Controversial former F1 team boss Tom Walkinshaw has succumbed to his ongoing battle with cancer, passing away over the weekend at the age of 64.
The burly Scot, who headed up the Benetton, Ligier and Arrows teams during his tenure in the top flight, often found himself in the headlines. But he also found himself handling some of the biggest names in the sport, including Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill.
Having made his name in sports cars, both as a driver and, later, as head of the eponymous Tom Walkinshaw Racing outfit that took Jaguar to success at Le Mans, he was seconded to the ambitious Benetton team, initially as director of engineering, in 1990. As well as Schumacher, whom he prised out of his deal with Jordan after an impressive debut at the 1991 Belgian GP, Walkinshaw was also credited with introducing Ross Brawn to F1, having used the Englishman’s design talents at TWR.
Although success followed with the ‘dream team’ at Benetton, culminating in Schumacher’s maiden world title in 1994, Walkinshaw left for Ligier amid a rules row over the supposed use of a then-banned traction control system on the B194. Although the FIA later ruled that Benetton’s ‘launch control’ system went ‘unused’, rivals believed otherwise, casting a shadow over both the title and Walkinshaw’s role, which would later be called into question by the revelation that a crucial filter was missing from Jos Verstappen’s refuelling equipment, potentially speeding the rate at which the cars could be topped up at pit-stops.
The missing element only came to light after the pit-lane conflagration that made headlines around the world….. Again, however, the team went unpunished, although it was fined heavily for Schumacher ignoring black flags at Silverstone and also for refusing to release computer codes, thought related to the traction control enquiry, after the tragic Imola weekend. The championship, perhaps fittingly, was clinched with the controversial Adelaide clash between Schumacher and Hill.
The following season, Walkinshaw was tasked with heading up the midfield Ligier team, which was also owned by Benetton team boss Flavio Briatore, and remained with the French equipe for just one year before taking over the struggling Arrows operation in 1996. Despite tempting Hill on board the following season, the team remained winless – although Hill came close to a remarkable success at the Hungaroring – and, even though landing high-profile sponsors such as telecoms company Orange in later seasons, eventually folded midway through the 2002 campaign.
Arrows demise went hand in hand with that of TWR, with which Walkinshaw had returned his attention to touring cars – notably running Volvo to the BTCC title after beginning the marque’s association with the series by fielding a brace of estate models. From there, the Scot moved to Australia, running a Holdens squad in the national V8 Supercar series, after founding HRT and the accompanying high-performance Holden Special Vehicles arm, with General Motors in 1988. He was also instrumental in setting up the Holden Young Lions programme – which later morphed into K-Mart Racing and successor HSV Dealer Team, and was running both six time Bathurst and championship-winners Toll Holden Racing and Bundaberg Red Racing at the time of his death.
Walkinshaw’s driving career began with Scottish FFord and BTCC class titles, before finding international success in touring and sportscars with Jaguar, culminating in European Touring Car title with the British marque in 1984. TWR then took Jaguar into top-flight sportscar racing, winning three WSC titles as well as the 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours.
Walkinshaw was also a former chairman of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, and is survived by his wife Martine and sons Ryan and Sean.