In what is already proving to be a sad year for Formula 1, we have received news that Robin Herd, a former designer for the McLaren Formula 1 team and founding member of March Engineering, has died aged 80.
A pioneering member of the motorsport industry, Herd graduated from Oxford University with a double first in physics and engineering, before joining the Royal Aircraft Establishment in 1961 as a Concorde design engineer.
It wasn’t until 1965 that, at the age of 27, Herd found himself at McLaren, working on cars including the Firestone M2A tyre test car, and the Formula 1 M2B car. During his three years at the Woking-based manufacturer, Herd designed the M4B, M5A and M7 Formula 1 cars, as well as the successful M6A Can-Am car, which was tested extensively at Goodwood.
A move to Cosworth saw Herd responsible for designing Cosworth’s first Formula one Car – an angular four-wheel-drive aluminium vehicle. Despite success in the series as an engine supplier, Cosworth had yet to enter its own Grand Prix car, and Herd was tasked to change that.
The car used an original 4WD transmission designed by Keith Duckworth and was powered by a magnesium version of Cosworth’s Double Four Valve unit. The body was constructed of Mallite sheeting (an aerospace wood-aluminium laminate composite), but despite its innovative nature, was silently withdrawn from its debut at the 1969 British Grand Prix.
The project was eventually cancelled after Herd left to form March, along with Max Mosley, Alan Rees and Graham Coaker.
March saw success early on, and after debuting with the F3 693 in late 1969, the manufacturer announced that it would build an F1 car for 1970. Five March 701s sat on the grid at the Kyalami season opener – three works entries and two Tyrrell cars, one of which was piloted by pole position Jackie Stewart, who went on to take victory at the second round in Spain.
Throughout the early '70s, March went from strength to strength in Formula 2 and 3, and continued with its works F1 team, also supplying customer cars to privateers.
A notable successes was Ronnie Peterson’s 2ndplace in the 1971 world championship, in the ‘Spitfire’ – the oval front winged 711. Unfortunately, that success was not replicated the following year, when Niki Lauda joined Peterson in the disappointing 721X factory cars.
With little sponsorship in 1973 March suffered money woes, but Jean-Pierre Jarier still managed to win the Formula 2 Championship in a works March-BMW. James Hunt, meanwhile, entered the championship in a Hesketh-run March. Tragedy struck when works driver Roger Williamson’s car flipped and caught on fire, and despite valiant efforts from March privateer David Purley, Williamson asphyxiated before rescue arrived.
The March works team didn’t win a Grand Prix until 1975, when Vittorio Brambilla took victory in the rain-shortened Austrian GP. In 1977, the works team was sold to ATS, and despite revival attempts throughout the '80s, sole-remaining founder Herd eventually sold his shares.
Throughout the '80s, March’s customer business thrived, with March chassis dominating the Indy 500 throughout the '80s and winning the series from 1983 through to '87.
After quitting racing and founding his own design office, in 1995 Herd bought Oxford United Football Club, acting as chairman for three years. He also founded a company investigating natural ways of producing energy and formed an Indy Racing League team called March Indy International in 1999.
Herd was a regular at the Goodwood, attending the Bruce McLaren tribute at Revival 2015. He was also due to attend the March 50th anniversary reunion planned for next month’s Festival of Speed.
From the team here at Goodwood Road & Racing, we offer our sincerest condolences to Robin’s family and friends.