Louis Stanley

Outspoken chairman of BRM and leading figure in the safety movement in motor racing
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The Independent Online

Louis Thomas Stanley, motor- racing administrator and journalist: born 6 January 1912; married first Kate Furness (two sons; marriage dissolved 1949), second 1955 Jean Baber (née Owen, died 2002; two stepsons, two stepdaughters); died Trumpington, Cambridgeshire 8 January 2004.

Louis Stanley cut an imposing figure during his days as chairman of the British Racing Motors (BRM) team in Formula One.

Born in 1912, he studied Theology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and it was after an early career as a correspondent and features writer for Queen magazine that his marriage to Jean Baber, sister of the industrial knight Sir Alfred Owen who had rescued BRM from its initial blundering, elevated Stanley to a position to which he was ideally suited. His customary attire of blue blazer, light flannels and old school tie went well with his tall and corpulent frame and brushed-back silver mane. He could outmanoeuvre even the most intransigent gateman at any of the world's circuits, and his firm but authoritative manner quelled many arguments before they began.

At the drop of a hat he gave vent to stentorian and long-winded opinions on many topics germane to the sport and the way it was run, and was thus seen by many as a pompous fellow who liked the sound of his own voice. Behind his back he was called "Big Lou", "Lord Louis" or "Lord Trumpington", the latter a reference to his home near Cambridge. Several drivers tell stories of how Stanley would never correct minions who inaccurately addressed him as Sir Louis.

As one of racing's most outspoken and controversial figures Stanley adopted the self-styled role of senior statesman. Jackie Stewart, who drove for BRM from 1965 to 1967 and held him in respect and affection, once said:

Louis Stanley is an extraordinary man. He has many talents and some failings, not all of which are obvious to him. He writes a very amusing book, takes terrible pictures, and can be diplomatic or not depending on the circumstances.

But behind this exterior Stanley was also a man ahead of his time. Stewart made an unequalled contribution to making his sport safer, via an aggressive crusade in the Sixties and Seventies, but Stanley, for all his bombast and intransigence, may well have been the true father of the safety movement. He was honorary secretary of the original Grand Prix Drivers' Association (GPDA), became a trustee of the Jim Clark Foundation and the founder of the Jo Siffert Advisory Council.

One of his greatest achievements was to create the International Grand Prix Medical Service in 1967, whose mobile hospital aimed to guarantee a minimum level of care for drivers at a time when safety was widely ignored. In later years, against his stereotypical image, he said modestly:

It would be nice to think I had played a part. There were certain irritations, which one ignored, but the main thing was to try and make progress.

When the Swiss driver Jo Siffert became the only man ever to die racing for BRM, asphyxiated in an accident at Brands Hatch in October 1971, a bereft Stanley took it upon himself to devise new means of combating fire. The man who was so often criticised showed enormous courage by deliberately walking through flaming wreckage during subsequent tests of the fireproof suits that were being introduced.

I was told that I had 48 seconds, then my skin would start to prickle. It was childish really, because I knew I could walk through. But when you are in there, surrounded by fire, you can't see and it is extremely claustrophobic. I must say, after 30 seconds I cheated and came out!

But he had experienced the horror for himself, at first hand.

Ironically for a man so concerned with health issues, he introduced Marlboro to major sponsorship of the sport via BRM in 1972, something he said he regretted subsequently after the two parties fell out early in their two-year partnership. He said,

They had their job, which was to sell cigarettes, and I wouldn't dream of telling them how to do that. And I don't expect a novice to tell a chief engineer what he should do with his engines or drivers.

Eventually BRM's performance dipped and the marque disappeared, leaving Stanley to focus on his second love, writing books on golf. But he remained outspoken on modern F1. "It has ceased to be a sport, as we knew it," he said in the early Nineties:

In the old days the drivers and team owners stayed on after a race and enjoyed it, instead of getting straight into a helicopter, or hiding in one of these motorhomes. Not many of today's drivers have charisma. And the fastest race some of them have is the race to the bank.

Stanley was sensitive to the pain of others. The veteran racing journalist Jabby Crombac remembered the fiery death of the French driver Jo Schlesser at Rouen in 1968:

Against Louis was his pomposity, but on the other hand he was the most kind-hearted person I've ever known. If anyone was in trouble Louis and his wife Jean would be the first to help, sometimes at great expense to themselves. They helped Jo's widow Annie tremendously. Jean stayed up all night with her to stop her throwing herself from a window, when all of Annie's friends from Paris had left her.

Stanley was not everybody's cup of tea, but he was never afraid to stand up and be counted. "He really did his best, and he got the medical unit going," said Max Mosley, president of the sport's governing body, the FIA:

People did not understand in those days how much could be done with the cars and the circuits. But he was altruistic. You can understand a driver being interested in safety, but Stanley was genuinely altruistic, and he achieved a lot.

Sir Jackie Stewart said:

Louis was brutally frank, but I think that anyone of mature years who has lived through a period like that is allowed to be. I rather liked him.

Louis Stanley refused to remain inactive during the sport's bloodiest era. With terrifying frequency, like many of his contemporaries, he was obliged to pay dues in the currency of lost friends. But he was not prepared simply to don a sad but tolerant face while mourning each tragedy. Instead, he did everything he could to bring about the changes that are taken for granted today.

David Tremayne

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