Ken Tyrrell

—entrant of Jackie Stewart’s World Championship-winning Matra

Foresight is a virtue with which very few motor-racing people are commonly blessed. They tend to get wildly enthusiastic about an idea which presents itself on the spur of the moment, only to find their good intentions disappearing under a morass of technical problems, delivery delays or sheer prima donna driver tantrums. Throughout 17 years of a long association with motor racing, Ken Tyrrell is one of those few who seem to have had the innate ability to make the correct decision, and make it at the right time. This year, Tyrrell’s judgement paid off with six Championship wins in the 1969 Grandes Epreuves. And it is this judgement, as opposed to good luck, which has produced such an impressive record, for he has planned the entire campaign right from the beginning, settling on a combination of Jackie Stewart as his driver, Dunlop for his tyres, Matra for his chassis and the Cosworth-V8 engine. Tied together by Tyrrell’s firm hand, these ingredients have set the pace in an era of Formula One motor-racing which has been notable for more closely-matched competition than ever before.

Although Tyrrell has been in control of the entire Matra International operation, it would be incorrect to describe him as a private entrant. The technical support from the French Matra factory, coupled with the assistance of Dunlop, lifts the Tyrrell équipe into the ranks of the works-assisted teams. Yet all maintenance and administration has been conducted from the wood-yard at Horsley in Surrey where Tyrrell divides his time between the racing team and his other business life as a round-timber merchant. It is a measure of his ability as an organiser that neither the racing nor the business suffers in this unusual environment. Nothing could look less like the nerve-centre of a successful racing team than the cinder-strewn yard surrounded by a couple of wooden sheds and the more substantial brick-built office from which Tyrrell and his band operate.

Unlikely beginnings and 500 c.c. days

It is the game of rugby football which gave Tyrrell to the world of motor racing. The rugger club to which he belonged organised a coach rip to Silverstone to see the Daily Express International Trophy. "It must have been in 1950 or 1951," recalls Tyrrell. "I saw these 500-c.c. Formula Three cars operating and I thought it would be nice to take part." Formula Three in those rough and ready days perhaps had more in common with rugby football than people like to recall and Tyrrell was soon scrimmaging with the best of them. Initially he shared a car with a friend, but before long he was running the car on his own account and even taking it abroad. "I don’t think I ever considered that I could be a top driver, but at one stage in F3 I was doing reasonably well and I was offered a trial with Aston Martin, in the sports-car team." The year was 1955, the year when Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb had won for Jaguar an appallingly tragic race which marked the final appearance of the works D-types on the Sarthe track. The cars had been handed over to Ecurie Ecosse, and among the other Aston Martin candidates on the day of the test was Bueb, on of Tyrrell’s rivals in Formula Three. "Ivor was there looking for a drive, Cliff Allison was being tried and so was Jackie Lewis, the hill-climb chap from Wales. Anyway, this was the first time I’d driven anything but a 500-c.c. racing car and I was quickest!—quicker even than Bueb, and he was always quicker than me in F3. I thought I was in business, because John Wyer took me to one side and told me that I had been a second a lap quicker through one corner than Bueb. But in fact they were looking for a sixth driver for a three-car team and a few weeks later they signed Stirling Moss to lead the team, so they didn’t need the sixth one." Strangely, Tyrrell didn’t feel he’d missed a big chance—"whilst I might have been able to make something of a long-distance driver, I didn’t have the talent to do anything in single-seaters, which in my opinion is the only formula which sorts the drivers out."

An entrant’s lot

Tyrrell nevertheless persevered with his own driving until 1958. At the time he was in partnership with Alan Brown of Connaught fame to run the works Cooper 1½-litre Formula Two cars. "We had Bruce McLaren and Masten Gregory driving, and on one occasion Jack Brabham himself. I occasionally had a drive myself, but the results never really satisfied me and I got more and more unhappy about the way I was going." But Tyrrell got a great deal of pleasure out of being involved with what he called "the people who could drive". "All of a sudden I found the slot which I should have been in all along."

Formula Two finished at the end of 1959, and with it the Brown/Tyrrell partnership "Formula Junior was starting up and I saw here something which I thought would suit me very well. John Cooper was sufficiently interested to give me some help with the cars." Tyrrell began a long series of Continental wanderings in those Formula Junior days and an impressive string of drivers passed through his hands. He has had a reputation as something of a talent-spotter and names like John Surtees, Tony Maggs, John Love and Warwick Banks spring to mind even before the great days of Stewart and Ickx (another Tyrrell protégé) began.


Tyrrell himself believes that Maggs had more ability than the results ostensibly show. "He had a great deal of natural talent, but unfortunately he went into the Cooper Formula One team at a time when their fortunes were on the way down rather than going up. If he had gone immediately into a competitive car, I’m sure he would still have been in Grand Prix racing today."

