another in the Cimetière Saint-Léonard in Fribourg.

Fascinating F1 Fact: 48

Titles can be very confusing, but there is some logic to them, if you look closely. Emperors ruled over empires, kings governed kingdoms, dukes ran duchies and princes principalities. Counts controlled counties and Viscounts were, quite literally, vice-counts. Simple really.

Well, apart from the fact that the British don’t use the term Count, but prefer Earl, although the wife of an earl is not an earless, but rather a Countess. Oh, and in Europe a Duke is more important than a Prince, although the opposite is true in Britain. Then there is the confusing rank of Marquess, which slots in between duke and earl in the pecking order. This was derived from those who ruled over a march, the border area between two realms. It gets a little complicated because aristocrats can have different names at different stages of their life. The British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury, started out as Lord Robert Cecil. He then became Viscount Cranborne and then the Marquess of Salisbury.

Having a title did not guarantee that one was wealthy, but as in the game Monopoly, the richest folk are the ones who build houses on their properties and gather rents… and those with the most property wins. When the automobile was first invented, these exotic machines were not cheap and so the early history of the sport is filled with aristocrats. The Marquis de Dion was a key player, while Baron de Zuylen was the first President of the Automobile Club de France. The presidents of the FIA included Counts de Vogue, de Rohan, de Liedekerke-Beaufort and Princes Filippo Caracciolo di Castagneto, Amaury de Merode and Paul Metternich. Among the racers, there was Viscount Curzon, who became Earl Howe, a Le Mans winner, Grand Prix driver and President of the BRDC. There were barons Camille Jenatzy, Pierre de Caters, René de Knyff and Pierre de Crawhez. Later there were Prince Bira, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Counts “Johnny” Lurani and Carel Godin de Beaufort, Barons Huschke von Hanstein and Emmanuel de Graffenried and the Marquis de Portago, not to mention Wolfgang Reichsgraf Berghe von Trips. Racing cars provided a source of new adventures for men with plenty to spend and little to do.

The Marquis de Montaignac de Chauvance, – known to his pals as Renaud – had the great misfortune to become the first fatality in the history of motorsport, although in truth he probably wasn’t actually the first because a riding mechanic in another vehicle was killed instantly in the same incident. The Marquis lived a few hours, but history relates that the serving classes do not get the glory… The Marquis, who had just celebrated his 47th birthday, was so keen on the automobile that he had invested in a car company called MLB (Montaignac, Landry et Beyroux), his partners Justin Landry et Gabriel Beyroux being engineers.

De Montaignac was motoring down a straight piece of road just before the village of Marsac sur l’Isle, to the west of Perigueux, in May 1898 when he caught up with a Monsieur De Montariol, driving a lighter and less powerful Parisienne. The latter politely moved over to allow de Montaignac to pass and the Marquis gave a cheery wave, letting go of the tiller, which steered his vehicle. This resulted in the two cars colliding. Montariol was thrown clear of the Parisienne while his mechanic was hurled against a tree and expired on the spot. A horrified Montaignac lost control of his own car and it turned over. His mechanic was injured and Montaignac suffered injuries that proved to be fatal, although he had time to tell everyone that it had all been his fault. A noble noble.

Being a peer sounds like a grand life, but not everyone likes it. The money is useful, of course, if they have access to it, but some want to be seen to be making their own way in life, relying only talent rather than inheritance.

