Former Formula One Pilot Johnny Dumfries has died at the age of 62, after a short battle with cancer.
Best known for a hectic year as Ayrton Senna’s A Lotus teammate in 1986, Dumfries was a member of the Scottish aristocracy who, as Earl of Dumfries and later 7th Marquess of Bute, was the heir to a great fortune.
His wealth in 2019 was estimated to be over $ 200 million.
A descendant of the famous King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, he refused to take advantage of his position in the upper class, preferring not to use his title and wanting to be recognized for his racing skills rather than his family background.
He worked as a van driver for Frank Williams to fund his first foray into Formula Ford, and first rose to prominence in Formula 3 in 1983, a season remembered for a titanic title battle between Senna and Martin Brundle, a fight finally resolved in favor of the Brazilian in the last race of the season.
Motorsport’s premier annual Autocourse noted in its 1983 Formula 3 review that Dumfries “has been shown to be much cooler than Senna” and “is a potential F3 champion for 1984.”
It was a prediction that turned out to be correct, with Dumfries winning 10 of 17 rounds in 1984 to easily win the title.
A test season for Ferrari followed in 1985, which Dumfries later recognized as a mistake, before finding himself installed as Senna’s teammate at Lotus in 1986, under somewhat controversial circumstances.
The team’s main sponsor, John Player cigarettes, wanted a British driver alongside Senna. The team was keen to recruit Derek Warwick, a driver highly regarded by the British media.
But Senna stepped in, insisting the team had to be built around him. He felt that a British driver would be too much of a distraction, in a British team, with a British sponsor. He wanted his Brazilian compatriot, Mauricio Gugelmin by his side.
He threatened at one point to leave for Brabham, a move which, in hindsight, would have been disastrous for his career.
Eventually a compromise was reached and Dumfries was signed, but the British media were openly campaigning for the nomination, and Dumfries opposed it from day one.
Hats off to Johnny Dumfries. A potential world champion he might not be, but the way he handled the media hostility surrounding his arrival at Lotus and the ever-present pressure within the squad have largely helped silence its critics, “Autocourse wrote in its 1986 review.
“Dumfries never complained and just carried on with his job and it was only cruel luck that stole points from him for the first time.
“He might have been out of his depth at times, but the Scotsman has earned the respect of the team (a notable feat that says a lot about the man) and he definitely deserved a second year to settle down and Learn from one’s mistakes.”
That second year never came, as the team faced off against Japanese rider Satoru Nakajima in a deal to use Honda engines. Dumfries retired from Formula 1 with a sixth place finish in Adelaide.
“Anyone who gets into professional sport engages in it because it starts with a passion,” Dumfries told the F1 Beyond the Grid podcast in 2020.
“It was a huge part of my life, I made mistakes, I would have preferred not to make them because my career could have been more successful.
“But it is, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Dumfries admitted that being Senna’s teammate was no easy task, even though by the time of Senna’s death in 1994, Dumfries was just one of many teammates who had been left behind in the wake of the Brazilian.
“It was a compromising situation at Lotus, and I would have done better to start my career with another team,” he explained.
“Senna had the whole team around him, it was not easy to drive alongside Senna.
“But I had my chance, it didn’t really work out for me.
“To be completely honest with you, come back to it, look at the circumstances, and look at my experience back then, they would have done better to give Warwick that impetus.”
His dream of racing didn’t come true after Formula One, and in 1988 he teamed up with Jan Lammers and Andy Wallace to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving a Jaguar for Tom Walkinshaw.
Married twice, he had four children, three daughters and a son, who now inherits the title of 8th Marquis of Bute.
His family confirmed his death in a brief statement.
“The indomitable spirit and energy that Johnny brought to his life will be sorely missed, along with the immense warmth and love with which he embraced his family.”
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