After a number of years in the wilderness, Lotus had finally come good in 1985, the combination of Senna, Renault engines and the 97T chassis all working well. In fact, the team should have done even better, with mechanical reliability a problem that cost Senna and de Angelis both points and potential wins. In the 98T, the team were running the new Renault EF15B turbo engine, and were now the main focus of the French company’s development with the withdrawal of their own works team. Ayrton Senna had wasted no time confirming his star status and if the team can get their reliability sorted there is a good chance of him bringing the first title to Hethel since Mario Andretti in 1978. Alongside Senna is newcomer Johnny Dumfries – rumour has it that the team wanted Derek Warwick, but Senna vetoed the appointment, believing the team couldn’t manage two top drivers and should focus on him.
John Colum Crichton-Stuart, Earl of Dumfries, was born into one of Scotland’s oldest noble families and claims descent from Robert the Bruce via Robert II of Scotland, as well as being a descendant of British Prime Minister John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. As heir to a large fortune, he was easily able to pay his way in the junior formulae, quitting his education at the prestigious Ampleforth College to focus on his racing career. It would be easy to dismiss “Johnny Dumfries” as a spoiled rich kid with an expensive hobby, but he could drive a bit as well; he dominated the British F3 championship in 1984 and came runner-up to Ivan Capelli in the European F3 series the same year. In 1985 he moved up to the new Formula 3000 series and had a disappointing season with two different teams, but nonetheless he was called up to the Lotus team to partner Ayrton Senna for 1986. Few expect much from the young Earl, but that could be to his advantage.
Whether you believe that Senna vetoed Warwick as a team-mate because he couldn’t face the idea of not being the undisputed number one driver, or because he believed that the Lotus team simply didn’t have the resources to support two “lead” drivers, the fact remains that he has firmly established himself as the team’s lead driver for 1986. The Brazilian’s upward trajectory has been remarkable – seeing off Johnny Cecotto at Toleman in 1984, then outperforming the more experienced Elio de Angelis at Lotus in 1985, he is regarded as a serious title contender in just his third season of F1 racing. If his Lotus will let him, he has the quality to be world champion this year.