Blue Genie

Silverstone is deserted while, in the pitlane, Jackie Stewart's F1 car awaits your pleasure...for Stephen Sutcliffe, this was no dream. Thanks to the Tyrrell-Ford 005, it became start reality photography by Stan Papior

There is something bewitching about the noise of a Formula One car at work on an empty circuit. There are no other cars about to corrupt the sound and you can pick out every nuance, every blip of throttle on every downchange. And on upshifts even that faint shiver in the engine's timbre as cog meshes with cog can be heard ricocheting off the deserted grandstands.

And because you can be heard right around the entire length of the circuit, everyone back in the pits can tell when it all goes wrong for you. Huff a gearchange, say. Or spin.

Not that Martin Stretton is making any audible mistakes as he warms up the Tyrrell-Ford 005 for me around Silverstone this morning. He takes it quite gently for the first couple of laps, easing the big £700-a-corner Avon slicks up to temperature. Thereafter he doesn't so much nail it as gradually open up the taps and let the power flow over the course of the next lap and a half.

You can tell as much not simply from the noise of its Cosworth DFV motor, which has increased dramatically all around the circuit, but also from the car's attitude as it comes into view out of Woodcote. Previously the Tyrrell has been merely driven to the outer edge of the track before beginning its short assault on the pit straight. This time it actually drifts a little all the way through the corner and the engine note does a tell-tale wobble as the rear tyres fight for grip.

It's exactly the same on the next lap, suggesting that Stretton and Tyrrell are truly at one with each other this morning. And what a glorious sight and sound it is, too. Trouble is, it's me and Tyrrell being at one that I'm concerned about today, for although I've driven a Formula 3000 car and have raced a TVR Tuscan with some success, proper Formula One cars have, until today, eluded me.

And this one is about as proper as they come. It's original, all the way down to seat into which my backside will shortly fall. John Young Stewart sat in it too, when he won Grands Prix in it. Indeed, the only major component that's been fully replaced since the car was last driven in anger by Patrick Depailler in 1974 is its nose cone. Unfortunately it was thumped in qualifying for an historic F1 race a couple of years ago and was too badly damaged to be repaired.

No matter how cute the Tyrrell may appear in the photographs there is nothing remotely cuddly about it as it rumbles noisily back to the pitlane, primed and ready for me to grab my moment. It is at least as brutal as it is beautiful, bright blue bodywork gleaming, 3-litre, quad cam, 32-valve engine ticking furiously after its morning exercise.

Doing the essential homework the night before, I'd read that designer Derek Gardner had created the 005 to have the shortest wheelbase of any F1 car in history and consequently, it could be a shade neurotic on the limit. Apparently it was what Stewart wanted: twitchy but ultra-responsive handling which, in the right hands, namely those on the ends of JYS arms, translated into demon lap times.

The other statistic that haunts my mind as I stand on that time-worn seat and slide my legs down into the cockpit, is one Stretton mentioned casually before going out to warm up the car. Apparently Gardner did some calculations a few years back and worked out that with 495bhp and a 580kg kerbweight, plus the short gearing it is running today, the Tyrrell will generate wheelspin at any speed up to an enigmatic sounding 113mph in the dry. This figure is rather higher if the tyres are inconsistently loaded, as in a corner. "So it's best to make sure it's pointing in a straight line before you open it out to 10,600rpm," Martin had warned.

I'm little short of stunned by how much room there is as I snuggle down in to the cockpit. My feet sit naturally on the pedals without knees fouling the underside of the little leather wheel rim, and I can manipulate the wooden-topped gearlever sprouting from the straight cut Hewland gearbox through all five of its forward ratios without my right elbow snagging the bodywork. It feels purpose built for my 12 stone, 5'10" frame. Again the homework explains why.

When Gardner penned the 005 at the end of 71 he did so with not just Stewart but also Francois Cevert in mind, the other works driver at the time. Because Cevert used to like to flail his arms around when in a hurry, Gardner made the upper cockpit wider than normal because he appreciated how important it was for a driver to be comfortable if he was also to be quick.

