Tom Walkinshaw has died. For those who have forgotten or never knew the name, Walkinshaw was a fixture in Formula 1 from 1991 to 2002. He entered the F1 world as Benetton’s engineering director, having moved from the Jaguar sports car team. Perhaps his two most notable contributions to the sport occurred during this season. First, he brought designer Ross Brawn with him from Jaguar to Benetton. Brawn, of course, would later go on to make history of his own, under the various banners of Benetton, Ferrari and the eponymously named Brawn squad.
But perhaps more importantly, it was Walkinshaw who convinced Benetton boss Flavio Briatore to hire Michael Schumacher to partner Nelson Piquet, Sr midway through the 1991 season. Schumi had done a one-off race as a replacement driver for the Jordan team at Spa that year, and qualified seventh, placing the anemic Jordan higher on the grid than it had any right to be. Walkinshaw was so impressed, he told Flavio that he should immediately beg, borrow or steal to get the young German under contract. Allegedly, Flavio said something along the lines of, “No problemo.”
The very next race, Schumi was in blue Benetton coveralls, and creating headaches for the likes of Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna (who had several run ins with the rookie). Piquet ended up being outclassed by Schumi by year’s end, and he retired from the sport. From that point on, Benetton belonged to Schumacher, and the stage was set for the super team trio of Schumacher, Brawn and designer Rory Byrne to win two championships at Benetton and five at Ferrari (although Byrne wound down his role with the Scuderia piror to Schumi’s and Brawn’s exits).
In 1994, Benetton came under fire for allegedly using illegal engine mapping (read: launch control) and Walkinshaw, as logical fall guy (funny how that happens when Flavio is involved), took the heat and moved to sister team Ligier (owned by Flavio). Not content to carry water for Briatore, however, Walkinshaw moved on next season, having acquired a majority share of the lackluster Arrows team. He carried on with this venture until 2002, when the team folded due to financial starvation.
That wasn’t the end of Walkinshaw’s career, however. He later moved his operation down under, to compete in Australia’s V8 Supercar championship, where he continued to run a team through 2010. Walkinshaw died after a long struggle with cancer.