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Britain’s lost F1 hope: Paul Warwick remembered

In an article written in 2016, Sam Smith remembers Paul Warwick – who died in a British F3000 crash at Oulton Park 30 years ago today.

Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick, Humphrey Corbett
Paul Warwick
Derek Warwick
Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick at the start of the race
Paul Warwick
Paul Warwick, Humphrey Corbett
Paul Warwick
Derek Warwick, on the Autosport Stage

In 1991 the UK was slap-bang in the middle of Mansell-mania. Gripped by the second act of the bellicose Brit’s tumultuous F1 career, the country was celebrating Nigel's rejuvenation just a year after he had announced a phantom retirement.

In addition to his renewed quest for the F1 title, Mansell had also branched out in to team management when he became a partner in the Madgwick Motorsport team, which ran in both the international and domestic Formula 3000 championships.

For 1991, the British F3000 team was spearheaded by Paul Warwick, younger brother of Renault, Arrows and Lotus F1 driver, Derek.

At 22 years of age, Paul was coming off the back of two and a half disappointing Formula 3 seasons, but had since branched out in to F3000 in a poor Leyton House March chassis in the final races of 1990. It proved to be an inspired career move, one that jettisoned him on to a seemingly fast-tracked F1 future.

1991 was Warwick’s year – with a 100% success rate in the races going in to round five at Oulton Park, a venue where he had already won the season opener on Good Friday. The world was seemingly at his feet.

However, a tragic fate robbed British race fans of seeing Warwick mature further in to what many believed would be an F1 driver, and a career that would follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“He was a person who had both feet firmly on the ground and with a great family around him,” recalls his team boss at Mansell Madgwick in 1991, Robert Synge. “Derek knew what was required to get his brother in to Formula 1, but I think irrespective of that he was good enough to get the job done on his own terms anyway.

“Paul had the mentality and work ethic you’d expect from a Warwick,” continues Synge. “I think that sadly British racing fans were denied the opportunity of seeing something special in the future when Paul died.”

Paul Warwick - The Man

In 1991, Warwick was ‘the man’ in every sense of the word. He vanquished strong opposition in British F3000, displayed growing maturity and eyed a likely promotion to the International F3000 series in 1992.

“He was super-impressive in the five races he did with us and his confidence snowballed,” recalls Synge. “But he never got big-headed. That wasn’t in his make-up. He channelled all that confidence in to a very strong capability as a professional driver.”

Warwick’s race engineer in 1991 was experienced F3000 staffer Humphrey Corbett, who was in no doubt that Warwick would have become a successful F1 driver.

“As soon as he got in the Reynard 90D at the start of ‘91 he loved driving it and was very accomplished from the beginning,” says Corbett. “He was phlegmatic, in the sense that if there were issues with the car he would be patient, and nothing rattled him at all.

“For a 22-year old he was extremely mature and I think a lot of that came from the advice and encouragement he got from Derek. Paul was an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Warwick’s rivals were equally impressed by the advantage he exerted on the opposition which included seasoned F3000 drivers like Richard Dean and Phil Andrews.

“I knew Paul a bit from when he came in to Formula Ford in 1986,” remembers Andrews. “We raced against each other quite a bit in ’87. It was obvious he was very good. He just struck you as a nice kid, a bit quiet  – even thoughtful, I’d say. In 1990/’91 I got to know him better, along with his dad, Derry.

“In ’90 we had a bit of an incident at the Birmingham Superprix and collided, but it says a lot about Paul that there were no recriminations or anything afterwards,” continues Andrews. “Earlier that year he was driving for Superpower in F3 and I was in their F3000 team, so we would hang out a bit at the factory and chat.

“He was just a lovely guy, quiet but had a sharp sense of humour. You could see there was quiet steel to back up the talent.”

By 1991 Paul’s brother too had noticed a change in his approach and stature in his chosen career.

“I honestly don’t think I am living in a false world when I say that Paul could have won races and potentially become World Champion in F1,” says Warwick. “I see him like Damon [Hill] in a way, because Damon flourished when he got into F1 after a so-so junior career.

