Had circumstances fallen more favourably for him, Tony Trimmer might have enjoyed a successful career in the world championship. Instead, he graced the top ranks in largely uncompetitive machinery, despite showing remarkable promise in Formula Ford and Formula 3.
With a neat, smooth touch at the wheel, Trimmer won the 1970 British Shellsport Formula 3 championship against the likes of James Hunt, Dave Walker, Mike Beuttler and Gerry Birrell. In an era of tight racing, often accompanied by contact - this was the last year of the one-litre engine formula - Trimmer regularly won with a clear margin over the chasing pack.
For many drivers, from the likes of Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart to Emerson Fittipaldi, Ayrton Senna and Mika Hakkinen, winning the British F3 title has provided a gateway to Formula 1. But here Trimmer found few doors open. Team Lotus fielded him as a third entry in the 1971 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, but team boss Colin Chapman was fully focused on the experimental gas-turbine car driven by Fittipaldi and showed little enthusiasm for his ‘third man’. Trimmer’s detuned engine suffered a terminal fuel pump failure after five laps.
He placed sixth in an elderly Lotus 49C in another non-championship race, the International Trophy at Oulton Park, but still the grand prix opportunities failed to appear. He returned to the Race of Champions in 1973 in a Frank Williams-run Iso Marlboro FX3, finishing fourth behind Peter Gethin, McLaren’s Denny Hulme, and Hunt - no F1 offers eventuated, but he entered several Formula 5000 races in a McLaren M18.
The world championship door finally creaked open in 1975, but the car in question was the fragile and under-developed Maki that had done much to torpedo the driving career of Howden Ganley in 1974. Joining the team for the second half of the year Trimmer set to with a purpose, and while the car was unpromising and unreliable, somehow Trimmer contrived to qualify and get it to the finish of the non-championship Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon after suffering disappointment in Germany, Austria and Italy. He was persuaded to try once more, at Japan in 1976, to no avail, but the following year brought an opportunity to race more competitive F1 machinery in the new British-based Shellsport series.
Trimmer’s Melchester Racing team began with a Surtees car, winning five races in 1977 against the likes of Guy Edwards and Derek Bell, but as the series transformed from a ‘Formula Libre’ format into a full-on British Formula 1 Championship for 1978, more firepower was required. Melchester bought the ex-Brett Lunger McLaren M23/14 and Trimmer powered to victory in five of the eight rounds he contested, closing out the title with 149 points to runner-up Bob Evans’ 93.
The team sold the car on at the end of the year but none of its subsequent owners were able to hit the same heights. Throughout the 1980s a number of F1 teams called upon Trimmer’s services to shake down and test their machines in the UK, and he continues to race in historic events.