Dave Walker

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Last updated: 30-April-2010


Biography
Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1
Background

Lotus returns to F1 in 2010, but its history is not all golden

2010 is the year of the comeback in Formula One. There is, of course, a certain seven-time World Champion and 91-times Grand Prix winner returning to the ranks, driving for the first Mercedes works team since 1955. Pedro de la Rosa will start the season with a full-time race drive for the first time since 2002, in a car entered by Peter Sauber, returning to team ownership for the first time since 2005. Even this driver profile is the first we have managed to research and prepare for over 18 months!

And of course there is the new incarnation of the Lotus name, even if there is little in common with the company created by Colin Chapman and which last competed in F1 in its own right in 1994 (leaving aside the tenuous link-up with Pacific in 1995). Lotus remains one of the great names in the history of the sport, ranking fourth behind Ferrari, McLaren and Williams in all-time starts, wins, pole positions and fastest laps, and unlikely to be overtaken in any of those categories in the near future.

Think Lotus and the creativity and enterprise of Chapman comes to mind, as well as some of the classic liveries in the sport’s history, whether it be British Racing Green, Gold Leaf red and gold, John Player Special black, or Camel yellow. Plus some of the greatest names - Clark, Hill, Fittipaldi, Peterson, Andretti, Mansell, Senna. But what may also come as a surprise is the number of unsuccessful ‘number two’ drivers that Lotus have employed over the years, much more so than Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.

1950s-63

Dave gets hooked, travels to Britain, and hitch-hikes home!

One example is the Australian driver Dave Walker, born in Sydney on 10 June 1941. He has the unhappy distinction of being the only driver in the World Championship so far to have scored no points in a year in which his team-mate won the title. His story is a sorry tale of the life of a forgotten ‘number two’ driver, and the author acknowledges Michael Oliver’s superbly detailed book Lotus 72: Formula One Icon and article in the June 2004 edition of MotorSport as being key sources for this biography and the quotes used.

As a teenager, Walker was a competitive athlete and a member of the Palm Beach Surf Life Saving Club. Whilst training to be an accountant in the late 1950s, he met some motorsport enthusiasts, tried his hand at a hillclimb in a twin-cam MGA, came 2nd, took part in a circuit race at the Gnoo Blas circuit, and was hooked. He went to England in 1960 on a three-month working holiday, and while he was there he attended the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School.

Upon leaving Britain, he returned to Australia the long way - by hitch-hiking overland. By 1963 though, Walker was keen to begin racing seriously. He took delivery of a Formula Junior Brabham BT2 with a Ford 1098cc engine, and came 3rd in his first race at Calder at the end of March. Later in the year he was signed by the Scuderia Veloce team, the first professional racing team in Australia founded by the journalist and veteran racer David McKay, and his Brabham was decked out in the team’s traditional red livery.

1963-64

Successful in Australian Formula Junior and dabbles at Bathurst

Walker’s inclusion in the Scuderia Veloce squad led to him making his tin-top debut at the famous Armstrong 500 mile race at Bathurst, in a Renault R8 shared with Ron Clarke in class B, for vehicles costing between 900 and 1,000 pounds. A gearbox stuck in neutral mid-race meant that Walker and Clarke completed 102 of the 130 laps, finishing 19th in class and 42nd overall. But the end of the year, it would appear as though Walker parted company with Scuderia Veloce.

For 1964, Australian Formula Junior was rebranded as Formula 2, and like many others Walker upgraded his car to F2 specification including a 1500cc Ford engine. At the start of the year, he entered the four Tasman Series rounds in Australia at Sandown, Warwick Farm, Lakeside and Longford in his BT2, against the likes of stars like Sir Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren. 9th in the Australian Grand Prix at Sandown was his best result out of those four events.

That hit-out preceded a successful season in his Brabham, in which he came 2nd in the Australian F2 championship and 1st in the class for upgraded Formula Junior cars. In total, throughout 1963 and 1964 he had accumulated 14 wins, six 2nd places and twelve 3rds, and marked himself out as an up-and-coming driver. He rounded out 1964 by competing in the Armstrong 500 again, this time in a Volkswagen 1200 Beetle with Brian Milton, completing 112 laps and finishing 7th in class A behind six Vauxhall Vivas.


Walker's time driving for Scuderia Veloce saw him compete in the 1963 Bathurst 500 in a Renault R8.
Walker's time driving for Scuderia Veloce saw him compete in the 1963 Bathurst 500 in a Renault R8.

1965-67

Finally heads to Europe to pursue his racing career

At the beginning of 1965, Walker gave his BT2 its final outings, once again in the Tasman Series. At Warwick Farm he finished 11th, but at Lakeside the car was written off in a major crash. It is unclear whether the consequences of this accident caused him to abort his plans to go to Europe to race; in a Lotus press release in March 1971 it said, simply, that “family matters” kept him at home. His only other race of note in 1965 was another troubled run at Bathurst, in a Ford Cortina GT500 with Carl Kennedy.

The following year, Dave finally took the plunge and relocated to Britain to pursue a racing career, but it was not until June that he acquired a Brabham BT16 with a Ford engine and the funds to enter Formula 3 events. In his first race at Goodwood, he finished a promising 4th behind the likes of Derek Bell and Robin Widdows. Then at Crystal Palace he took pole and finished 2nd in the second heat of the Holts Trophy, before placing 9th in the final.

But after five events, Walker’s sponsor pulled out due to government financial restrictions, and he was back to square one. Undaunted, he regrouped for 1967, acquired a Merlyn Mk10 and traipsed throughout Europe on the strength of start and prize money. From May to November circuits as diverse as Imola, Monza, Montlhery, La Chatre, Avus, Vila Real, Monsanto, Crystal Palace, Skarpnäck, Mallory Park, Oulton Park, Brands Hatch and Jarama were all on the menu.

