Tyrrell 006

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Stubby, light and a bit twitchy, this classic British grand prix car propelled Sir Jackie Stewart to his third and final Formula 1 world championship. The car's career, however, didn't end there

Words: Paul Fearnley. Photography: Peter Spinney/LAT

Nursing a cold and unhappy with his Tyrrell, Jackie Stewart found himself sixth on the grid for the 1973 Italian GP. Then, having been engine problem-free all season, a DFV turned sour on him during race-morning warm-up. As always, however, this ultimate professional was crack-shot focused when the flag dropped.

"I was never too concerned about pole," says Stewart. "It was much more important for me to have a car capable of a consistently quick race performance. You could overtake in those days, remember, especially if the guy in front was being too rough with a car on full tanks. I won a lot of my races in the first five laps, I was very good at removing emotion from this process; I didn't over-drive a heavy car, nor was I overcautious on cold tyres."

Monza wouldn't witness such a calculating performance, however. A slow left-rear puncture on lap seven saw to that. Stewart's stumpy car slumped to 19th and that tantalisingly close third world title would surely have to wait.

But he got his tartan-banded helmet down, and reeled off a succession of stunning record laps – his best was an impressive eight-tenths of a second faster than he'd managed in the practice sessions. He was eighth by lap 25, fifth by lap 42 and fourth at the finish. And because Lotus hadn't forced Ronnie Peterson to cede victory to his 'team leader' Emerson Fittipaldi, Jackie Stewart found himself champion again.

If that astounding by-a-four-minute-mile win in a 1968 Nürburgring pea-souper had been his greatest technical drive, this hint-of-Latin charge was perhaps Stewart's most emotional. For only he and team boss Ken Tyrrell – and Ford mover-and-shaker Walter Hayes – knew what everyone else could surmise: Jackie was going to retire at the season's end.

This life-changing, super-secretive decision – no team kept mum quite like Uncle Ken's – had been made as early as April 5. Three days later, aboard the brand-new 006/2 (the car featured here) Stewart drove his fireproof socks off to spin-then-win the International Trophy at a snow-hit Silverstone. Four more victories would come this combination's way as JYS struck exactly the right strategic note for this potential banana skin of a season.

"Rather than fretting about this being the last time I'd race at wherever, I was able to extract the maximum satisfaction from each performance," he explains. "I learned more in that last year than I had in any of my other F1 seasons."

This was a cramming session forced along by designer Derek Gardner's quick-but-quirky second-generation Tyrrell. Though he has always refuted it, and with numerous pertinent reasons, his original four-car batch had smacked of Matra MS80, Stewart's 1969 title-winner and favourite car. Nobody, however, could 'accuse' 005, nor its three subsequent 006 – now a model, not just a chassis number – sister cars, of plagiarism. Gardner, who had considered quitting racing during what he says was 001's "miserable" run-up to its debut at the 1970 Oulton Park Gold Cup (it set fastest lap!) was now more established, more confident in his capabilities. He'd never been a slave to convention, it's just that this was more obvious now – even though his new car had only four wheels! Its 94-inch wheelbase was 1.7-inch less than its predecessor's to reduce polar moment of inertia – the buzz tech phrase of the day – by centralising mass, and its snub nose and bulbous airbox, part of an improved airflow package for the rear wing, gave visual emphasis to this short-chassis approach.

Inboard front brakes were a new Tyrrell feature, too. These reduced unsprung weight a la Lotus 72, but Gardner had qualms about them. So did Stewart. Both he and team-mate François Cevert suffered crashes triggered by brake failure, and although not all could be attributed to the inboard discs and their worrisome torque tubes (not shafts), Stewart felt more secure when his discs were outboard.

"The Lotus 72 was probably quicker," he says. "But Tyrrell was all about sound engineering and practical application. Ken insisted his cars possessed a steady rubustness, preferring to put the emphasis on me doing a bit more with a strong, reliable machine. I was always happy with that situation."

Gardner's new monocoque was a wedge-shaped design, but although 005 (the T-car after the arrival of 006/2) spent much of 1973 sporting a 72-type with-canards proboscis and side-mounted water radiators, the 006 race cars stuck with the original full-width nose and front radiator. A 72-like torsion-bar suspension system had been considered too, as had an inboard gearbox between the engine and final drive (a feature of the unloved March 721X), but both were rejected.

The need for such pragmatism was pressing. 1972 had been a difficult season for Tyrrell: Jackie had been sufficiently ill to miss the Belgian GP and a sequence of monocoque-crunching crashes had stretched the team's capacity to breaking point. This small and still-young outfit needed to consolidate before it could attack again.

Lotus remained the team to beat: reigning champion Fittipaldi won three of the first four GPs of 1973, a black-and-gold flow stemmed only by Stewart's controversial victory at Kyalami – where McLaren accused him of overtaking under yellows – in 006, from 16th on the grid after a practice shunt in 005.

Back in Europe, however, the pendulum began to swing. A measured victory on a disintegrating Zolder surface and a peerless performance from pole in Monaco put Stewart back in the title fray. Late-race brake bothers dropped him to fifth at Anderstorp; his fourth at Paul Ricard was the result of a brilliant recovery drive after a puncture; and a muffed downshift, his only major mistake of the season, spun him out of the points at Silverstone.

But back-to-back victories – a lucky one at Zandvoort, where long-time leader Peterson's failing gearbox allowed Stewart to surpass Jim Clark's record of 25 GP wins, and a dominant one at the 'Ring – redressed the balance. Second place at the Österreichring, where he benefited from leader Fittipaldi's loose fuel pipe, then brought the title within Stewart's reach. At the top of his game, he had looked serene throughout. He was, however, paddling like billy-o beneath that cockpit cowling.

"That Tyrrell really hung on well but would also then let go very sharply," he explains. "Once you'd set up a slide and dialled-in the necessary opposite lock, it had a tendency to suddenly dig in again and follow the direction of steering angle. Yes, it had a short chassis, but it's too easy to pin all its idiosyncrasies on that. Leaving aside the Nürburgring – a circuit which was, of course, a very different proposition altogether – the chassis was extremely twitchy on bumpy tracks. The one thing we perhaps lacked at Tyrrell was suspension set-up expertise, and we never truly nailed that crucial damper balance between bump and rebound. In don't think many drivers could have driven to its maximum. That why I hold François [Cevert] in such high regard."

The handsome Frenchman had scored six second places that season (all in 006) and was absolutely ready to carry Tyrrell's torch in 1974 as team leader once Stewart hung up his helmet. But the light went out a day early when he crashed fatally during practice for the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, scene of the final championship round of the year. An ashen-faced Stewart climbed from 006/2.

It was his last act as a Formula 1 driver.