Tyrrell would not now use the Aston Martin system of testing several potential drives on the same day under competitive conditions. "Let’s face it, it doesn’t really work. Even if he’s a very good driver, he’s either being careful not to shunt the car—and therefore going too slowly—or else he’s trying to make too much of an impression and going too quickly. Although I did it on several occasions, I never liked going it; it; it’s not a satisfactory way and I wouldn’t do it again." Tyrrell test days are restricted to assessing the talents of one driver alone, and taking all day in which to do it.

"Let’s go back to Stewart to start with. Robin McKay, who used to manage the Goodwood track, recommended Jackie Stewart, who had driven the old Ecurie Ecosse Cooper Monaco in Goodwood club meetings to me. McKay is a very good judge of a driver indeed, so I thought I’d better give Stewart a run out. I found him in Dumbarton and spoke to his brother, actually." Jimmy Stewart had already packed in driving racing cars, but he told Tyrrell that indeed there was another member of the family who had the ambition to become a racing driver, so young Stewart was invited to Goodwood for a day with Tyrrell Formula Three car.

Tyrrell is insistent that to be a serious racing driver talent alone is not enough. "You’re never going to be World Champion unless you really want to win very badly. This happens in all forms of sport: some people like doing it because it’s nice to take part, others because they want to win." A full day at the track with one driver alone enables Tyrrell to make a full judgement. "Neither Stewart nor Ickx had driven single-seaters before. I just told them ‘you’re here all day and you can do as many laps as you want to do: just take your time and learn what it’s all about’. That’s the only way of doing it. if you’ve got more than one driver there, they’ll all start to compete, which is entirely unsatisfactory." Tyrrell tends to play down this talent-spotting aspect and talks sheepishly about Denny Hulme, a driver he never rated very highly. "I was wrong about Denny," he says, "and he doesn’t let me forget it!"

The Stewart era begins . . . Ickx impresses

The Tyrrell/Stewart combination was the all-conquering feature of the 1964 season in the first year of the pushrod 1,000 c.c. Formula Three in 1964 and one of Tyrrell’s busiest, for he was also running Cooper-Minis on behalf of the works. Warwick Banks took the European Saloon Car Championship in one of the Tyrrell Minis, and it was during the team’s visit to Budapest for the four-hour race that Tyrrell’s eye first fell on Jackie Ickx. "Ickx was there driving an Alan Mann Cortina with Whitmore. First of all, he was as quick as Whitmore, which obviously made him noticeable. Secondly, he always seemed cool, calm and collected. I remember him coming into the pits with the front suspension broken, a wheel almost off, and his stop at the pits was very casual: he just got out of the car and waited for it to be repaired. It made an impression on me because I thought it was unusual, especially with a Continental. They usually start waving their arms, shouting and screaming etc. We knew he was quick and it looked as though he had the right temperament."

Matra—"a chance meeting"

It was a year or more before star-spotter Tyrrell actually had Ickx as part of his racing firmament, in 1966. By then the long alliance with Cooper had been broken in favour of a new name in racing—Matra. This was one of the few contacts in which the initiative came from someone other than Tyrrell himself, as he recalls. "It was a chance meeting. I was in Paris for the presentation of the 1965 French F2 Championship and was introduced to Jean-Luc Lagardère, Managing Director of Matra. I’d never heard of Matra, I didn’t even know that they’d made the car which had won the Formula Three race at Reims that year; actually, I didn’t even know a French car had won it." In fact, Tyrrell, who is known to watch supporting F3 races in his talent-spotting capacity, had been far too busy at that meeting trying to get his broken BRM Formula Two engines fixed to take time out during the F3 race. "Lagardère said they were building a Formula Two car for the following year: I remember trying to be helpful and telling them that the first thing they ought to do was get themselves a driver." The disarming Matra reply was "you’ve got the driver", which instantly had Tyrrell back-pedalling! "But they said that if they could have one of our engines, then they’d like us to try the car. What could I do? Stewart and I had reckoned that we’d have to change cars because the Cooper was getting a bit behind, so we thought we might as well try it. We took a BRM 1-litre engine over to Paris and they flew the car back. It was November, very late in the year, with little or no chance of getting a dry track. We picked the car off a Bristol freighter at Gatwick and took it to Goodwood: Stewart was going off to the Tasman, so this was the only chance we would get of trying the car. It was dry, but bitterly cold; after a few laps, Jackie came in and said that he had never driven a car which put power on the road as well as that did. It was as simple as that."

