F1 team boss and Ron Dennis backer Tony Vlassopulos dies

A significant figure in future McLaren supremo Ron Dennis’s formative years as a team owner, and himself briefly the head of an F1 squad, Tony Vlassopulos died recently. He was 89.

F1 team boss and Ron Dennis backer Tony Vlassopulos dies
Listen to this article

A barrister by profession, Vlassopulos was a circuit commentator at Goodwood, and some years later was put in touch with Dennis by John Phelps, the proprietor of an antiques emporium in Twickenham – Vlassopulos was a customer, and Dennis was dating Phelps’s daughter.

At that time, Dennis had just left Brabham to set up Rondel Racing to contest the 1971 Formula 2 season, and encouraged fellow ex-Brabham colleague Neil Trundle to join him, with up-and-coming Australian Tim Schenken as the intended lead driver.  

Vlassopulos told this writer for a story in F1 Racing in 2008: “Ron came over with Tim Schenken, and he gave me this very nice proposal. After that I spoke to my friends and they all said no – they could all have funded it 10 times over, but all Greeks [he had Greek heritage] are interested in is football and politics.

“I told Ron this, but then I heard myself saying, ‘Perhaps I could do it.’ Ron was very determined. I could see that this was a man who could go places.”  

Tim Schenken, Motul M1 Ford

Tim Schenken, Motul M1 Ford

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Vlassopulos brought on board Ken Grob, a friend of his from the insurance industry, while Phelps’s brother Dave took on the role of Rondel’s accountant.

Graham Hill also encouraged Rondel to run him in one of its Brabhams, and took a heat win for the team first time out at Hockenheim, before scoring a famous victory in the Easter Monday Thruxton round.

Rondel ran Brabhams again in 1972, with Carlos Reutemann joining the team for a parallel programme alongside his rookie F1 season, only for a broken ankle in a Thruxton shunt to derail his championship aspirations.

By this time, Dennis and Trundle were already preparing to turn constructors, and sponsorship from a French oil company meant their self-produced F2 car – designed by Ray Jessop, another ex-Brabham man – was named the Motul M1 when it appeared in 1973.

On the car’s second race outing at Thruxton, Henri Pescarolo headed home fellow Frenchman Bob Wollek for a Motul 1-2. During that season the team also ran world champion-to-be Jody Scheckter, future Le Mans winner Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, and exciting Welsh talent Tom Pryce, but it was Schenken who scored the Motul’s other victory, on the Norisring street circuit.

Schenken was slated as Rondel’s driver for the planned graduation to F1 in 1974, but the oil crisis struck and Motul shifted allegiance to BRM. Dennis, in financial trouble, sold his Feltham premises to Hill, whose own F1 team was getting established.

Together with Trundle, Vlassopulos and Grob rescued the F1 project, renamed it Token (the ‘To’ from Tony and ‘ken’ from Ken) and moved to a smaller workshop in Walton-on-Thames.

Schenken, who had rejoined former Brabham boss and designer Ron Tauranac at new F1 team Trojan when the Rondel project collapsed, remembers: “Tony could obviously see a future with Rondel, and was, as far as I am aware, the first to provide financial support to the team.

“He and his wife Sue were very hospitable, inviting me to their house for the odd dinner. This was always fun as Tony was an enthusiastic motorsport fan, so the conversation centred around this.

“I also spent the odd day on his boat, which he kept in Monte Carlo. He purchased it from Peter Sellers and retained the same crew – the captain had lots of amusing stories!”

Pryce’s manager Chris Meek had got involved to sponsor the new team, and Pryce was to give the Token RJ02 its debut – and his own in F1 – in the non-championship International Trophy at Silverstone. The car, with teenaged future club-racing folk hero Ian Flux as a mechanic, only just made it to the track in time to qualify, but Pryce ran respectably until being sidelined by gear-linkage failure.

Tom Pryce, Token RJ02

Tom Pryce, Token RJ02

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Pryce then qualified a superb 20th out of the 32-car field for his world championship bow in the Belgian Grand Prix at Nivelles, but failed to finish, and Token was not selected as an entrant for the following Monaco GP.

