What an amazing car this turned out to be and one that was so much better than I’d expected. I’d been rightly told before I’d even sat in it that the tyres were old and had been hot and cold dozens of times, that they came from an F3000 car and had no heaters. But I went out, and within hall a lap, I was thinking “hang on, this thing’s actually got some grip.” Then I drove it harder, realised it in fact had a lot of grip and, what’s more, a great balance too.
What is most astonishing about it is that, though the car is ten years old, if you took some time to set it up properly and put a fresh set of tyres on it, its grip in slow corners would compare favourably to the very best cars out there today. In fact I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you could slice up to a tight apex quicker in this Tyrrell than in a modern Formula One car. The problem with the cars today is that the grooved tyres they are forced to run have really messed with the grip in such corners; I’ve driven the McLaren two seater and last year’s Jordan and they both squirm around all over the place in tight turns whereas this Tyrrell felt just terrific, right from the outset. And whatever the relative speeds, one other important thing I tell you for sure: the Tyrrell is more fun in slower corners than a modern F1 car.
Of course, coming away from the corner you’d feel as if someone had whipped a couple of spark plugs out of the engine. The V8 Cosworth DFR in the back felt like it had pretty much had enough at 10,500rpm; today it is only modern electronics which means the engines will work at all at such revs; they don’t start delivering meaningful power until 13,000 or 14,000rpm, by which stage I guess the DFR would have spread itself all over the tarmac. Even so, it was a flexible engine with good driveability even if with only around 620bhp, it was rather lacking in power compared to today’s 3-litre cars.
What I noticed most about it, and how it differs to Grand Prix machines made both before and after this era, is just how little room there is inside. When this car was built, they knew then that the less space there was for the driver, the better the aerodynamics would work and the easier the rest of the car would be to package. It’s alright for me because I’m not a particularly tall bloke but I remember Gerhard Berger doing a lot of campaigning and, at the time, I didn’t relate to it. But see how spacious an F1 car is today, with all the room around the driver that the safety regs now require, and it’s amazing to see what a small space we used to cram outselves into. And even I remember losing circulation in my feet during races.
These days, in F1 cars you are lying in a carbon-fibre bath tub with your head sticking out at the top: you feel invincible. It’s not like that in the Tyrrell; of course, at the time you’d not think twice about slicing up the side of someone because, back then, no-one knew any better and it’s the same right the way through the history of F1. I’d think about it now… Martin Brundle