There were three Matras Tyrrell in 1966, two for Stewart to race in the last year of the 1,000-c.c. Formula Two, and one for Ickx in his first full season of Formula Three. "In fact, Ickx went so well so quickly that it was decided to run him in F2 as many times as we could. Matra never queried who they wanted to drive the cars." Matra loaned the chassis to Tyrrell, and this was the arrangement which has continued for the four years of the Tyrrell/Matra arrangement. The agreement has been on a year-by-year basis, with no promises on either side that it would continue indefinitely.

Formula One

The Formula One Matra idea first arose in 1967, germinating in Tyrrell’s mind at the Dutch Grand Prix, when the Cosworth V8 engine made its stunningly successful debut. "I came back and sent an order to Cosworth for four engines straight away! I did it more as a joke than anything, because I didn’t know where I was going to get the finance to cover the cost of such a project. But I thought at least I was going to be first in the queue; you should see the date of my order for Cosworth engines—it’s the day after the Dutch Grand Prix."

Foresight, that’s what it took to make a decision like that, even if Tyrrell didn’t know what he was going to do with those engines if he ever took delivery. But things were moving chez Matra. In the same year, "Matra made the decision, having got some money from the French government, to go into Formula One with their own engine. We asked them to do a car to take the Ford engine: it wasn’t difficult to persuade them, the difficulty was that we had never run a Formula One car before. It was true that Stewart wasn’t in a very strong position with BRM, because the 16-cylinder wasn’t going so well. He obviously wanted to move, but there were several people after him, notably Ferrari. Somehow I had to convince him to drive for us, which wasn’t very easy. First of all Ferrari had the finance to offer, and the experience: nevertheless, I did persuade him, on the basis that if he wanted to become World Champion then he had to use the Ford engine." Had it not been for a Formula Two incident in Spain (which crocked his wrist for two crucial months) Stewart might well have had that Championship in Tyrrell’s first year of Formula One.

In 1969, the Matra has been the only all-new Ford-powered two-wheel-drive chassis to race in Formula One. Sorting it out has been a pretty painless process, however, and the MS80s have required surprisingly little development, apart from spring rates and aerofoils. Money has been no object, Tyrrell says. "The manufacturing methods they use are very expensive. I don’t think any of the British Formula One manufacturers could afford to pay what it costs to produce a Matra Formula One. Our front uprights, for instance, are machined from solid material. A Brabham front upright could probably be bought, machined and ready to use, for about £80, while the Matra part probably costs something in the region of £400-£500. Partly this is because they knew that they were only going to build a small number of cars, and the problem of building something quickly is very difficult for people who’ve been involved in the aerospace or aircraft industry. Normally it’s a year from the drawing board to the moment when the part is produced: instead of having to produce patterns and have castings made, they machine from the solid."

There was the problem of wings at Monaco, when a summary ban on the devices worried Tyrrell, whose cars had been designed to use wings right from the drawing board. "You have to remember that the CSI or FIA made regulations which are subject to two years’ notice. What upset us was that they made a change in the regulations half-way through the event, which could seriously affect our cars. In fact, it made no more difference to our cars than it did to any of the others, for Stewart went on to be fastest in all the remaining practice sessions and to have a half-minute lead before his drive-shaft broke."

Mechanics and maintenance

With Grand Prix races so closely spaced these days, even routine maintenance can present problems. "You’ve only really got eight or nine days from the time you get back from the race which has just finished until the time you’ve to leave to attend first practice for the next. Cosworth Engineering obviously can’t cope with having all the engines (which are rebuilt for each race) back on, say, the Tuesday after the previous race and getting them back to you the following week for the next race, so you’ve always got to have engines at Cosworth." Tyrrell has no fewer than eight of the £7,500 Cosworth DFV units, two each for the MS80s he has been running for Stewart and Beltoise, another two for the MS84 four-wheel-drive and a couple of spares. The times have passed since a team of mechanics departed for the Continent at the start of the season and didn’t come back unless there was virtually irreparable engine or chassis damage to repair. Instead they come back after every race and Tyrrell, as their employer, sees to it that they do at least get some time off. "What we’ve tried to do this year for every European event has been to send half the mechanics home immediately, and they fly usually on the night of the race. They then have a couple of days rest, the chaps who have come home with the cars then whip the engines out and go off for some rest themselves. Thus there’s always someone at work on the cars."

"Between races we crack-test all castings, and any component with which we’ve had trouble is crack-tested between sessions before a race. Back in England gearboxes are stripped and rebuilt and the car is reduced to a bar hull; when you take the engine out of the rear suspension has got to come off anyway. Front suspension is stripped out and crack-tested along with other suspension parts."

