Johnny Dumfries 1958 – 2021

I am very sad to have to report the death of the man Formula 1 knew as Johnny Dumfries, but was also known as John Bute and as John Crichton-Stuart. Johnny was born into the Scottish aristocracy and had a string of titles including becoming the Marquis of Bute, the Earl of Windsor, Viscount Ayr, Lord Crichton of Sanquhar and Cumnock, Viscount Kingarth, Lord Montstuart Cumbrae and Inchmarnock, Baron Cardiff, and Viscount Mountjoy. However he was, for a time, the Earl of Dumfries and it was under that name that he is best known.

Born in the family castle at Rothesay on the island of Bute in 1958, Johnny turned his back on an expensive education and took a job as a van driver with Williams thanks to his cousin Charlie Crichton-Stuart, the team’s sponsorship guru at the time. He then began working in London as a painter and decorator, not wanting to use family money and not wanting the racing world to know who he was. He scraped together the money to race in Formula Ford 1600 and then in Formula 3, where he made his first significant impression in 1983 when he battled with Ayrton Senna in a round of the European F3 series at Silverstone, driving a car known as The Red Rocket. It was a mighty performance and attracted the attention of Dave Price who had a budget to run youngsters from BP. The team dominated the British Formula 3 series, winning 10 times, and also competed in European races, finishing runner-up to Ivan Capelli, which earned him a Ferrari test contract while racing in Formula 3000 with the Onyx team. When Ayrton Senna vetoed the choice of Derek Warwick at Team Lotus for 1986, Lotus signed Dumfries, but he was in a tough place, struggled against the mighty Senna, without much experience, and was dumped by the team after just one year.

He turned instead to sports car racing and signed to drive with fellow Scot Tom Walkinshaw’s Jaguar team in 1987 and won a number of races including the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours. He finished off his career with the Toyota factory sports car team in 1989 and 1990 and then retired from racing to run the family empire, which consisted of a huge amount of property. In 2002 he returned to the sport to promote the Mount Stuart Motorsport Classic – a motoring festival at his family home on the Isle of Bute, modelled on Goodwood, but this was too successful for the local infrastructure to cope with.

Johnny died of cancer at the age of just 62. One of a gang of drivers from that era, known as The Rat Pack, Johnny was unfortunate to come up against Senna. In another era he might have survived longer as an F1 driver.

22 thoughts on “Johnny Dumfries 1958 – 2021

  1. Sad news. Always remember Johnny Dumfries when first started to watch F1, back in the day. A humble man who, like Harry, didn’t want anything to do with aristocratic titles. God Bless Johnny.

        1. We are referring to the same person. If you’re not familiar with the rumours – which, of course, are only rumours – a quick google search will inform you.

  2. It was a delight to read about his opinion of the famous 1986 season. Condolences to his family and friends.

  3. Godspeed, Johnny. A man whose talent and intelligence extended well beyond the cockpit and always terrific company to boot. Gone too soon, and at the same age as his wonderful cousin, Charlie Crichton-Stuart. Johnny’s bad luck at Lotus was not only being teamed with Senna, but to be there at one of those periods in in Lotus’ history when they couldn’t be bothered to field equal equipment for their second driver.

  4. R.I.P.
    A very quick and reliable driver, and also very nice man.
    Always willing to have a chat with racegoers.
    He was kind enough to send me a DPR BP t-shirt at the end of 1984.

  5. Saddened to hear about Johnny. i was fortunate to have seen him at Brands hatch in 86. Didn’t know he was the Viscount of Ayr, which is my home town. My sincerest condolences to Johnny’ family and friends.

  6. Very sad and shocking news. The F1 “Beyond the grid” podcast with him last year is a very interesting listen, and he came over as a likeable and thoughtful chap. One has to respect a man who reaches the top of something competitive through talent and hard graft, eschewing use of his family’s name and wealth. In any event, the stopwatch cares not a jot whether one is of noble birth. He was a very quick driver whose one F1 season alongside Senna was a hiding to nothing.

  7. Johnny was the most loyal and straightforward man. He was a vital part of our ff1600 gang at SW racing in the arches at The Elephant and Castle: Johnny, Martin Longmore, Paul Gerrish, Ray Langton, Glenn Loxton, Martin Holman and me, Alex Postan. Don’t underestimate how outstandingly quick he was and how he managed to get to the top – without his family’s financial support.

    1. Hi Alex, I was very sad to hear about Johnny, and of course it reminded me of the days at the Elephant and the people there. I can’t remember many names so very glad that you can. I was Paul’s girlfriend. It was a happy time, evenings spent laughing whilst cleaning the cars, checking tyres, taking cylinder heads off etc. Thank you for your post, it bought back more memories. Hope you are well, Karen

  8. Oh sh*t, that’s not good news at all, Joe. He was a real character. It’s definitely worth listening to his interview in “Beyond the Grid” to hear how down to earth he was.
    Too young.

  9. Turning his back on aristocracy and wanting to live a normal life before getting attracted to motor racing – would make for a great movie script. RIP Johnny

  10. I always want to write something thoughtful and insightful at times like this. I can’t. Maybe its my age but I seem to seeing way more of these than I would like.

    Others have written way more fitting and personal pieces than I ever could.

    Condolences to friends and family,

    By the way I to was also at Brands in 86. The mid 80s was my real engagement with F1, Toleman migrating to F! as the underdog, Derek Warwick, Aryton Senna and Johnny , great memories.

    I always try to avoid comparing era’s they are too different, it was a different time.

  11. This is so very sad. I first met Johnny when he was van driver at Williams, always funny, always fun, one of the best people I have known. I hadn’t seen him for a long time and didn’t know he was ill.

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