"It was a partnership that would be impossible today"

Ken Tyrrell was much more than just my team boss – he was a lifelong friend too, and one whom I never tire of talking about, as I recently told Nigel Roebuck

When we speak of legendary partnerships in motor racing, perhaps the one that would spring first to most minds is that of Colin Chapman and Jim Clark: throughout his eight-year Formula 1 career Jimmy never raced other than a Lotus, after all, and one can scarcely imagine him in anything else. He and Chapman communicated in a way that was almost telepathic, and beyond that was a friendship Colin rarely enjoyed with those who drove for him.

Friendship was even more at the heart of it in the case of Ken Tyrrell and Jackie Stewart. It was Ken who brought Jackie into the big time, and ultimately they went on to win three World Championships.

“No question about it,” Stewart says, “Ken was the most influential man in my motor racing life – and the best leader of a racing team that I ever came across. He was always absolutely his own man, never in any way diverted from his mission, and his leadership wasn’t directed only towards the drivers: everyone in the team respected him, and to the highest level. I liked the way Ken did things – it suited me.”

They met first in the early 1960s, but Stewart doubts that Tyrrell would have had any memory of it. “I wasn’t in the sport then – I was the brother of Jimmy Stewart, and that was the only connection with racing I had – but I was friendly with Bob McIntyre, and I went with him when he had a test with Ken at Goodwood. To be honest, I didn’t even know Ken Tyrrell’s name at that stage. Bob drove the car, but he didn’t like the sensation of sliding – he wasn’t used to it on a bike, after all – and nothing came of it.”

By 1964 Jackie had begun to make a name in racing, and now he met Tyrrell again. “This was Goodwood again and he’d invited me to have a test in his Formula 3 Cooper. Bruce McLaren was there – twice he went out to set a time in the car, and both times I managed to beat it. John Cooper was watching at Madgwick and afterwards – in my hearing – he said to Ken, ‘You’ve got to sign him!’ It was one of the great moments of my life…”

In Tyrrell’s Cooper, Stewart dominated the F3 season to a point that he was invited to join the BRM team for 1965. In his first season there he won a Grand Prix (at Monza), and in his second was victorious at Monaco. The ’67 season, though, was pretty barren and Jackie began to look elsewhere.

“All the Lotus mechanics were nervous about the fragility of Chapman’s cars – that was one of the reasons I didn’t drive for him. I could have stayed with BRM, but my best option was to go to Ferrari. I shook hands with the Old Man, and I was very enthusiastic about the idea of driving with Chris Amon in ’68.

“Then Ferrari did a double-cross on me, as I saw it – I was in Maranello on the Wednesday and on the Friday at Enna Franco Lini, the team manager, offered Jacky Ickx the drive ‘if he took it that weekend’! I wasn’t against Jacky at all – he had nothing to do with it – but when I heard about it I told them to forget it. To do that was a big deal…”

It was indeed, for no other alternative to BRM appeared obviously available. Tyrrell, for whom Stewart had continued to drive in Formula 2, had a plan to progress to F1, using a Matra chassis and a Cosworth engine. But a plan is all it was at that stage, and when the two men discussed a possible deal Jackie suggested that Ken couldn’t afford him.

What sort of a retainer did he have in mind? The same as Ferrari had offered, Stewart said: twenty thousand pounds. Tyrrell got the money from Walter Hayes of Ford – and suddenly the game was afoot. For the remainder of his F1 career Jackie, using Matra, March and finally Tyrrell chassis, drove only for Ken – and, what’s more, without a contract.

Given that Stewart is known for his zeal in wishing to have everything just so, clearly this was a very special relationship. “Ken was as modest as the day is long,” he says. “He couldn’t understand why I went to drive for him when I could have gone to Ferrari, but my trust in them was gone, and that was the thing about Ken Tyrrell – I trusted him implicitly. I had a contract in 1964, the first year, but we never had another one after that.