“The more horsepower, the quicker and more confident Paul became. He was extraordinary in F3000 right from the word go and he was just much more suited to the extra power, just as he had been in Stock Cars. He had grown from a boy in to a man almost overnight.”

“Paul was my hero, he was my Mum’s hero, my sister’s hero, my children’s hero,” continues Warwick. “He had this demeanour about him that people would just love and follow, like a pied piper.

“People wanted to just be around him because he was a special person who was on the verge of something big in his career and in his life.”

21st July 1991

In the fifth round of the championship at Oulton Park, Warwick had set pole position to maintain his 100 percent record. The sheen of invincibility showed no signs of dimming.

“I was on pole right until the very end of qualifying,” remembers rival Andrews. “Then he went and beat me by 0.006sec! I was gutted and remember thinking ‘for f***'s sake, what do I need to do to beat this guy?”

“At the start I got bogged down as I had this issue with the gearbox several times that year and I went from first to fourth gear, so I lost second to Richard [Dean],” continues Andrews.  “Paul ‘ran and hid’ again, he was pulling away from us effortlessly.”

With just seven laps of the race remaining Warwick led from Dean and Andrews. Approaching the Knickerbrook right-hand corner at approximately 160mph, his Reynard ploughed headlong in to the barrier. A rod-end on the front suspension had broken, leaving Warwick with no steering and very little braking capability.

Beyond the tyrewall was a single armco barrier, shielding an earth bank. The force of the impact shattered the front of the monocoque in a manner similar to Martin Donnelly’s horrific Jerez accident nine months before.

“I remember coming over the hill up to Knickerbrook and as I came over I thought I saw what looked like the remains of a car but I didn’t see any impact,” says Andrews. “As I approached I thought it was the ex-First Racing Reynard that was being run that year (for Ranieri Randaccio).

“Then I saw Richard pulling off the track and my initial thought was he’d run over some debris and I thought ‘OK, I’m up to second then’. But by the time I got to Druids the red flag was out and I went back to the pits.

“I was completely unaware it was Paul or it was that big a shunt, and also that Richard had actually stopped to help.”

An eerie pall of black smoke rose from Knickerbrook, and alerted those in the pit area that something was seriously wrong.

Synge was aware only that Warwick had stopped and seemingly his 100 percent record that season was over. He had no idea about the scene of devastation at Knickerbrook.

“The first we knew about it was when Paul and Richard went missing," says Synge, "but with the gap Paul had, it seemed strange they could have collided. Paul hadn’t damaged the car at all that year.

“Then I remember the clerk of the course, a guy called John Symes, approaching me in the pits and telling me Paul had a big shunt and it didn’t look very good. In fact, I remember he said they were treating it as a possible fatal accident.

"Those words just didn’t register with me at that stage and I had to get him to say them again. I just thought, ‘This can’t be happening, this cannot be real.’

“We went to Knickerbrook and Paul was there, lying on the bank,” continues Synge. “Amazingly, he looked fine but was obviously unconscious. Then the air ambulance arrived and I went with Humphrey [Corbett] to the hospital, but as soon as we got there we were told he had died.”

The accident was a hammer-blow to the Mansell Madgwick team, and for Corbett the tragedy had a powerful emotional impact.

“Paul’s death affected me hugely,” says Corbett. “I can clearly remember driving home that night and crying all the way back. We used to run together and we’d chat about all sorts. After the accident, running became a huge motivation for me. Paul was always ‘with me’ on those runs I did.

“To lose someone with such a great future ahead really hit me and the team very hard indeed. I know that some guys in the team left the sport because of it. It was that bad.

“Time is a healer in some ways, of course it is. But for many years afterwards I went to visit Paul’s final resting place and paid my respects. I still think about him an awful lot. He was really special.”

For Corbett it was the first of two tragedies as almost three years later he engineered Roland Ratzenberger at Simtek.

“Roland’s passing was very sad, but by that time I had made the personal decision not to get too close to drivers, to just keep it entirely professional. With all respect to Roland, and I say this having really liked the guy, he was a good journeyman driver, whereas Paul was someone who in my opinion, and in the right car, would have won Grands Prix for sure.”