1967-69

After victory at Opatija, retreats to FF1600 but is taken on by Lotus

The Merlyn was perhaps not the most competitive car available, but Walker still managed 6th places in a heat at Jarama and at Avus, 5ths at Montlhery, Avus and Monsanto, and 4ths at Imola and Skarpnäck. But by far his highlight was at the Adriatic GP at the challenging Opatija circuit in Yugoslavia (as it was then) on 18 August, where he won his heat and stormed away in the final, recording the fastest lap en route to a massive victory by 58.2 seconds as he led home a Merlyn 1-2-3-4 finish.

As was the case with many aspiring drivers at the time, especially those from outside of Europe, this was a hand-to-mouth existence, and opportunities did not necessarily follow success. For 1968, circumstances forced Walker out of F3 and into British Formula Ford 1600 in a works Alexis. It was a backwards step, but all Dave could do was to keep getting results and hope to attract attention. By the end of the year, he was taken on by the works Lotus team, and he won the Les Leston Championship in 1969 in a Lotus 61.

Throughout his two seasons of Formula Ford 1600, he took 12 wins, four 2nds and a 3rd, as well as setting five lap records. In 1968, he also drove in two sports car events in a Lotus 47, and at the end of that year he also entered the epic first-ever London to Sydney Marathon, which took in Britain, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Australia. He finished 52nd in a Vauxhall Ventora entered by the Jim Russell Racing Drivers School.

1969-70

Graduates back to F3 with Lotus and wins the Lombank Series

Towards the end of 1969, Lotus gave Walker the opportunity to step back up into F3, as he was entered for three rounds of the Lombank championship at Mallory Park and Brands Hatch. In the first Mallory Park race he finished 2nd behind Emerson Fittipaldi; in the other he came 3rd but started from pole. At Brands Hatch he was 3rd again but set fastest lap. And in the non-championship WD & HO Wills Trophy at Thurxton, he was 3rd once more behind Fittipaldi and Bev Bond but again had started from pole.

It was clear that he had what it took to compete at the sharp end of Formula 3. Lotus upgraded the 59 into 59A specification and, coupled to the dependable Ford engine tuned by Holbay, had no hesitation in entering Walker for each of the three F3 series in Britain operating that season - the Lombank, the Shell Super Oil and the Forward Trust championships. The Lombank and Shell series turned out to be year-long battles between Dave and Tony Trimmer.

In the Lombank series, he took a heat win at Snetterton as well as round wins at Mallory Park (twice) and Oulton Park, and with four other round podiums beat Trimmer to the title 48 points to 43. In the Shell series, he claimed four heat wins but only two round wins at Silverstone and Crystal Palace. On the other hand, there were some close near-misses: at Snetterton he was beaten by Trimmer by 0.2s, and at Brands Hatch in the F1 support race he was pipped by Mike Beuttler by 0.1s, dead-heating with James Hunt.


Throughout 1970 and 1971, Walker was the class of the British F3 field.
Throughout 1970 and 1971, Walker was the class of the British F3 field.

1970-71

Misses out on the Shell and Forward Trust titles but is all geared up for 1971 assault

Plus there were some nasty accidents, like at Croft where he collided with Ian Ashley, and most notably at Oulton Park where he touched wheels, was launched into the air, and landed in an unoccupied grandstand. The lost points proved costly, as Trimmer edged Walker out by 44 points to 41. Finally, in the Forward Trust series, two heat wins and two round victories at Silverstone and Cadwell Park were not quite enough, as Walker narrowly missed the title 37 points to 41, this time to Carlos Pace.

Towards the end of the 1970 season, Lotus offered Walker a taste of his most powerful machinery to date, giving him a Lotus 70 F5000 car with a 5-litre Ford V8 engine for the Oulton Park round of the British F5000 championship where he suffered an early clutch failure. Dave then took the car to the Australian GP at Warwick Farm in late-November, where he came 5th but two laps down. However, these were but preludes to an all-out F3 campaign in 1971.

The year began with the four-event International F3 Tournament in Brazil, with Lotus sending Walker and the trusty 59A. In the first two events at Interlagos he came 3rd and 2nd, but at Taruma he finished 2nd in the first leg by just 0.1s, before beating home local stars Wilson Fittipaldi and Pace in the second leg. It was the perfect confidence-building warm-up for his title assault, as Lotus focussed on the Shell and Forward Trust series at the expense of the now lower-tier North Central Lombard title.

1971

Dave starts to dominate in the Lotus 69

Lotus wheeled out its latest junior formulae weapon, the 69, allied to a twin-cam Novamotor Ford engine. In addition there were other elements that would be required for a successful campaign. One was stamina; with events in multiple series, often on consecutive days or just days apart, Walker and his crew were constantly criss-crossing the country. The other was racecraft; races were more often than not slipstreaming battles, and it was a skill to know how to position one’s car and strike at the right time.

The Shell series started averagely, Walker missing the first round and only finishing 5th at Brands Hatch when he burnt his clutch at the start. Then at Mallory Park, he was tussling with Bond on the last lap when they collided, Bond limping over the line for the win but Dave left stranded and classified 7th. But then came a scorching run: dominant heat and final wins at Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, 2nd at Silverstone where he avoided Hunt’s spectacular accident on the last lap, and wins in both legs at Zandvoort.

Another slipstreaming classic followed at Silverstone, where as many as 21 cars fought for the lead at one stage. On the last lap, there were six cars in the lead group with Walker in 3rd, but he drafted his way to the front and claimed the win with the bunch covered by a second. Then came the French GP support race at Paul Ricard, which counted towards the Shell championship but in which Walker had to contend against all the leading French F3 stars of the day on their home soil.