“My actual ‘retainer’ in ’64 – to make it legal – was £5! Actually he offered me an alternative of £10,000 in return for 10 per cent of my future earnings, but I had enough savvy to go for the £5…”

By the time of the F1 agreement Stewart was being managed by IMG, Mark McCormack’s organisation, and there must have been some disquiet, I suggested, about the lack of a formal contract with Tyrrell.

“Yes, sure, but I told them that was the way it was – I think if I’d asked Ken for a contract it might have blemished the relationship. If I’d had a letter of agreement and given it to McCormack, he – like any good manager – would have said, ‘You’ve got to include this and that and the next thing’. And if I’d done that Ken would have said, ‘That means you don’t trust me…’

“He was an honest man, and the people who worked for him were fiercely loyal to him. He was opinionated – quite socialist in his attitudes in some ways – and he treated those who worked for him very well. For example, every member of his team had private health care if required – and a pension.

“Ken was an extraordinary motivator – and he had a great ability to choose the right people. Other Tyrrell drivers, like Jean Alesi, always spoke of the ‘family’ atmosphere in the team, and it was true – in that respect it was like no other and Ken’s wife, Norah, played a big part in that. Teams were generally much smaller then than now, of course, and Tyrrell was smaller than most…”

The Stewart years at Tyrrell were of course the team’s great years. Others – Scheckter, Depailler, Alboreto – would win Grands Prix for Ken after Jackie’s retirement, but there was never the hint of another World Championship to go with those of 1969, ’71 and ’73.

For the first couple of years in F1 the team ran Cosworth-powered Matras, while the French company’s far less successful works cars were powered by its own V12 engine. By the end of 1969 Matra wanted Stewart, the new World Champion, henceforth to race a V12 car, and Tyrrell would have been involved in that, but both Ken and Jackie were adamant about sticking with the DFV and so the association ended. For 1970 Tyrrell had no alternative but to buy cars from the fledgling March company, and the 701 was so awful that a decision was swiftly taken for Tyrrell to become a constructor in its own right.

In absolute secrecy the project got underway and by the autumn, remarkably, the car was ready to race. It was the same with the P34 a few years later: I can still hear the collective gasp in the room when the wraps came off revealing this F1 car with six wheels…

“Ken,” says Stewart, “was never ‘yesterday’s man’ – there was no looking back on great happenings or anything like that. The only time he ever complimented me after a race was at Monaco in ’71, when I won the race having done the whole of it with front brakes only. He said, ‘I just want you to know that was a great drive’ – I nearly fell over!

“There’s a scene in Weekend of a Champion, the Roman Polanski movie made at that race, from just after the finish: one of my mechanics, Roger Hill, is there with a bottle of Coca-Cola for me, and Ken’s in the background, packing things away. The race was just over – and as far as Ken was concerned it was already yesterday. He didn’t come to the podium with the rest of the team – it was a matter of, ‘Right, what’s the next race?’

“Ken had his small coterie of friends – and they always remained his friends, as loyal to him as he was to them. Take someone like Frank Faulkner: he was one of the world’s leading authorities on paediatrics. Frank loved racing, but there wasn’t really a lot he could offer the team – although he gave a lot of help to Danny Sullivan, who eventually drove for Ken. He was always at a race when he could be, though, and Ken respected him and thought the world of him. When he wasn’t well – towards the end of his life – Ken and Norah went to San Francisco to see him, and so did I.

“Frank was exactly the sort of person to become a friend of Ken’s. All the people you met with Ken were quality people – but not grand people, because he wasn’t into grand people and felt uncomfortable with them. It would never have occurred to him to stay in the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo – he always used the same little hotel in Roquebrune. ‘Why would I want to stay anywhere else?’ he’d say.

“In general, Ken’s hotel choices were awful! In the early days we’d go to the most unspeakable places – I remember [my wife] Helen and me being in this place in Rouen, with rats in the room and a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling… Hotels were chosen because they were cheap!