Richard Dean’s story

Dean has never previously talked about the incident that cost Paul Warwick his life. Dean selflessly stopped his Lola at the side of the track to aid the rescue attempt on Warwick’s burning Reynard immediately after it had crashed.

Yorkshireman Dean was a no-nonsense racer with a strong combative spirit that had seen him score points in the previous year's International F3000 Championship in an unfancied CoBRa Motorsport Reynard. For ’91 he was teammate with Phil Andrews in a Superpower Lola run by former RAM F1 bosses John MacDonald and Mick Ralph.

“I’d come from Formula Three in 1989 and it was probably my worst season in racing, so I suppose there were some similarities between myself and Paul,” remembers Dean. “I got to know him quite a bit in the F3 days and we had mutual friends, but in 1991 we were rivals so we didn’t speak a lot.

“To be honest that was probably because he was so dominant that year, and it just pissed me off! Everyone liked Paul though. He was a hard person to not like, even when he’s beating you all the time.”

Dean had run Warwick close at the opening round of the year at Oulton Park, and had led the race before going off under pressure from the Madgwick car. At the next visit to Cheshire three months later Dean was determined to redress the balance and attempt to rein in Warwick’s points advantage.

“I remember pretty much every aspect of that race and what transpired,” recalls Dean. “I tailed Paul for a few laps before he then opened up a reasonable lead. After a while the gap became quite static.

“I was using him as reference points around the track but I just couldn’t catch him. I remember feeling frustrated in the cockpit. He had complete control of the pace.”

As the race went into its final phase, Dean was pushing ever harder to try and catch his rival and emerging from the Hill Top crest just before Knickerbrook the accident happened right in front of him.

“I was completely focused on his car because it was my reference point,” he says. “Everything I was doing in the car was natural at that stage – the gearshifts, etc because my eyes were totally fixed on him.

“The sequence of events seemed to happen in slow motion, it was weird in that way. There was a puff of smoke from his car and he went straight in to the barrier, but it wasn’t like a normal shunt where it spins around and rattles down the Armco.

“It just came straight back out from the barrier, but it also went up in the air after the impact and then it just erupted in to flames. It is all so vivid, even now.”

Dean unhesitatingly stopped his Lola and ran to the scene in an attempt to help extricate Warwick from the wreck.

“I was probably there at the same time as a couple of the marshals,” continues Dean. “My instinct was to just help get him out. Where I stopped I could see the rear of the car but the smoke was so thick it was difficult to see anything beyond that.

“I tried to feel for the cockpit of the car with my hands but there was just nothing there. I could see the wheel was attached to the rear bulkhead and the front axle was intact but the cockpit opening was just shattered.

“I don’t remember that much from then on, because a marshal led me away – it was quite confusing. I then saw Paul against the fence and I knew it was as bad as it gets.”

Dean briefly stayed at the scene while the medical staff attempted to save Warwick, but then realised he needed to make his own team aware that he hadn’t been involved in the crash to allay their concerns.

“I actually walked back to the pits and as I did so I saw the helicopter landing at the scene,” he recalls. “I’ll tell you how vivid it all is – my mum was at that event and it was only the second time she had ever seen me race. The first time was in karts and I broke my leg!

“Then here we are at her second race and I’ve disappeared, there is a big cloud of smoke in the air and my mum has almost passed out in the pits. I got a bollocking for taking so long to get back there.”

Dean, who now works for the United Autosports team, was never recognised for his actions in attempting to help that day – despite the Warwick family attempting to get his bravery formerly acknowledged. Today Dean is adamant that he only did what anyone else would have done had they been first to come across the accident.

“It was just a natural reaction to try and help,” Dean says. “It wasn’t a bravery thing, it wasn’t a heroic thing, it was just something you do if you see someone in an accident whether it is on the road or at the track.”

F1 future beckoned

The immediate aftermath of Warwick’s death was one of complete shock. After the mourning and initial grief, the inquest into how the accident happened took place.

“It was a freak accident in many ways,” says Synge. “Reynard had not one instance of that part failing in any running whatsoever. If it had happened 10s earlier he would have gone off at the preceding chicane and just cursed his luck. It was just an appalling set of circumstances that ended with tragic consequences.”