1971

Beats the French on enemy soil and clinches the Shell title in the wet at Mallory Park

Dave nevertheless qualified 2nd behind Jean-Pierre Jabouille but confusion at the start dropped him to 12th. By the second lap he was up to 4th, and he paced his race perfectly as another drafting duel developed. He took the lead from Patrick Depailler with two laps to go and held it to the flag. Another French round followed at Magny Cours, but here Walker was not as effective, retiring after a collision with François Migault, but three days later he was at Silverstone for the British GP support race.

In front of all the F1 teams, he took the trifecta of pole, fastest lap and victory in his heat, before again sneaking home by 0.1s in the final. Although he was then on the wrong end of another close finish at Oulton Park, losing by 0.2s to Roger Williamson, and he then missed the Thruxton event, by round 14 at Mallory Park he was in a position to clinch the Shell series. After taking pole by a massive 0.8s but only finishing 2nd in his heat, the scene was set for an incredible final when rain fell just before the start.

By lap five, Walker moved into 3rd place, but he was a mammoth 16.5 seconds behind Williamson and Jochen Mass. Within nine laps he had caught the German’s Brabham, but it took him until lap 20 to find a way past, since he had to move off the dry line in order to attempt a manoeuvre. It took another eight laps to catch Williamson, but a lap later the irresistible Australian moved into the lead, carving out a four second lead by the finish and wrapping up the Shell title in the most assertive manner imaginable.


Victories in the French, British and Monaco GP support races put Walker in the frame for F1. Here he streaks away in Monte Carlo.
Victories in the French, British and Monaco GP support races put Walker in the frame for F1. Here he streaks away in Monte Carlo.

1971

Also takes the Forward Trust title despite missing several rounds

There was a further encore at Snetterton. After winning his heat, Walker spun early on in the final and dropped to 5th, but started catching the leaders at up to four seconds a lap. He was back up to 3rd when the heavens opened, causing Mike Walker and David Purley to aquaplane out, and Dave was awarded the win when the race was stopped. With that, Walker concluded his Shell series campaign with two events still to run, and yet in the final reckoning he still beat Williamson by 86 points to 56.

It was a similar story in the Forward Trust championship. Two wins at Silverstone and Cadwell Park established an early title advantage, before he missed the next two rounds. But then came five straight round wins at Croft (where he beat Hunt by a whopping 14.2 seconds), Cadwell Park (the day after the British GP support race), Thruxton (where he virtually dead-heated with Hunt), Croft again (where this time he beat Williamson by 18 inches), and Thruxton again.

With that, the Forward Trust title was sealed as well. Walker then went to the Crystal Palace round, where he took yet another heat victory, but in the final he was involved in a collision with Jody Scheckter and Colin Vandervell after he locked wheels with the South African. Skipping the final round at Thruxton meant that he had only competed in 8 of the 11 rounds, and yet he once again beat Williamson on the points table by a huge margin, 63 to 35.

1971

Also wins at Monaco; Autosport names him the best F3 driver of 1971

Two other non-championship races capped off Walker’s 1971. One was the Daily Express Trophy at Crystal Palace, where he was on pole in his heat but made a poor start, and when he did get away he slewed into Rikki von Opel. Much more according to the script, however, was the prestigious Monaco F3 event, where he was fastest in qualifying by 1.2s against the cream of the international F3 crop, before winning his heat and storming away to a 10.5s victory in the final.

At the end of the year, Autosport magazine ranked Walker as the best F3 driver of 1971, ahead of Scheckter, Williamson, Depailler and Hunt - astounding company considering what those drivers would go on to achieve throughout the decade. And rightly so - with 25 wins in both heats and finals throughout the year, Walker’s 1971 was one of the most commanding Formula 3 campaigns in the history of the category, and before the year was out he had already made the step up to Lotus’ F1 squad.

Formula One
1971
Williams

Walker in charge of testing the Lotus 56B turbine

In 1970, Lotus had introduced what would turn out to be arguably its most famous F1 design - the Lotus 72. With its wedge shape and side pods, it established a philosophy which is still adhered to today. In its first season it won both the drivers and constructors championships, albeit laced with tragedy following the death of Jochen Rindt. But for 1971, Chapman and his cohorts were sufficiently satisfied with the 72 to turn their attentions elsewhere.

Three years earlier, in 1968, Lotus had entered the Indianapolis 500 with the Lotus 56 coupled to Pratt & Whitney turbine engines. Later that year, the team had upgraded one chassis to 56B specification and tried to adapt it for F1, but put the project in mothballs to focus on developing the four-wheel-drive Type 63 and then the 72. But in 1970, Chapman revived the 56B turbine project, especially given its own four-wheel-drive capabilities and the ultra-reliability of the turbine engine over the traditional Cosworths.

In 1971, Walker was entrusted with testing the 56B. Compared to orthodox Grand Prix cars, the 56B had significant advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side was the four-wheel-drive, engine life, and the fact that the aviation kerosene the engine required was less flammable than petrol; on the down side was that it needed about 75 gallons per Grand Prix instead of the usual 45, resulting in additional weight, and with no engine braking but some 70 horsepower on tap even at idle, powerful brakes were needed.

1971

Makes his F1 debut in the non-championship Rindt Trophy

From time to time the 56B would get a run in a non-championship race, driven by one of the team’s regular race drivers, Emerson Fittipaldi or Reine Wisell. In the midst of his dominant F3 season, it seemed almost certain that Walker would make his F1 debut at some stage as well. It came at the Jochen Rindt Memorial Trophy race at Hockenheim in mid-June, another non-title event. With Fittipaldi out injured after a road accident, Lotus sent Wisell and Tony Trimmer to race in 72s, and Walker to compete in the 56B.