“And think of the way Ken dressed. Always in a collar and tie – never in a ‘race’ outfit. He wasn’t ‘social’ – never had parties at home or anything like that – but he was an entirely genuine man. When people die, and things move on, it’s very easy to sort of over-romance relationships, but there was no time in my professional career with Ken when I felt angry or upset or felt I was being taken advantage of.”

No arguments, then? “Oh Christ, sometimes we had huge arguments – huge arguments! Ken was very opinionated: he’d phone up to discuss something we were going to do and sometimes, if he didn’t agree with you, it was a real ‘froth job’! But sometimes, too, he would change his mind – he was never afraid to do that.”

And then he would say, ‘Sorry, I was wrong?’ “No, no, there was never a ‘sorry’ – just a sort of gruff, ‘Well, OK, we’ll do that then…’”

Some of their arguments stemmed from Ken’s belief that Jackie was taking too much on, that ultimately this was bound to affect his performance in the car. This was not the era in which a top driver confined himself to F1.

“I remember when François Cevert joined the team, and the role Ken played in getting me together with him, helping him – initially that was almost entirely down to Ken, not me. I liked François immediately, but at first I thought, ‘I’m not a nanny’ – I was busy trying to win myself!

“I was pretty stretched out in 1971. It was the year I got the mononucleosis, the year I made 43 trips to America – crossed the Atlantic 86 times! Ken knew that wasn’t good for me – on the other hand, in those days, if you were trying to make money…

“My retainer with Ken was £20,000 – that was what we agreed when I went there and I don’t think it ever changed! Of course the total money changed, because we began to get more benefits from outside – performance bonuses if you won a race and that sort of thing. It came from the Elfs, the Dunlops, then the Goodyears – but it still wasn’t a huge amount of money, so I was doing Can-Am with Carl Haas which paid pretty well, and driving Capris for Ford Germany occasionally, and Alan Mann’s cars – that was how you made money. By 1970 I was earning a million, but it certainly wasn’t all from Formula 1.”

If Tyrrell might have preferred Stewart not to drive for anyone else, he recognised that he wasn’t in a position to impose it. “He didn’t like it, no – and he was right! As I say, that was when I got the mononucleosis, and again, if you look at the Polanski film on Monaco ’71 you can see that I was stuffed! I was very fatigued – but the adrenalin kicked in when it had to…”

There were other things, too. Stewart, after all, was involved in everything, not least the safety crusade which occupied much of his time.

“Certainly there were times when Ken thought I was taking on too much – he was sure it must have been disrupting me. ‘How can you be arguing with the CSI [then the sport’s governing body] about some safety thing 10 minutes before qualifying,’ he’d say, ‘and then go out and deliver?’ He thought I was taking too much out of myself doing that – but at the same time, of course, he was there when all these accidents were happening…

“I was doing all sorts of things at that time – for example, after Piers Courage’s accident at Zandvoort I arranged the transportation of his body back to the UK, because I knew how to do it as it had happened so many times before. Most airlines wouldn’t take a coffin in a passenger plane. People nowadays have no idea what it was like then – we were losing so many people, and of course we were driving so many different types of car, not just F1.”

As Stewart says, Tyrrell was indeed ‘there when all these things were happening’. In the course of their six seasons of working together, the lives were lost of Clark, Spence, Scarfiotti, Schlesser, Mitter, McLaren, Courage, Rindt, Rodríguez, Siffert, Bonnier, Williamson and Cevert – not all of them in F1, it’s true, but as Jackie says, ‘we were all driving so many different types of car’.

Only once did Tyrrell have to order Stewart to get into a car. “At the Nürburgring in ’68 the weather was so awful on race morning that they gave us an extra session, and Ken thought I should go out. I said, ‘I really don’t want to – the rain’s so heavy, the visibility’s bad, there are rivers all over the track…’ He said, ‘Yes, but you’ll never know where the rivers are if you don’t go out – you need to do it.’ It was the only time I ever remember Ken saying, ‘Jackie, I’m the boss, and this is very important, for you and the team.’ I never thought of not driving in the race – I just didn’t want to do this extra session. I thought, ‘I know the ’Ring – this just seems an unnecessary risk.’ But Ken said what he said, and I went out – I think I just did one flying lap.

