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.