Early in practice, the turbine engine started cutting out, and the motor had to be sent back to Pratt & Whitney for a rebuild. With Walker ahead of Trimmer in the Lotus pecking order, the Australian took over Trimmer’s 72, which was Fittipaldi’s regular chassis, for the rest of the weekend. But not only did he find it difficult to fit his solid frame into the 72’s cockpit, but he also had a fraught practice when he lost an oil cooler on the circuit, did not realise it, and proceeded to blow up his Cosworth engine.

Walker was 10th fastest in qualifying, 3.2s slower than Wisell, and an eventful race saw him struggle with fuel pressure problems, a spin, and the loss of fourth gear before coming home 9th, one place ahead of Wisell who had had brake issues. If all this had been a culture shock compared to the smooth sailing of his F3 campaign, things got no easier a week later when Walker was given a further opportunity, this time to make his World Championship debut at the Dutch GP at Zandvoort.

1971

Rain at Zandvoort gives Dave a golden opportunity

Lotus once again entered three cars, with Wisell and South African Dave Charlton in the 72s, and Walker once again scheduled to drive the 56B. But whilst waiting for the rebuilt turbine engine to arrive on Friday night, Walker went out to practice in Charlton’s 72 - and promptly crashed it on his second lap. Undoubtedly embarrassed, he returned to the pits and reported that he had slightly damaged the rear end, when he had knocked off the gearbox! The damage ended Charlton’s weekend then and there.

The turbine was fitted into the 56B for Saturday, only for the morning session to be wet and difficult conditions in the afternoon meant that Walker only started 22nd, 4.41s off the pole time set by Jacky Ickx and 3.13s away from Wisell’s 72. But when race day also proved to be wet, suddenly the cards were falling Walker’s way. The 56B had four-wheel drive and superior Firestone rain tyres, and the Pratt & Whitney engine had a smooth torque curve that was much more user friendly on a slippery track.

The rain forced an extra practice session, where amazingly Walker was unofficially fastest, and a stunning championship debut was suddenly on the cards. Team manager Peter Warr instructed him to ease himself into the race, and not battle anyone for the first 25 laps. But when the visor came down, the racer’s red mist descended. By the end of the first lap, he was up to 19th; by lap five he was 10th, with the likes of Graham Hill, Rolf Stommelen, Nanni Galli and Denny Hulme in his wake.

1971

Chapman thought Walker could have won on his championship debut

On a clear lap, he was going faster than the race leaders. But all of a sudden it came to an end. Going into Tarzan corner at the start of the 6th lap, Walker took a defensive inside line, got caught out by the idling speed which kept wanting to accelerate the car, and locked up his brakes. He tried to spin the car going into the corner, but the four-wheel-drive would not allow him, and instead he went straight on into the sand pit and knocked off the nosecone of the 56B against a post.

Chapman was livid. According to Walker: “I think he felt that from my point of view I could have been one of the few people in history to have won a Grand Prix at their first attempt and it was potentially a first ever win for a turbine car, so a lot of history went out the door that day.” In truth, however, the higher up the field Walker was getting, the more the unconventional behaviour of the 56B in braking zones was making it difficult to pass others, plus as the track dried the 56B’s advantage would have dissipated.

For all his success in F3 at the time, Walker’s early F1 exploits had not exactly endeared himself to the Lotus hierarchy. He had cost them an engine at Hockenheim and damaged Fittipaldi’s regular 72 chassis at Zandvoort. He had been economical with the facts about the latter accident, in an outfit where Chapman was renowned for respecting brutal honesty, however much his displeasure. And he had thrown away a golden opportunity to put his name in lights on his championship debut.


Could Walker have won his first championship Grand Prix? Colin Chapman thought so!
Could Walker have won his first championship Grand Prix? Colin Chapman thought so!

1972

Walker promised the 1972 seat alongside Fittipaldi in the JPS 72Ds

Nevertheless, Walker’s F3 results forced Lotus to give him a proper opportunity for 1972. He beat the locals in the French GP support race, and then came the British GP where F3 was again amongst the supporting cast. As Warr recalls: “At the time we went to Silverstone our contract with Player’s [Lotus’ sponsor under the Gold Leaf banner] was up for renewal. Dave drove a blinding race to win the F3 event, in front of Player’s top brass, and on the strength of that we promised him the F1 ride.”

And so for 1972 Walker replaced Wisell in the Lotus line-up as Fittipaldi’s back-up, with the Brazilian targeting a title assault. But that was not all that was different. The 56B project had been ditched, especially as turbine engines were to be banned, and the 72s whilst still in D specification now sported the distinctive anvil-shaped airbox - not to mention the John Player Special black and gold livery with which Lotus would become synonymous. Rex Hart and Stevie May were also assigned to be Walker’s mechanics.

The 1972 season opened in late-January in Argentina. Despite having a newer chassis than Fittipaldi, he suffered front suspension problems in Friday practice and was over three seconds slower than his team-mate. He improved on Saturday and came within 2.3s of Emerson, but he was over 3s shy of pole and 20th out of 22. And when the race began, Graham Hill put his Brabham’s wheels off the track and showered Walker with stones, one of which went down the intake trumpets and jammed his throttle open.

1972

Walker's car is good for smuggling wine - but not much else!

Walker stopped his car, switched off the engine and tried to free the throttle to no avail, before running back to the pits. He came back with a mechanic and, although he was not allowed outside assistance, under his crewman’s guidance he managed to get the car started, some 22 laps down. However, he only completed a further 8 laps before he was disqualified for using tools that he was not carrying in the car. Such travails did not bode well for the rest of the season.

