GRR

Ted Toleman (1938-2024)

10th April 2024
Simon Ostler

Ted Toleman, the man whose team brought Ayrton Senna to Formula 1, has died aged 86.

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His grandfather, Edward Toleman founded the Toleman company in 1926. Ted took over as Chairman in 1966 before founding the racing team in 1977. Toleman Motorsport made its first appearance at a motorsport event in British Formula Ford before making the step up to Formula 2 in 1978 running a March chassis. A year later the team switched to Ralt cars and came close winning the ’79 British F2 championship with Brian Henton.

Over the next 12 months, the Toleman team began to bring together a group of young and talented engineers. Among them Rory Byrne and Pat Symonds, the latter would remain with the outfit throughout his career as the team transformed to Benetton and then Renault, with whom he won the world championship with Fernando Alonso. By 1980, Toleman was building its own cars to race in European Formula 2. With drivers Henton and Derek Warwick, the team finished first and second in the championship.

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The Toleman team announced it would enter F1 ahead of the 1981 season, and after three years of gradual development that saw Toleman grow from a team that failed to pre-qualify into a regular points-scoring outfit by the end of the 1983 season, the team made headlines in 1984 when it gave a young Brazilian drive by the name of Ayrton Senna his big break in F1. Senna entered the sport as reigning British Formula 3 champion, and after retiring on his debut at the Brazilian Grand Prix scored points at the second and third attempts.

The biggest moment in the history of Toleman followed at that season’s Monaco Grand Prix, where Senna chased down Alain Prost’s McLaren in torrential rain, and came within two laps of victory before the race was red-flagged. His second place there was Toleman’s best F1 result, and he followed it up with two further podiums at Silverstone and Estoril. That 1984 season saw Toleman achieve a highest-ever seventh-place finish in the constructors’ championship.

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Following Senna’s departure for Lotus in 1985, Toleman’s performance dropped substantially, with the team acquired by the Benetton clothing company before the start of the 1986 season. As Toleman, the team competed in 70 F1 grands prix between 1981 and 1985, scoring 26 points and three podiums.

It formed the basis for the Benetton team that won the F1 world championship in 1994 and 1995 with Michael Schumacher, with Rory Byrne and Pat Symmonds remaining as key members of the team.

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The lineage extended into Renault’s purchase of Benetton in 2000, which won the championship twice more with Fernando Alonso in 2005 and 2006. That team would go on to become Lotus F1 Team before returning to Renault ownership in 2016. The team finally rebranded as Alpine in 2021, which it remains to this day.

Away from the world of F1, Ted Toleman had a passion for powerboats, and he attempted a cross-Atlantic sailing record with Virgin founder Richard Branson. He also competed in three Dakar rallies and entered at Le Mans with Tom Walkinshaw in 1978.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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