This was certainly the case with John Crichton-Stuart, who came from a family which could trace its roots back to Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. The youngster inherited an impressive range of titles, including being Earl of Windsor and Earl of Dumfries. he was also Viscount Ayr, Viscount Mounty, Viscount Kingarth, and Lord Crichton of Sanquhar and Cumnock, Lord Montstuart Cumbrae and Inchmarnock and Baron Cardiff. He left school at 16 and worked as a builder for three years until his cousin Charlie, a Formula 3 racer in the 1960s, got him a job as a van driver with a new F1 team called Williams Grand Prix Engineering, running a March for Patrick Neve. A year later he moved on to work as a mechanic with BS Fabrications, a team running a McLaren M23 for Brett Lunger and later a young Nelson Piquet. John had been inspired in his childhood by the exploits of his cousin Charlie and soon began to race karts. He broke both his ankles in a crash and so in 1981, at the age of 23, he switched to Formula Ford 1600. He did well enough to land a factory drive in 1982 with Ray and finished third in the P&O Championship in Britain that year. He had a sponsor who was keen to move to Formula 3 and so he went to Dave Price Racing (DPR) and bought the Ralt that Martin Brundle had raced in 1982, prepared by Dave Morgan, a former F1 driver. Johnny Dumfries, as he was known, made his first significant impression when he battled with Ayrton Senna in a round of the European F3 series at Silverstone that summer and he was signed for 1984 by BP, which ran a young driver programme with DPR.

Dumfries won 10 times in Britain and challenged for the European title as well, finishing second to a young Ivan Capelli. In July Johnny was offered an F1 drive with Tyrrell, after Brundle broke his legs in a crash in Dallas. Dumfries decided not to take up the offer. A month later he tested a Lotus-Renault at Donington and soon after that ran in a Williams before trying a McLaren at Silverstone, as part of his prize for winning the British F3 title. The year ended with a test for Brabham-BMW at Kyalami. Johnny was a man in demand.

He also raced with the Rothmans Porsche sports car team, as there was a plan for him to move up to Formula 3000 in 1985 with Rothmans sponsoring a team run by Price. But then the phone rang and he was asked if he would like to become the Ferrari test driver, so he gave up on all the others and headed off to Italy. He signed a deal for Formula 3000 with Onyx, but he did not have the money and it ended after four races.

The sport is fickle and by then he was no longer the golden boy he had been at the end of 1984. He was fortunate that Senna blocked Derek Warwick from being his team-mate at JPS Lotus. The team was thus forced to look elsewhere and so picked Dumfries. Competing with Senna, with less experience, was a tough role, but Dumfries would twice score points before he was dumped as Lotus had secured Honda engines and the Japanese wanted the team to take Satoru Nakajima.

He tried to work a deal with Tyrrell but then started racing sports cars, with an Ecurie Ecosse, then a Sauber-Mercedes in practice at Le Mans. There was then an outing in July at Brands Hatch with a Britten Lloyd Racing Porsche 962 and his second place finish attracted the attention of fellow Scotsman Tom Walkinshaw. who signed him to drive for the Jaguar team in 1987. He would also become a Benetton F1 test driver, a role he held for the next four years. Dumfries won in the Jaguar at Spa in 1987 and then took victory with Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1988. He was later fired by Walkinshaw for crashing too much, but was taken on by the Toyota factory sports car team in 1989 and 1990. At the end of 1990 he had nowhere to go. He raced briefly with a Cougar-Porsche in 1991 but then disappeared from the racing scene and went to help his ailing father run the family estates. These were not insignificant and included Mount Stuart, a vast neo-Gothic stately home on the island of Bute, with a 27,000 acre estate, including farms, property, forestry, a sawmill and various other businesses. There was also Dumfries House, a collosal Palladian mansion built in the 1750s, which sat on a 2,000 acre property, which had been in the family since 1635.

His father died in 1993 and Johnny Dumfries became the 7th Marquess of Bute and took control of the family empire. Using the name John Bute, he took the decision to open Mount Stuart to the public, which achieved great things for the troubled economy of the island of Bute. This became a tourist destination and a venue for high-end weddings, beginning with that of fashion designer Stella McCartney in 2003. He also launched a motoring event called the Mount Stuart Motorsport Classic. This was so successful that it overloaded the local infrastructure and had to be cancelled.Soon afterwards he took the decision to sell Dumfries House, which went for £45 million to a consortium headed by Prince Charles, who has since renovated the estate to become self-sufficient, helping to regenerate the local economy. Dumfries worked a similar plan at Mount Stuart, creating a three-day food festival called eatBute and publicising Mount Stuart’s astonishing library, while adding to the artworks by becoming a patron of the arts. A couple of years ago he made a film about the people of Bute, and continues to work to attract tourists.