Johnny Dumfries

Formula 1 attracts all kinds of folk, not least of whom have very proudly shown off their royal ancestry. These folk have included a Thai prince (‘B Bira’), and European noblemen (Carel de Beaufort, Alfonso de Portago, Wolfgang von Trips and Giovanni Lavaggi).

But the sport also attracted a Marquess – who tried to pass himself of a London painter in the hope his identity would remain a secret! – and it is his 54th birthday we celebrate today…

Officially known as John Colum Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute, he’s perhaps better known by more ‘common’ pseudonym of John Bute.

In motorsport circles, he went by the name of Johnny Dumfries, and was a one-time team-mate to Ayrton Senna who later went on to win the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Dumfries won the 1984 British F3 title with fifteen wins!Dumfries was a very good racing driver in his youth, and he rose quickly through the junior ranks en route to Formula 1.

He joined the British Formula 3 championship in 1983 and landed a plum drive with the crack Dave Price Racing squad in 1984. With a staggering total of fifteen wins, he romped to the British title and came within a whisker of claiming the European title as well.

He moved into Formula 3000 in 1985, but he was unable to replicate the same form and was out of a drive by mid-season.

But every cloud has its silver lining, and he was an unexpected signing to the Lotus F1 squad for the 1986 season when incumbent team-mate Ayrton Senna vetoed the team’s original decision to sign Derek Warwick as the young Brazilian’s team-mate.

Senna’s reasoning was two-fold: he didn’t believe that Lotus had the resources to equally support two drivers, and he also didn’t want a team-mate who could show him up.

But Team Lotus’ chief sponsor, John Player Special cigarettes, wanted a British driver to help market their cancer sticks to the UK clientele, and so Dumfries was given his big chance.

Johnny Dumfries, 1986 Italian GP“Even the port-a-loo was set up for Senna,” comic writer Clive James quipped, when he recapped Dumfries’ one and only season in Formula 1, where he was very much a number-two to Senna.

But he certainly didn’t disgrace himself, and twice finished in the points with excellent drives at Hungary and Australia.

But Lotus had secured the use of Honda engines for the 1987 season and beyond – with the engine partner insisting on a Japanese driver as part of the deal – which left Dumfries out of a drive and never race in F1 again.

He did have a few test opportunities with Benetton in the following years, but then opted to make the switch to the endurance racing scene, racing for the likes of Porsche, Toyota and Jaguar. It was with Jaguar that he won the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours.

[Images via Flickr, LAT, SKY, The Cahier Archive]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.