The South African GP was not until early March, but Lotus flew Fittipaldi’s car directly to Kyalami, partly so that Emerson could conduct tyre testing there prior to the race. This scenario would be repeated at other times throughout the season, giving the Brazilian a distinct advantage over Walker on race weekends. Walker’s car, meanwhile, was sent back to Britain, and being used by mechanics to smuggle bottles of Argentinian wine in its fuel tank - such that when it arrived in South Africa, they found one bottle still there!

The weekend at Kyalami was relatively uneventful. Walker qualified 1.3s behind Fittipaldi, and although his time compared well with those from a year before at the same track, he found himself 19th on the grid with Emerson in 3rd. Fittipaldi ended up finishing 2nd, whilst Walker had a late-race battle with François Cevert’s Tyrrell before coming home a lapped 10th. It was the first time he had completed a Grand Prix distance, but having been used to much shorter F3 sprints, his physical condition was being sorely tested.

1972

Dave's fitnes and driving ability comes under scrutiny

His mechanic Hart recalls: “We had to lift him out of the car after the race. He never got himself fighting fit, he was overweight - he didn’t help himself at all. I remember in Argentina the guys said, “You’ve got to go down to this restaurant, the steaks are fantastic.” So we went down, the things were bigger than a table-mat and they were brilliant. Walker had two of them! We all struggled to get halfway through ours but he ordered another!”

It was a two-month gap before the next championship round in Spain, but in the meantime there would be three non-championship races for Walker to further familiarise himself. First up was the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, where Fittipaldi took pole, fastest lap and the race win - a morale-boosting first win for Lotus in over a year. Despite knowing the track well, Walker only started 10th, almost 2s slower than Emerson, and finished 9th but was almost lapped by his team-mate.

Then came the Brazilian GP at Interlagos, in preparation for its inclusion as a full championship round in 1973. Fittipaldi was on home soil and his countrymen were amusing themselves at Walker’s inability to match their hero. At one stage before the race, according to veteran journalist Mike Doodson, the mayor of Sao Paulo called Emerson and suggested a suitable replacement for Walker who would be familiar with local conditions and high-powered machinery - namely his chauffeur!

1972

Disappointment at the International Trophy where Dave thought he would shine

This was somewhat uncharitable, but the gap between the two Lotuses was rammed home in qualifying, where Fittipaldi (in a brand new 72D chassis) took pole by 2s, whilst Walker was 5th in a depleted field, 5.3s behind. The Australian finished 5th as well, albeit two laps down, but this was little consolation when Fittipaldi retired from a comfortable lead with a rear upright failure, costing the team valuable prize money and handing the win to Carlos Reutemann, an Argentine!

Thirdly, the International Trophy at Silverstone only brought further tribulation for Walker. Going into practice, his crew discovered a cracked front brake disc which was replaced. Against his wishes, this left him with one new disc and one that was well bedded-in. Under instructions, he drove conservatively to wear in the new disc but set a time that was enough for 8th on the grid. When he pushed harder, not surprisingly the uneven brake performance caught him out and he crashed at Club corner.

The team was unwilling to rebuild the car overnight, and so Walker did not start, whilst Fittipaldi won again. Walker regrets the team’s decision to this day: “It was disappointing because I probably could have finished in the first two or three, maybe even won that one, because I knew Silverstone pretty well and I’d had a lot of success there.” Instead, all the momentum within the team, both in terms of race results and title focus once the championship resumed, was going Fittipaldi’s way whilst Walker started to languish.


By the Spanish GP, the difference in specifications between Walker's car and Fittipaldi's machine was becoming obvious.
By the Spanish GP, the difference in specifications between Walker's car and Fittipaldi's machine was becoming obvious.

1972

Results and favouritism all going Fittipaldi's way in Spain

The inevitable inequality within the team became painfully obvious at the Spanish GP at Jarama. With his regular chassis still under repair, Walker was given Fittipaldi’s old car (the same one he had crashed at Zandvoort the previous year). Not only did the cars have different rear wing mounts and oil tanks - a sign of the specification disparities which would only become more acute as the year wore on - but when Fittipaldi’s engine blew up in practice, Walker was called into the pits and forced to hand over his car.

Fittipaldi qualified 3rd; Walker wound up 24th and second-last. And luck was also not on the Australian’s side. Jarama was always going to be marginal on fuel consumption, but before the race began a fuel leak was discovered in Emerson’s car, meaning that he had around four gallons less and was forced to drive efficiently. Walker had a full tank at his disposal and no such warnings as a result, and was putting in a solid race, overtaking Henri Pescarolo, Tim Schenken and Wilson Fittipaldi.

Coming into the last few laps, Walker and Carlos Pace caught up to Andrea de Adamich and Peter Revson to form a four-car battle for 4th, and it looked as though Dave would score his first World Championship points. But on his 88th and last lap, he spluttered to a halt, his tank empty. Fittipaldi, who had known to save fuel throughout, not only incredibly managed to win the race, but he had completed 90 laps in doing so. The division of loyalties within the Lotus team was ever-widening.

1972

Best grid position yet in Monaco, but more bad luck in Belgium

Two weeks later came Monaco, and the familiar story continued despite Walker’s experience of the track from his F3 days. He was still in Fittipaldi’s old chassis, but after first practice was encouragingly only half a second behind his team-mate. But in the decisive qualifying session, whereas he found an extra second of time, Emerson found even more, and the Brazilian was on pole yet again with Walker 2.6 seconds behind and down in 14th - which was still his best grid position for a Grand Prix to date.

But in the race, held in extremely wet conditions, Walker’s feel for an F1 car came into question again. Although he had made steady progress up to 9th place, when Wisell (now in a BRM) blew his engine and spread oil all over the track, causing lap times to increase dramatically, the Australian pre-emptively brought his healthy car into the pits thinking something had broken. Even when he was sent on his way, he remained spooked by the handling and finished 14th, 5 laps down.