Warwick’s modest F3 career had been largely forgotten by the time of his death, and those who worked with him in F3000 noticed the ‘brawny’ cars suited him much better.

“Paul seemed to revel with the increase in power that F3000 brought,” recalls Synge. “That is why I think he would have really taken to F1 in the early and mid-90s. We had an option on him for 1992 as I seem to remember, and I am pretty sure that with Derek’s contacts he would have been at least an official F1 test driver in ’92 and possibly a race driver the following year.”

Corbett concurs with Synge’s opinion, and believes Warwick had indeed been set for stardom.

“I absolutely would have wanted to work with him wherever he went in his future and I am sure that future would have been in F1,” he concurs. “The guy had massive potential to be a top Grand Prix driver. By the time he left us he didn’t have any chinks in his armour at all. He mastered a very powerful single-seater very quickly.”

F1 may have been on the horizon sooner than anyone anticipated though, as Warwick Snr was already in negotiations with Arrows, Tyrrell and Jordan about possibilities for 1992.

“Paul had already done some work with Arrows and my relationship with Jackie Oliver was good enough to at least open the door,” says Derek. “I could afford to help him into a reasonable team so F1 was beckoning.”

One day at Donington

On a glorious autumn day at Donington Park in 1991, some three months after the tragedy at Oulton, Paul Warwick officially became the posthumous 1991 British Formula 3000 Champion.

It was a day of high emotion after Warwick’s five wins proved good enough to take the crown. There weren’t many dry eyes in the house.

“I clearly remember Derek coming up to me after the race and giving me this enormous bear hug,” remembers Phil Andrews. “I think he gave one to everyone in the paddock and then invited us all for a glass of champagne to toast Paul. It was very poignant to finish like that and it made sure the title went to the most deserving driver. We all remember him as a great champion.”

Frederik Ekblom’s late title push ended at the final round when Julian Westwood took maximum points and Jason Elliott, who had been drafted in to the Mansell Madgwick team, finished second.

“I remember some people saying that we didn’t want to win the championship and that we were kind of orchestrating it so Paul won,” says Richard Dean. “I can tell you that was absolute rubbish. We were young racers and of course we wanted to win.

“The fact was that Paul won the championship because he did the best job and gained maximum points from the races he competed in. He was just better than everyone else that year and by quite a margin.”

Paul Warwick’s legacy

For his elder brother, the loss was almost unbearable to deal with, but the way in which Derek reacted to Paul's passing was indicative of the man himself and his wider family.

There was never any hint of blame toward the team or Reynard. Instead, his efforts were rather channelled towards improving the UK circuits via work with the MSA on improving run-off areas and circuit safety in general to protect the next generation of racers.

“I busied myself making British circuits safer after I visited Knickerbrook a few weeks after the accident,” recalls Warwick. “I could not believe what I was seeing when I went there. Bolts hanging out of the Armco, rotten supporting posts, no gravel, no run-off etc. I was stunned.

“I made friends with the MSA (Motor Sports Association) and planned what we could do,” he continues. “Of course, it wasn’t popular. There was even a stand-off at the gates of Brands Hatch once and they weren’t going to let me in!

“But we got in and we were able to make some good changes. Some were better than others. We got hammered for the Knickerbrook chicane, but the circuits couldn’t afford a Tilke or another top circuit designer. We had to do something though. I believe that we saved lives and saved families going through what we had gone through.”

Warwick remembers his brother on a daily basis: “I used to lock Paul away in the back of my mind when I was racing, but that stopped when I finished my career. The Warwick family remembers Paul every day. If you went to any of our houses you’d see a picture of him prominently on display. We are so proud of him and what he achieved in his short time with us.

“You know, I still occasionally think of him and start crying. But I cry in happiness mostly, because although there is nothing we can change now, and he left us a long time ago, we celebrate him all the time.

“Even my daughters and my sisters’ children, who were too young to really know him well, worship his memory because the recollections of him are so special.

“He is still a big part of our family and always will be because he was just a very special guy.”

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