The Toleman team was another 1981 debutant but its pedigree went back as far as 1926 when Edward Toleman founded a small motor firm. By the 1970s, Edward’s sons Ted and Bob Toleman alongside MD Alex Hawrkidge had begun to be involved in a variety of motor sport categories (Ted was also a notable speedboat racer), and in 1977 a Formula Ford 2000 team was launched, which quickly moved up to Formula Two, entering a March chassis for South African driver Rad Dougall in 1978 and expanding to two cars – now Ralts with engines by Brian Hart – for Dougall and Brian Henton in 1979. In 1980, the team built their own chassis for the first time, designed by Rory Byrne and still with Hart power, Brian Henton and new signing Derek Warwick aced the Formula Two championships and the drivers finished first and second. In November of 1980, Hawkridge announced that the team would move into Formula One for the 1981 season. After some initial discussions with Lancia about a possible deal for engines, the team decided to stick with Brian Hart and a turbocharged version of the F2 engine. Although turbo technology was still in its infancy in 1981, it was clearly the way of the future and Toleman hoped to steal a march on the opposition. The team were permitted to miss the first three flyaway races of the season in the USA, Brazil and Argentina for financial reasons and to enable them to ready the car, and the team would debut at San Marino.
Brian Henton came from an unglamorous council-house background in the British Midlands, and made his way into Formula Vee where he won the 1971 championship, announcing cheerfully that he had his sights set on the F1 World Championship. The combination of his ebullient confidence, undoubted talent and humble beginnings won him the admiration of first the British racing press, then the press at large, who dubbed him “Superhen”. Four years later he had graduated through F3 and F2 and was offered a works Lotus drive for 1975 to replace Jacky Ickx, but sadly the timing could hardly have been worse: the dominant Lotus 72 had finally been obsoleted and its replacement the Lotus 76 was a disaster, and his career was tarnished by the failure. He spent the next few years competing mainly in F2, with a sprinkling of one-off F1 drives that never turned into anything solid, before being picked up by the nascent Toleman team and guiding them to the F2 championship and back to the promised land of F1.
Hampshire-born Warwick raced stock cars in his youth, winning the English “Superstox” championship at the age of 16 in 1971, followed by the world Superstox title two years later, before graduating into open-wheel racing and winning the 1978 British F3 championship, before moving up into F2, where in 1980 he was spotted by the Toleman team and brought into the winning squad and the team brought Warwick with them into Formula One for 1981.