“On the one hand, Ken was right – I did see rivers I never knew were there – but on the other he was wrong, because in the race the rivers were in different places from lap to lap as the drains got plugged up.”

In more extreme circumstances, according to Stewart, Tyrrell would always remain pragmatic in the face of deep shock. How, I wondered, had he been on the Saturday afternoon at Monza in 1970, when Jochen Rindt was killed during final qualifying and the session was afterwards resumed?

“No nonsense. He said, ‘Listen, you’ve got to get in the car again’, and I knew he was right. I was very upset because I’d been with Jochen – he hadn’t had the Last Rites at that point, but I knew he was dead. There was a lot of turmoil because [his wife] Nina was there with him eventually, and Helen. It wasn’t a nice thing.

“Practice restarted and Ken said, ‘Look, there’s only 15 minutes left – we’ve got to get a time.’ I got in and set the fastest lap I had ever done round Monza. I always talk about ‘mind management’ and that was a good example of it, because I was crying once I was in the car, and then I straightened myself out during the warm-up lap, did my time on the next lap, and then started crying again when I came in.

“Ken was very strong – I never saw him emotionally upset. He was always very clinical in situations like that, which was surprising because he could be such a compassionate man. He isolated himself on those occasions – even when François died. I never saw him shed a tear and that weekend, more than any other, would have been the one that really hurt him, because François was driving a Tyrrell when it happened. He was very affected by it all, but he never broke down.”

Watkins Glen in 1973 was always going to be Stewart’s last race. Some months earlier he had resolved to retire at season’s end, but confided only in Tyrrell and Ford’s Walter Hayes. Helen should not know, Jackie concluded, because he wanted to spare her the ordeal of mentally counting down the races through the year.

“At Mosport, two weeks before the Glen, François was involved in a shunt with Jody [Scheckter] and got a bit knocked about. Helen and I were going to have a break in Bermuda – I thought it would be a good idea to have some time on our own because she was suffering a lot because of everything that had happened. [My son] Paul had asked me, ‘When are you going to die?’

“In Canada, after his accident, we said to François, ‘Look, why don’t you come with us?’ He said, ‘No, no, it’s your time’ and so on but we insisted – and we had a fantastic time, but during that week he kept saying to Helen, ‘Is Jackie going to retire or not?’ And Helen, of course, did not know. He’d been asking me, too, and I kept saying, ‘I haven’t made up my mind.’ I mean, if I didn’t tell Helen, I couldn’t tell him…

“François had kept telling me he was getting offers from Ferrari and so on, and I said, ‘Well, that’s good – but you don’t have to decide until the season’s over. I think you should stay with Ken.’ He said, ‘Well, Ferrari are saying if I don’t sign they’ll get someone else…’ I said, ‘Who are they going to get who’s better than you? And next year’s Tyrrell’s going to be awful good…’

“Anyway, we got to the Glen, and Ken was the only person there who knew this was my last race. On the Friday he said, ‘Jackie, you know what would be a really nice thing to do? If the two of you are running 1-2 at the end, it would be nice to let François past and win…’

“I said, ‘Ken, this is my last Grand Prix – that’s a lot to ask…’ He said, ‘Yeah – but, you know, you’ll look like a king if you do that.’ I said, ‘Yes, but if I do it the wrong way, it’ll look like I’m letting him win…’ It didn’t really bother me but I said, ‘Let’s leave it ’til Sunday – let’s see how we go in qualifying because we may not be that fast and it might be a situation that won’t occur…’

“That was typical Ken, really. He thought it would be the correct thing for me to do – and that doing it would make me look great. He knew very well what it meant to me – but that was the way he thought.”

Then, late in the Saturday morning session, Cevert crashed at the ultra-fast uphill Esses. It was an accident of extraordinary violence, and could have had but one outcome. “Chris [Amon] was also driving a Tyrrell that weekend, and he stopped at the scene. So did Jody, and then so did I. It was truly shocking – fortunately Ken never did see it.

