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Obituary

Obituary: F1 team founder Ted Toleman dies aged 86

Ted Toleman, who has died aged 86, was the figurehead of what still contends to be Formula 1’s best-loved and most influential underdog team.

Ted Toleman

Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

Between 1981 and 1985, Toleman evolved from hopeless backmarker to potent giant-killer in grand prix racing, across five seasons in which it gave a host of key personalities their F1 break, including drivers Derek Warwick, Teo Fabi and Stefan Johansson – but most notably Ayrton Senna and the man who would go on to design every one of Michael Schumacher’s seven world championship-winning cars, Rory Byrne.

Ted Toleman and his older brother Bob ran the family company centred on a car transportation business based in Brentwood, Essex from the mid-1960s. Encouraged by managing director Alex Hawkridge, the Toleman Group became a familiar sponsor of drivers in grassroots club motorsport in the following decade, perhaps most notably on the DFV-powered Super Saloon ‘DFVW’ 1600 fastback of Colin Hawker, as a means of promoting the business. The brothers and Hawkridge also began racing themselves.

Tragedy struck in 1976 when Bob Toleman was killed when he crashed his Royale Formula Ford at Snetterton. Undeterred, Ted Toleman continued to race a Lola Sports 2000 on occasion as Hawkridge stepped up investment in motorsport as an entrant, the company backing South African Rad Dougall, who dominated FF2000 in 1977. The company then hired promising designer Byrne from Royale and jumped straight into F2, running a March 782-BMW for Dougall in 1978.

Two years later Toleman stamped its mark with its own Hart-powered TG280 F2 designed by Byrne and John Gentry, running on Pirelli tyres and with backing from BP. Brian Henton and Warwick swept to a famous team 1-2 in the European F2 Championship, prompting Toleman to take the plunge into F1 for 1981.

The team initially appeared out of its depth with Byrne’s Hart turbo-powered TG181, Henton and Warwick only qualifying for one race each in a fraught maiden season in the top flight. But across the following three years Toleman evolved into a genuine force, coming of age in 1984 when Hawkridge signed British F3 champion Senna, who almost won a rain-affected and controversially red-flagged Monaco GP.

PLUS: The underdog F1 squad that thrust Senna into the limelight

Ayrton Senna, Toleman TG184-Hart

Ayrton Senna, Toleman TG184-Hart

Photo by: Motorsport Images

But the following year, after Senna had acrimoniously defected to Lotus and the team found itself without a tyre supply deal, Toleman’s final F1 car, the TG185, failed to make the start of the season. The team was sold to Italian fashion house Benetton, the name under which it then ran from 1986, and Toleman withdrew from motorsport.

PLUS: The salvation story behind Benetton's emergence as an F1 team

During his company’s F1 adventure, Ted Toleman also successfully raced off-shore powerboats and in 1985 captained the original Virgin Atlantic Challenger 1, with Richard Branson on board, which narrowly failed to set a new record for the fastest crossing of the north Atlantic by boat. The Toleman Group was sold in the 1990s, after which Ted returned to his native South Africa to run a banana plantation. He then moved to Australia before settling in the Philippines.

Although Hawkridge was the driving force behind Toleman’s colourful chapter in motorsport, the support of its chairman was a key component of the company’s against-the-odds success. “I owe everything to Ted Toleman, Alex Hawkridge and the team,” said Warwick. “They were amazing to me. I wouldn’t have been in F1 without them or had this amazing career. I owe this life to Toleman.”

Autosport sends its condolences to Ted’s surviving son Michael Toleman and all the Toleman family.

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