If it is true that a driver can make his own luck, then Walker not exactly helping his own cause. Before the next round of the championship in Belgium, there was the Gold Cup at Oulton Park, and Walker made the most of track knowledge and the fact he was back in his normal car to qualify 4th, only one place and 0.6s behind Fittipaldi. But in the race, whilst Emerson came 2nd despite an incorrect tyre gamble, Walker suffered an early puncture, lost a lap, and eventually lost 4th gear and retired.

1972

Walker languishes in incidents, unreliability and an inferior car

Remaining determined, Walker showed up at Nivelles for the Belgian GP having shed some 10 pounds after a fitness course. Not that that made much difference; by now, the outward differences between Fittipaldi’s car, which had all the latest upgrades, and Walker’s machine were unmistakeable. Emerson took another pole, and even led Walker around for several laps to help improve his lap time. The result was 12th on the grid for the Australian, only 1.33s adrift of his team-mate.

On race day, Fittipaldi sailed away to another victory to extend his championship lead, while yet again Walker was embroiled in a series of incidents. He tangled with de Adamich whilst lapping the Italian’s Surtees, was forced to pit to replace a front tyre, and then came in again worrying about his oil pressure, when in fact the needle on the oil pressure gauge had simply fallen off! He finished up being classified 14th, but six laps down on the other Lotus.

The litany of woe continued at Clermont-Ferrand for the French GP. Walker started 15th on the grid, 1.8s slower than Fittipaldi, after crashing in practice and suffering an engine failure. Towards the end of the race, he was running 14th and last, a lap down, having lost 4th gear at first and then 3rd as well, before a crown wheel and pinion failure caused him to park for good. His team suspected that he was being overly heavy on gearboxes; he suspected that he was getting less-powerful, hand-me-down engines.

1972

Another disastrous race at the British GP

Halfway into the 1972 championship, Fittipaldi was leading the championship on 34 points to Jackie Stewart on 21. Walker was, obviously, still to open his account. Lotus was also comfortably leading the constructors championship, courtesy of the rule that only the best-scoring car from each team counted for constructors points. Had both drivers’ scores counted towards the championship, then Lotus would still have been leading over Tyrrell, McLaren and Ferrari, but by a much-reduced margin.

Next came the British GP at Brands Hatch, the last realistic opportunity for Walker to shine on a circuit he knew well. But the odds were still stacked against him; his car carried a set of specifications which was last used by Fittipaldi several races earlier. Then in practice suspension cracks needed to be fixed, before the team commandeered one of his sets of tyres for Fittipaldi’s use. The result was a disappointing 15th on the grid, 1.8s behind his team-mate in 2nd.

The race once again proved disastrous. Just four laps in, a fuel line cracked and with no fuel pressure, he limped back to the pits where he lost four minutes. He returned to the track and was able to match the leaders’ lap times - he was eventually equal 7th in the fastest lap standings, equal with Cevert and Reutemann - but once more retired with suspension failure. Fittipaldi won again; as the team focussed on the Brazilian, Walker was mired in a vicious cycle of tired components and dispirited driving.


For all of 1972, Walker was stuck in a vicious cycle of errors, mechanical failures and poor results.
For all of 1972, Walker was stuck in a vicious cycle of errors, mechanical failures and poor results.

1972

Tastes the engine difference in Austria - until it blows up!

So Walker’s season dragged on to the German GP at the Nurburgring. If it had not been challenging enough already, the Australian had never seen the Nordschleife before. And the treacherous piece of tarmac bit hard, a localised rain shower causing the Lotus to spin into a barrier, damaging the left rear corner. It meant more lost track time and 23rd on the grid, 22.5s off pole and 19.6s behind Fittipaldi. And another race led to yet another retirement, this time courtesy of a split oil tank.

Then came the Austrian round. Practice and qualifying told a familiar tale, Fittipaldi on pole, the other John Player Special car near the tail of the field, in 19th and 2.84s behind. But at a power circuit such as the Österreichring, there was a reason for the discrepancy; Walker was still using a Cosworth series 9 DFV engine, whereas Fittipaldi was on a series 12. Come race day, after going behind team manager Warr’s back, Walker pleaded directly with Chapman to have a series 12 engine fitted to his car.

The Lotus boss agreed, and gave him the engine which Fittipaldi had used at the Nurburgring. With around 300-400 hours on the engine already, it was unlikely to last the race (and it did not), but Walker claims the difference was profound: “I will never forget it - even though it only lasted six laps before the thing blew up. Instead of cars going past me on the straights, I was actually able to pull up alongside and outbrake them into corners - a physical impossibility with the engines I’d had before.”

1972

Dumped for 1973; tests a GRD and gets suspended by Lotus

Once again, though, Walker’s account of what happened out on the circuit did not always seem to match with reality. His mechanic May recalls, “He came back and said, “I had an engine problem, I think I just caught it.” Rex and I went out to sit with the car so that bits didn’t get pinched from it. And as we walked there, we could see this oil slick about a quarter of a mile long, bits of piston and engine, all over the track! And I thought, yeah, right, you just caught it, didn’t you?”

After the Austrian race, the inevitable occurred and Lotus announced that Walker would be replaced for 1973, by the rapid Swede Ronnie Peterson. Warr explained why, and in so doing took a swipe at his incumbent: “We’d got fed up with no producing any results with the second car. What we wanted were a few 1-2s and points in the constructors championship.” With that not unexpected news, Walker went off and tested a GRD Formula 2 car.

Meanwhile, Lotus only sent one car to the Italian GP, with Chapman still fearing the ramifications of Rindt’s death at Monza two years earlier. Fittipaldi was victorious again, and the result sealed both the drivers and constructors titles. But when the teams arrived at Mosport for the penultimate round, Walker was not there. Lotus had found out about his GRD test, alleged a breach of contract, and suspended the Australian for the Canadian round - and initially wanted to cast him aside for the USA GP as well.