Despite the small crowd gathered around the Tyrrell as it sits silent in the pitlane, it is peculiarly lonely down here in the cabin. In front of me there are three simple Stack instruments: a big rev counter in the middle flanked by two smaller gauges giving all relevant information for oil and water. Alongside these, of course, lies the usual squadron of baffling black toggle switches.

The two I'm interested in are those operating the ignition and the high pressure fuel pump which have to switch off after a couple of laps when the Lucas injection no longer needs a helping hand.

To the right of the wheel is a small black button. I flick the ignition switch on, hover my right boot over the accelerator to encourage the DFV when it catches, and then hit the magic button. A short whirring follows, a quarter second shiver and then an almighty explosion introduces the Cosworth V8 to its audience, a violent, huge sound that sucks all other noise out of reach for a good 70-yard radius.

For a while I just sit there, pausing just to let the temperatures come back up. I blip the throttle a couple of times and the response from the engine is absolute, a mechanical cacophony that seems to die away even before it has properly formed.

First gear is back towards me and to the left, out on a short dog-leg. It is selected with a physical jolt from the back of the car.

A helping hand from the Tyrrell's apprehensive owner, Simon Bull, gets me moving as gradually I ease out the heavy clutch. And to my delight, the 005 is rolling gently along under its own power.

Instinctively I grab second, then third before the sharp right hander at the end of the pit lane. The DFV chugs a little at such treatment but picks up cleanly as I squeeze the accelerator to peel on to the short straight down to Maggots. That's no more than 4500rpm on part throttle in third gear at under 40mph: that's impressive for any serious race engine without the benefit of contemporary electronics, let alone one fitted to a quarter century old F1 car.

So, how does it feel to finally be let loose in an ex-JYS Tyrrell F1 car around Britain's only current GP circuit? The intimidation you expect is there but the fear is not. The simple and surprising truth is the Tyrrell is much friendlier and accommodating in nature than I had expected.

It isn't a bit vicious or uncomfortable. After as little as half a lap I find myself rifling up through the slick 'box, stretching the implausibly smooth V8 out to 10,600rpm in second, third and then fourth before braking hard for the tricky new Brooklands/Luffield complex. Almost instantly it feels natural to be driving it this way.

I detect minute body roll through these corners, which means there's also remarkable ride quality by the standards of modem single seaters. And the steering, though predictably direct, is nowhere near as aggressive or heavy as I'd anticipated: it's fingerlight and faster across the locks than that of any Caterham, yet also free from kickback, even when I run a tyre clumsily over the kerbs.

The brakes, too, need merely a prod to provide stopping power the like of which road car drivers cannot have dreamt; I had expected to have to lean on them hard to make them work properly, like you do in so many modem racers, yet for all of its might and thunder, it is a sensitive, delicate machine that will respond properly only to being so treated.

Except, that is, for the DFV. For all its smoothness, its response is savage, boasting a power to weight ratio of roughly 850bhp per tonne even with me on board. Coming out of Luffield in second there is no more than a second on full throttle between the point where the Cosworth comes good at 6500rpm and when the change up light flickers at 10,600rpm.

In third it's about a second and a half, in fourth maybe three seconds, in fifth who knows. And all the while there is this immense noise reflecting my every move. It's so loud that I can't hear myself coughing against the G-force through Copse.

After a couple of laps acclimatisation the Tyrrell and I are starting to work rather harder, hard enough to inject some heat into the Avons, hard enough to push the front end wide through the tight sections and nudge the rear around, even under power on the exit of Copse, taken in fourth at around 110mph.

Even Stretton has failed to see the change-up light in fifth, so the fact that I don't come near it seems only a little disappointing. The most I saw was about 9000rpm in top, 150-155mph, at which speed the Tyrrell felt as stable as it had parked up in the pits.

I come in after five laps to take stock, reclaim breath and senses. Although the Tyrrell doesn't generate as much lateral force as a modem Formula 3000 car, or a GT1 Le Mans racer, five laps still works the neck, backside arid grey matter. In the excitement I've forgotten to switch off the fuel pump that Stretton had pleaded with me for so long not to leave on, but fortunately I haven't been out long enough to drain the tiny battery completely.