A successful team does not, of course, restrict its activities to official practice and races. There is a lot off testing, much of it with tyres, to be done. Stewart spent more than a week in South Africa at the start of the current season testing Dunlop tyres. There is little doubt that this expensive South African trip, with mechanics, tyre technicians and other personnel being transported half-way across the world, paid off and was in part responsible for Tyrrell’s 1969 successes. A remarkable aspect of this operation was the durability of the Cosworth engine, which survived 1,600 miles of extended full throttle running without any maintenance at all.

Matra have provided Tyrrell with Bruno Morin, who is the liaison man between the factory and the British racing operation. "He’s helped us sort the car out and when we need modifications he goes back and makes sure that they’ve been carried out. Morin was not involved with the design of the car: this was done by Matra’s own team, headed by Bernard Boyer. The strength of the Matra has been in its basic design: every car they’ve build has been a well-designed motor car."

The parting of the ways

Although it seems that Matra would have been quite happy for Tyrrell again to run a team of F1 cars on their behalf, the decision has come—for sheer nationalistic reasons—to use only the redesigned V12 engine which has already been tested by Stewart. His enthusiasm for it is restrained. Instead he prefers to say with the Tyrrell/Dunlop/Cosworth combination and a search is already under way for a new chassis to take the Matra’s place. Tyrrell feels unequipped at the present time to undertake the building on his own account of a new chassis for Stewart, and instead discussions have been initiated with March Engineering for the supply of a Robin-Herd-designed car from this new and hitherto unproven company.

A stalwart for Formula Two

In addition to the Formula One operations, Matra International has also had two Formula Two cars for Stewart and Johnny Servoz-Gavin. Servoz-Gavin won the 1969 European Championship of non-graded drivers under the direction of Guildford garage owner John Coomb, who has taken much of the responsibility from Tyrrell’s shoulders, although the latter naturally still stakes a great deal of notice of what is happening in Formula Two, the field he has supported for so long and which, he says, provides the best guide to a young driver’s potential. He sees the year-old Formula 50000 as a threat to Formula Two and denounces it in the broadest terms. "I can’t see why Formula Two cars shouldn’t be allowed to do the job which the F5000s are at present doing and which F2 does much better. They’re so much more reliable and do it with engines which are available here. I find it difficult to understand why in England, which is the home of motor racing and where the best racing engines in the world are manufactured, somebody has to dream up a formula which entails the use of an American engine."

“If a Formula One team manager is looking for a new driver for 1970 I don’t see how he could possibly look to F5000: he’s got to look to Formula Two or Formula Three, rather than Formula 5000. Who are the drivers who are being talked about for Formula One next year?—have you heard of any F5000 drivers being mentioned? You’ve heard that Peterson may be getting a drive with March and Schenken may well be getting a ride with Brabham. They’re ideal second drivers, and why?—not because they’ve been F5000, but because we know that they are competitive."

The main argument which is made on behalf of Formula 5000 is that it is spectacular, with big engines and lots of wheelspin. Alas, very few of the drivers have proved capable of making the wheels spin, so low are their abilities in relation to the power of their cars. Tyrrell takes a cautious line on this aspect: "I have to be fair and say that I have only seen one Formula 5000 race, part of the Gold Cup, when there were several F5000 cars invited. I thought the standard of preparation of the cars was extremely poor: they were either blowing oil out or blowing out steam. Two years previously, at the same race, there was a wonderful spectacle with Formula Two cars taking part. A Formula Two car is so much more reliable. And so much more competitive, because there are always two, three or more cars together. They say that in Formula 5000 there is so much more power, so much more wheelspin: maybe there is, but I didn’t see it."

"The trouble is that half of the entrants are going one way and half of them the other. This means that the money available to the sport to provide cars is being divided in two: it could all have been directed the one way, and I would have thought that direction was Formula Two. So the money is being split and both formulae will have the poorer fields because of it.

Formula Two has been criticised (mainly by F5000 publicists!) because it is not sufficiently powerful. Tyrrell thinks that it provides quite sufficient power for spectacular racing. "When Ickx first drove our Cosworth FVA-powered Formula Two car it was in official practice in Brands Hatch. Ickx had done Le Mans several times in cars with between approximately 300-400 horse-power. Yet, after a few laps, he stopped in the pits. His rev limit was 9,000 r.p.m., but he said: 'I'm sorry, I can't take it over 8,000 r.p.m., I can't cope with the power. I'll never be able to take it to 9,000 r.p.m.!' That's what he said, yet in two weeks' time he was actually saying that the engine was down on power! That's how long it takes a driver to get used to power."

1970 Plans

For the future, an announcement was made at the beginning of November that Tyrrell would be going to March for a chassis and that there would be again two drivers in the team. No second man has been nominated, but Tyrrell has a fine respect for the talents of Brian Redman, who may well turn out to be his choice. —M. G. D.