1972

Had the points system been different, Dave could have cost Lotus the constructors' title

Wisell had been brought back to replace Walker at Mosport, and the Swede was retained for Watkins Glen as well, with Lotus entering a third car for Walker. But with Wisell piloting Walker’s usual chassis, Walker was left on the sidelines until Fittipaldi decided between his old and new tubs; eventually he raced his older car and Walker was given the newer chassis. But it made no difference; he started 30th out of 31, and retired when oil started spraying on the back of his neck and ultimately ran out altogether.

And so that brought to an end Walker’s unhappy tenure as Lotus’ second driver. Fittipaldi had won the championship with 61 points to Stewart’s 45; Walker never got on the scoreboard. The constructors title saw Lotus defeating Tyrrell 61 points to 51, with McLaren on 47. It was a good thing that they were not counting the cumulative scores of both drivers within the team. If they were, then McLaren would have pinched the title on 62 points, ahead of Lotus on 61 (thanks to Fittipaldi’s lone hand) and Tyrrell on 60!

What had gone so wrong? Why had Walker gone from being such a dominant force in F3 to being so outclassed in a championship-winning team? Some of the factors lay with Dave himself. There were question marks over his fitness, and with his stocky frame he was never fully comfortable in the Lotus 72: “I was always crunched up or gear changes were awkward.” Plus an F1 beast demanding delicate throttle control, over the course of a Grand Prix, was a far cry from short slipstreaming duels in less powerful F3 cars.

1972

Unloved by Lotus, lack of testing had hurt Dave's performance

Some of the instances where Walker’s instincts failed him - not knowing his oil cooler had fallen off at Hockenheim in 1971, not realising his engine was about to blow in Austria, and his unnecessary pit stops at Monaco and Belgium - were amateurish. So was his apparent penchant for understating the facts, like at Zandvoort and in Austria, which would have hardly endeared him to the Lotus team. But was that characteristic of the Australian, or out of fear because he was unloved by his crew?

One of the threads throughout the Walker story is that the team did not seem to believe in him - or perhaps did not want to believe in him. He was unfamiliar with the circuits - he had only been to Zandvoort, Jarama, Monaco and the British circuits before - and he was also unfamiliar with the Lotus 72D with its extreme anti-squat and anti-dive. After one half-day pre-season test, Walker never tested again, whereas Fittipaldi was getting regular hit-outs, often at upcoming Grand Prix tracks in the week leading up to the race.

Team manager Warr did not seem to give Walker any breaks; Walker had to go behind him and talk to Chapman directly to get a better engine in Austria. And yet generally Dave had little to do with the Lotus founder: “I never talked to him in between races, never had any meetings or discussions with him, he was almost a non-identity to some extent.” Perhaps, as a result, Walker also never had the benefit of some of Chapman’s legendary motivational skills that could bring the best out of a driver.


Was Walker's biggest problem the fact that he was the second driver in Fittipaldi's team?
Was Walker's biggest problem the fact that he was the second driver in Fittipaldi's team?

1972

Inferior engines, inferior car, and no set-up changes allowed!

Unsurprisingly, Walker also believes that he got the leftovers in terms of equipment and engines in particular. His mechanics from 1972, Hart and May, claim that the cars were prepared to the same level. The chief mechanic in the team, Eddie Dennis, goes even further in relation to the question of engines: “[Walker] could have been using engines out of Jim Clark’s car because all the blocks were updated. ... He had pretty equal machinery really.”

It is difficult to see how these assertions hold up. Even to the naked eye, it was clear that Walker’s car and Fittipaldi’s were running to different bodywork specifications, and Walker was not getting the benefit of developments. The evidence would certainly suggest that the Australian was getting inferior engines. And although he did have his fair share of accidents, he suffered an inordinate number of mechanical failures compared to Fittipaldi. Surely components past their use-by date contributed to that.

Walker also was not allowed to make major changes to set-up. He says, “Whenever I wanted to make a change to something, I pretty much wasn’t allowed to. I’d just be flatly told, “It’s set up the same as Emerson’s and he’s going a second quicker, so what’s your problem?” Well, we were two very different drivers, you know!” Dave preferred a much stiffer set-up, which the team often baulked at, for fear that Fittipaldi would need to take over Walker’s machine if his own car failed.

1972

Dave's mechanics remain surprisingly defensive to this day

Hart, however, suggests that stiffening Walker’s car “made no difference at all”. Dennis says, “I really just don’t think [Walker] had it in him.” It is curious to see this amount of defensiveness about how the team treated Walker, and this amount of downplaying of the Australian’s inherent ability. Perhaps it is symptomatic of a team so geared towards Fittipaldi that it could not adjust to their second driver’s needs, and then in hindsight seeking to justify or rationalise that failure by putting the blame back on Walker.

Lotus had gone through a rough patch after Rindt’s death, and the extent of the company’s operations stretched its resources. Little wonder that the crew pinned their hopes on, and tailored the team around the brilliant Fittipaldi, catering for his needs. They had no time to sympathetically bring Walker up to speed, which only exacerbated his rough edges, and the resultant lack of success led to a vicious cycle in which the team could not trust their rookie driver with genuinely equal machinery.

1972

Wrong driver in the wrong team at the wrong time

It goes to prove that centring a team’s efforts around a lead driver at the expense of the number two is not something that began with Michael Schumacher. Walker’s F3 mechanic Ian Campbell can have the last word: “Who would you give the best of everything to - the bloke who is going to win or the bloke who may finish seventh or eighth? … On paper, Dave had all the right credentials. He was obviously an exceptionally good racing driver.”