Stretton rubs a hand nonchalantly over the left rear tyre to see how hard I've been trying, then points his palm skywards and raises it up and down, suggesting with a smirk that I could push harder. But I remember the history behind this immaculate car and the fact that even a minor spin out on the back of the circuit would be within earshot.

I go out again, trying this time harder and fluff fourth to third twice because I try to change too quickly, not because the shift is awkward. And again the balance is understeer through the slow corners with a touch of neutrality and, eventually, oversteer in the quick ones. I can't bring myself to powerslide the Tyrrell for everyone to see through Woodcote, but I do manage a drift down at Maggots, producing an involuntary cheer from somewhere in my helmet. Maybe they heard it, even if they didn't see it.

In the final two laps I force myself to sit back and enjoy Simon Bull's Tyrrell 005 for the exquisite piece of history that it is, revelling in the knowledge that, in my hands at least, it has failed to produce any of the twitchy handling suggested by the history books.

But perhaps the most memorable moment arrives when I realise finally this car will never produce more than a splash of downforce, even on the quickest parts of the circuit. After five further laps pushing a little harder each time, it becomes clear that the quicker you drive it, the more this Tyrrell will slide.

That impression, so prevalent in modem racers, of being sucked into the floor the faster you travel turns out to be refreshingly absent from this kind of racing car. And I can't help feeling that this is the way it is meant to be, rather than how it has become in contemporary front-line motorsport. I am quite sure that somewhere, deep down inside that Tyrrell, there were lessons to be learned for us all.

Our sincere thanks go to Simon Bull, Martin Stretton, the Ford Motor Company and Silverstone Circuits for their invaluable help in making this feature possible.

When new it would have run on Goodyear tyres, today it uses big Avons

Tyrrell-Ford 005 - The early years

The '005' nomenclature was not so much a name as a chassis number and, like all Tyrrells before it, only one was built. It was the last to hold a unique number, with three chassis of its successor, the 006, being built between September 1972 and October 1973.

005 made its debut at the Austrian GP on 13 August '72, with Stewart at the wheel where he remained for the rest of the season while Cevert raced 002 and, then, the first 006. Because its debut was so late in the season, it only competed just four races. It qualified and finished seventh in Austria despite having briefly led. III-handling was blamed for it falling back through the field towards the end of the race.

Its next event, the Italian GP at Monza, was less auspicious still. In Doug Nye's definitive work 'The Grand Prix Tyrrells' the story is told thus: "Stewart wrecked his own chances on the warming-up lap before the race. He did two practice starts on 005 on the back straight — despite dire warnings of the effect this would have on the clutch — and sure enough it was burnt out as he came onto the grid. The Tyrrell lost drive completely as the flag fell, and in minutes Jackie was on his way back to the Villa d'Este Hotel at Como."

Rather greater success awaited 005 in the last two races of the season, held on the North American continent. With Lotus's Emerson Fittipaldi already the youngest world champion in the history of the sport, 005 lined up fifth on the grid, stormed through the field to take the lead from Ronnie Peterson's March 721G on lap four out of 80. The flying Tyrrell was not challenged for the rest of the race.

Its finest hour, however, was still a fortnight away. At Watkins Glen, the final race of the season, Stewart and 005 achieved effective Grand Prix perfection. Jackie put the car on pole, set fastest lap, won the race and led from flag to flag.

It is perhaps odd to think today of a single Grand Prix chassis competing in more than one season but sitting in fourth place on the grid of the 1973 Argentinean GP was JYS and 005. And though this was to be the season of the 006, the third place scored here and the second at the next race at Interlagos suggested there was life in the car still.

And so there was. After the 006s had come on stream, its role became that of occasional third string to the Tyrrell bow with Chris Amon at the helm.

Incredibly, 005 was not yet done. Back in Argentina for the 1974 race, it brought Patrick Depailler his first Grand Prix point with sixth place. It bowed out finally at Kyalami with a line fourth place, missing a place on the podium by just two seconds. It was the end of a classic era. Stewart was retired, Cevert dead. Tyrrell would never again be world champions. But for Tyrrell-Ford 005, its on-track career had, in fact, only just begun.