Vanwall deserves a comeback – Thank Frankel it’s Friday

16th October 2020
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

There is going to be an announcement on Monday and I have no idea what it is apart from the fact that it concerns the relaunch of Vanwall. Yes, you read that right. That is all I know. But I am also given to understand that whatever the substance of the launch, it will be entirely appropriate to the heritage of what was briefly Britain’s most successful Formula 1 team.


If you are now wondering why on earth the new Vanwall company – or whatever it is – is not taking full advantage of SpeedWeek presented by Mastercard to make the announcement at Goodwood – I don’t know the answer to that either. But a brief look back through the history books reveals that Monday is the 62nd anniversary of Vanwall capturing the first ever Formula 1 Constructors World Championship, so I expect that has something to do with it.

For Tony Vandervell, the man who had created his own F1 team in the 1950s to ‘beat those bloody red cars’ taking that title was a moment far more bitter than sweet, because while Stirling winning the 1958 Moroccan Grand Prix did indeed make that dream come true, it was in that same race that team-mate Stuart Lewis-Evans crashed, succumbing to his injuries in an East Grinstead hospital six days later. While Vanwall did race on sporadically, it was without Vandevell whose health was failing and whose love of racing died with his driver.


Since then it is fair to say there have been a few attempts to bring the name back to prominence. Vandervell died in 1967 and his company sold to GKN. And while there were rumours of a Vanwall road car in the early 1990s, in 1995 there was a lot of chat about Vanwall coming back into racing with Nigel Mansell being mentioned in connection the project and Ford V10 racing engines. But nothing ever came of it.

There was a further attempt in 1997 to bring Vanwall back to Formula 1 for 1999. Led by a company called  VF One, at the time its John Minet told MotorSport magazine ‘our philosophy has been that it will be done properly, or not at all’ but despite ‘very advanced discussions with serious financial players’ not at all it turned out to be.

Now spool forward to 2004 and a chap called Arthur Wolstenholme – founder of Ronart Cars – licenced the named from its then owners Dana International and created a thing called the Vanwall GPR 12, a single seater powered by a Jaguar V12 motor whose look was very much that of the 1950s racers, though the new car was designed for use on road and track and as such came with wings over the wheels and headlights. As a result it was perhaps a somewhat curious looking device which I never drove, but I’d driven a Ronart before – which was a very similar kind of car – and been struck by how well engineered it had been.

And now comes the link to the present day: in 2008 Wolstenholme was joined by Iain Sanderson who in turn bought the rights to the Vanwall name in 2013 and, according to his LinkedIn biography, is the man behind the 2020 Vanwall project, whatever it is.


I am always nervous about attempts to exhume great old names from the past because too often they mean more to the people involved than the customers they seek. Jensen and Invicta has are examples that spring most readily to mind, and we still don’t know how the current TVR saga – which unveiled a car at the 2017 Revival but has yet to deliver one to a customer – will play out.

What I hope therefore is that Sanderson and his team announce something small in scale and easy to deliver as well as being true to its roots – which means racing in one form or another. That is how you establish credibility in the market place. Then they can see where to go from there. I hope that, unlike those other examples, the new Vanwall plays down the promise then overdelivers on the product. Then it is possible that Vanwall can be reborn with a genuinely sustainable future ahead of it.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.  

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