“Unfortunately, when he went into F1, he joined a team in which Emerson Fittipaldi was absolutely at the peak of his powers; everything was done the way he wanted it. If Dave had gone into a team that had coaxed him along, been more patient with him, pandered to him a bit, I think he would have done better, because I think he had the ability to do it; I can’t believe that he didn’t. If you’d have put Emerson Fittipaldi in Dave’s F3 car during 1971 he wouldn’t have done any better, would he?”

After F1
1973

Road accidents limit his racing in 1973

It was one thing for Walker to have been unsuccessful in F1; it was another for him to have struggled quite so much in a leading team. In 1973 he was virtually starting from scratch, signing a deal with GRD formed by Mike Warner. Initially it would appear as though the intention was to run Walker in a GRD 273 Ford in Formula 2 under the DART Racing banner, but after a practice crash forced him to sit out the opening round at Mallory Park, the Australian did not appear in the category again all season.

This was due firstly to a road accident early in the year which broke Walker’s leg. When he recovered, he switched his focus to racing the GRD S73 sports car instead. He had immediate success at the Imola round of the European Sports Car Championship, where he came 7th in the first heat but won the second to claim 4th place overall. He also came 3rd in the French championship round at Croix-en-Ternois, before being entered in two Portuguese events, the Vila Real 500 and the Portuguese GP at Estoril.

At the Vila Real street circuit, he took pole by a massive 3.3s, and commandingly led the first 27 laps out of 35, going even faster than he had in practice. But then he clipped a sidewalk, causing a puncture which slowed his pace to a crawl; he wound up a lap down in 5th. Similar disappointment followed at Estoril, where he again claimed pole position (this time by over 1s), and led the first 22 laps including setting the fastest lap of the race, before retiring once more.

1973-74

Drives a TOJ sports car to good effect

Walker also dabbled in touring cars for the first time since leaving Australian shores, but his foray into the Spa 24 hours was not a success. Signed to drive a works Toyota Celica GT with Richard Scott, the duo failed to qualify for the race. But then, in August, in a case of appalling misfortune Dave suffered his second road accident of the year, this time an even more serious crash that almost severed his left arm. Eventually the arm was saved but Walker had lost full movement in it.

Courageously he raced on into 1974, but parted ways with the GRD works team. Instead, he joined Jörg Obermoser’s operation backed by Warsteiner. Obermoser had added special bodywork to the basic GRD S73 chassis to create the TOJ SS02 sports car, coupled to a BMW engine. Walker was entered in five rounds of the European Sports Car Championship, qualifying 3rd at Clermont-Ferrand, and claiming 3rd overall at Hockenheim and 5th at Mugello.

The car was also entered for one Interserie round at the Nurburgring where Walker came 5th, and in other non-championship German events as well as the Kyalami 6 hour race, where Walker and Obermoser shared the car but retired with driveshaft problems. That endurance event formed a part of the World Championship for Makes, in which Walker also competed at Brands Hatch in Martin Raymond’s Lola T294, but that effort also ended in retirement after a head gasket failure.


Walker's limited post-F1 career included a short stint in British F5000.
Walker's limited post-F1 career included a short stint in British F5000.

1974-75

Returns to open-wheel action - briefly - in F2 and F5000

The connection with Obermoser and Warsteiner also led to Walker making his return to the single-seater cockpit in both championship and non-championship F2 events in a Eurorace March 742 with a BMW M12 engine. He took part in the Hockenheim and Mugello rounds of the European F2 championship, as well as the non-title race at Rouen. It whetted his appetite for more open wheeler action, and for 1975 he joined John Macdonald’s RAM team to race in the British Shellsport F5000 championship.

Walker was to drive a Chevron B28 with a Chevrolet V8 engine. After he crashed in the first round at Brands Hatch, he rebounded to take pole at Oulton Park by 0.4s over Tom Belsø, but only managed to finish 7th. Then on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit, he started 6th but raced to 2nd place behind David Purley. But retirements followed at Silverstone and Zolder before Walker left the team and the drive was filled by the likes of Alan Jones and Derek Bell.

Walker explains the reason for his withdrawal: “We went over to Zolder and had some major brake problems in practice and the race. I had a couple of spins but got out of it without hitting anything. But when I got back to London that night, I said to my wife, “I think it’s time I stopped. I’m trying too hard and I don’t feel comfortable.” Physically, it wasn’t all there - the left arm was not strong enough and I was overcompensating in other ways.”

1976

Last hurrah in Atlantics before returning to Queensland

It was not quite the end of Walker’s career. In 1976 he turned up in Canadian Formula Atlantic, driving a March 722 entered by Rick Shea against the likes of Gilles Villeneuve, Bobby Rahal and Hector Rebaque. He qualified 22nd at Edmonton but did not start the race, collided with the late Gordon Smiley at Westwood, started 15th but retired with driveshaft failure at Gimli, and retired at St Jovite from a puncture after qualifying 7th, before hanging up his helmet for good.

What had begun as a hobby by chance had turned into a career in Europe, where he had found Formula 3 glory only to become the forgotten man in a championship-winning campaign of one of the most famous teams in the history of motorsport. That and other misfortunes brought his racing adventure to a relatively early end at the age of 35. Walker returned to Australia, starting a yacht charter business in Queensland which he operated until several years ago, when he stepped back from its day-to-day operations.

One final postscript. The chassis which Walker mainly drove in F1 was Lotus 72 chassis 6. After being driven by Peterson in 1973, it spent time racing in South Africa before being returned to Britain where it has competed in historic events ever since. It was raced to 2nd place at the 2002 Monaco Historic Grand Prix - in the wet, ironically, just as it had been 30 years earlier - by Alex Yoong, not only one of our favourite drivers profiled on this site, but of course involved in the rebirth of the Lotus F1 team in 2010.

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