Vlassopulos also had a Formula 3 team named Ippokampos Racing and, in an inspired move, put Pryce behind the wheel of his March 743 for the Monaco support race – to the chagrin of its regular driver, Buzz Buzaglo. Pryce dominated against a quality field, and was now an F1 hot property. He eventually joined Shadow.

Token reappeared at the British Grand Prix, where David Purley failed to qualify, and for the German and Austrian Grands Prix with Ian Ashley at the wheel. It was Ashley who gave the team its only finish as an F1 constructor: 14th at the Nurburgring.

With Ashley’s sponsors electing to buy a Brabham, the Token project was sold to Safir Engineering for 1975. The renamed ‘Safir’ appeared in the Race of Champions and International Trophy with Tony Trimmer driving, but without success.

Vlassopulos kept some involvement for the 1975 F1 season by sponsoring James Hunt and the Hesketh F1 team for some races, before his formal involvement in the sport ended.

shares
comments

Related video

Renault says bad days were key to 2020 progress
Previous article

Renault says bad days were key to 2020 progress

Next article

Podcast: What MotoGP team boss Brivio will bring to Alpine

Podcast: What MotoGP team boss Brivio will bring to Alpine
Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom? Prime

Can Mercedes break Formula 1's cycle of doom?

OPINION: Teams that have dominated for long periods throughout Formula 1's history often take years to get back to the top of the tree once they've slipped down. But it remains to be seen whether the same will happen to Mercedes after a challenging 2022 season

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2022
What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi Prime

What hurt Perez most in his ill-fated fight for second in Abu Dhabi

Arguably the favourite in the battle to finish second-best in 2022's Formula 1 standings, Sergio Perez's two-stop strategy at Abu Dhabi couldn't take him ahead of Charles Leclerc when the music stopped - and several key factors ultimately precluded him from the much-coveted runner-up spot.

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2022
The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success Prime

The Abu Dhabi momentum that can propel Leclerc and Ferrari to F1 2023 success

OPINION: Charles Leclerc achieved his target of sealing runner-up in the 2022 world championship with a masterful drive behind Max Verstappen in Abu Dhabi. And that race contained key elements that may help him, and Ferrari, go one better in Formula 1 2023

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2022
2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Driver Ratings Prime

2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The 2022 Formula 1 season came to a close at the Yas Marina Circuit, where the battle for second in the standings was decided, the wins in a season record extended and a retiring four-time world champion bowed out on a high. Here's how we rated the drivers

Formula 1
Nov 21, 2022
The factors that stopped Perez catching Leclerc in Verstappen's Abu Dhabi triumph Prime

The factors that stopped Perez catching Leclerc in Verstappen's Abu Dhabi triumph

Max Verstappen ended the 2022 Formula 1 season in fitting fashion with a dominant drive to victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But behind him, early season rival Charles Leclerc achieved his target of securing the runner-up spot with a well-executed a one-stop strategy to beat Sergio Perez, whose pursuit on a two-stop strategy was hampered by several critical factors

Formula 1
Nov 21, 2022
Why the impact of FIA’s anti-bouncing metric is hard to judge Prime

Why the impact of FIA’s anti-bouncing metric is hard to judge

Faced with drivers complaining about the long-term health effects of car ‘bouncing’, the FIA stepped in to deal with it. JAKE BOXALL-LEGGE explains how the so-called ‘Aerodynamic Oscillation Metric’ works, and asks if it is fit for purpose?

Formula 1
Nov 20, 2022
Where Vettel stands in the list of the greatest F1 drivers Prime

Where Vettel stands in the list of the greatest F1 drivers

As Sebastian Vettel’s Formula 1 career draws to a close, figuring out where he fits into the greatest of all time order is a tough and subjective call. With the aid of statistics, attributes and history, here’s how the four-time world champion stacks up in the debate

Formula 1
Nov 19, 2022
The omen Ferrari hopes to continue by ending its Abu Dhabi jinx Prime

The omen Ferrari hopes to continue by ending its Abu Dhabi jinx

It’s been an unlucky 13 for Ferrari in Abu Dhabi since the first Formula 1 race was held there in 2009. But if the Scuderia can finally win at the Yas Marina Circuit in 2022, then BEN EDWARDS feels this could bode well for even greater success in 2023

Formula 1
Nov 17, 2022