When yesterday afternoon the news filtered through to the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 paddock that McLaren Marketing stalwart Peter Stayner had lost his brief but brave battle with illness the day before, few of his colleagues were able to maintain their composure and sang froid – two qualities that had long characterised one of the most caring and selfless men to ever pull on a McLaren team shirt.
Peter’s life was spent immersed in motorsport – not that you would necessarily know it to meet him, for he was far too modest to tell stories from his past.
It was only after many years at McLaren that he quietly revealed that, in his first job as the manager of Snetterton Circuit, he would quietly turn a blind eye to the track’s closing time so that a young Formula Ford 1600 hopeful could rack up a few more crucial testing miles en route to the title. The driver in question was a young Brazilian named Ayrton Senna, a man with whom Peter would again cross paths when they worked together at McLaren a decade later.
But Peter was a man for all people – as capable of chaperoning royalty as he was of co-ordinating local charity visits for kids. Indeed, it was as McLaren’s Head of Partner Management, joining the team in 1989 and working closely with his colleague and close friend Ekrem Sami (now McLaren Marketing’s CEO), that he earned the life-long nickname ‘Skipper’, a man with one hand always on the tiller, guiding the good ship McLaren Marketing with a clear eye and a firm purpose, supportive of his and Ekrem’s crew all the while.
Peter’s attention to detail was legendary. His trademark race-weekend notebooks were filled with his tiny but meticulously neat handwriting, chronicling the city’s best restaurants, the optimal routes from hotel to racetrack, where to find the finest wines, and the contact details of the great and the good of world motorsport.
They were more than mere notebooks – they were mini-encyclopaedias, filled voraciously and updated endlessly, and referred to repeatedly across the years. They were Peter.
It was his adventurous spirit that finally lured him away from McLaren at the end of 2008, when he moved to Abu Dhabi to help establish the Yas Marina facility, around which circuit McLaren-Honda will race today. Working alongside Richard Cregan, he became the project’s Sporting Director and helped establish both the race and the country on the Formula 1 map.
But he always yearned for his alma mater, and he duly returned to McLaren in 2011. In so doing, he continued where he had left off, assuming the position of Partner Ambassador, a role that suited him completely, his refined and unruffled manner becoming an ever-more sanitising antidote to the hectic and unruly manner of modern sport.
He managed the illness at the end of his life with enormous dignity and astonishing equanimity, anxious that it would neither overshadow his own work nor distract the focus of his beloved colleagues.
Everyone at McLaren will remember him with huge affection, as an absolute gentleman; but he was also a gentle man. To most people, those are two separate things; but for Peter, eternally humble, polite, gracious, considerate, friendly, urbane, refined and loyal, they were always one and the same.
Enjoy that glass of perfectly chilled Sauvignon Blanc Grand Cru in the sunshine, Peter; you deserve it.