“At first he wouldn’t believe that François was dead. ‘How d’you know?’ he said to me. I said, ‘Ken, I was there…’ ‘Yes – but how d’you know? Have you got proof?’ I said, ‘Look, I know he’s dead…’

“That was very Ken. Until the official statement was issued, nothing was certain. He was terribly shocked – but he was not emotional. He had to phone the family in France, of course, and then we sat in the little team caravan and discussed the decision that had to be made.

“I wasn’t against doing the race – quite honestly, when you get into a race something like that disappears until it’s over, at which point it comes rushing back. But when Ken said, ‘What are we going to do?’, I said, ‘I really think we should withdraw in respect to François’. It was the right thing to do.”

Before this was announced, however, Stewart and Amon went out again in the afternoon session. “Ken didn’t want me to do that actually, but I said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to go out – the boys think it’s something to do with them…’ They believed it must have been a mechanical failure, because they didn’t think François could have made a mistake at the place where it happened. I thought I knew what had happened, but they were so distressed I felt I had to go out – even though I knew I was never going to race again.”

Once out of the car, Jackie told Helen that was it, he was now a retired racing driver. “How she coped with that much emotion in one day I’ll never know – having to clear up François’s room and everything. Horrible…”

Thus, in the most tumultuous circumstances imaginable, the partnership between Ken Tyrrell and Jackie Stewart came to an end. The two men would remain the closest of friends, however, to the end of Tyrrell’s life in 2001.

Forty years ago an F1 team was a much smaller, much more intimate organisation than anyone would recognise today. In 1971, the year of Stewart’s second World Championship, Tyrrell had a total of 27 employees. And even at the end, when Ken sold out to BAR in 1998, there were no more than 120.

While demonstrably the best driver ever to work with Tyrrell, Stewart was much more than that. “I went all over the world for Ken – I did the deal with Goodyear, for example, and without that money it would have been very difficult for the team.

“I was at Goodyear talking to Larry Truesdale, the competitions manager, and he said he didn’t have the budget to give us what we needed. Fortunately the company chairman, Chuck Pilliod, walked into his office. He said, ‘Hi Jackie – didn’t know you were here. How’s it going?’ I said, ‘Well, not well – we’d like to do a deal with Goodyear, but Larry can’t do it and I’m going to have to go to Firestone…’ He said, ‘Well, why don’t you come and have lunch with the board?’

“I was always involved in these sorts of deals – it really was a partnership between us in a way that would be impossible these days, I suppose.

When Ken sold the company he hated it – he absolutely hated it. I remember him coming to the Canadian Grand Prix one year after he’d sold the company – he and Norah were in the Paddock Club – and he didn’t enjoy it at all. ‘It’s awful being here – and not being part of it,’ he said. Ken absolutely lived for motor racing.

“It was Bernie [Ecclestone] who did the deal for the sale of Tyrrell to BAR, but Ken was very embittered that he had to sell. Towards the end of the team’s life, when they’d moved into the new factory, Ken was struggling financially and he needed the money that was his – and that Bernie held, for more than a year. Ken was livid about that, and also embittered by certain other things that had happened with Bernie and Max [Mosley] down the years. Shortly before he died, he asked me to organise his memorial service, and he told me he didn’t want either of them to be there – he was vehement about it, and if it had come to it I would have told them.

“Towards the end, when I used to go and see Ken, I’d lie on the bed next to him, because he couldn’t hear all that well by then. To cheer him up I told him I was going to spread the news that I’d been in bed with Ken Tyrrell, and he’d get very wound up – ‘Oh no, you mustn’t do that!’

“It was an extremely close relationship between Ken and Norah and Helen and me, and I’m still in touch with a lot of Ken’s friends. It upsets me still that he never got so much as an OBE – if ever in my life I’ve met a patriot it was he, and something like that would have meant so much more to him than to most people. Such a wonderful man, wasn’t he?”