Ken Tyrrell guides us through the complications of today’s international circus
The famous Ken Tyrrell “Chopper” profile regarded our writer sternly from the desk within his light, modern, office. “It’s not all politics and back-stabbing you know, there’s something good in each race we do.” Equally suddenly the forbidding glare fades (and with it my apprehension, though I wouldn’t like to he one of his drivers after a silly!) and there’s that characteristic snort of laughter as he says, “so you want to find out what we do between races? How long have you got . Christmas will be here before you’ve finished!”
My job does not involve regular contact with the Formula One circus, but whenever they come to Britain to race I find myself constantly surprised. The size of those transporters and hospitality motor-homes; the magnificent plumage of drivers, women and cars. They, the fierce absorption in the task of setting a decent practice time, followed by a race whose quality can be effected by so many outside factors these days. Wandering amongst the welter of advertising stickers and signwriting, I find Tyrrell a bit of a relief with the neat blue and white theme carried through cars, trucks and personnel to deliver an effective reminder of Elf expenditure.
Even an outsider finds that each team has character if you look carefully in the paddock (an achievement today!) and its then that you can most easily imagine what goes on at the Tyrrell workshops. The theme, like the coporate livery, is a unique blend of the modest family business that draws its strength from a quiet loyalty to Ken and Norah Tyrrell. That the reserved Derek Gardner should have brought them sharply back to prominence with the flamboyance of six wheels and viewing portholes (the larger ones, sadly, to be dropped as Tyrrell had only 20 letters of support for the idea) is a bit of a surprise. Today the 32 employees who comprise Team Tyrrell are now completely unruffled about maintaining what had been one of racing’s best kept secrets.
Always described as a woodyard, Tyrrell’s premises were actually a brickyard 130 years ago and used as a depot for keeping the Tyrrell family’s wood-haulage lorries before Tyrrell started preparing racing cars in 1959.1 said that loyalty was part of the Tyrrell method and the man in charge of the Formula One workshops, New Zealander Roger Hills, has been with the team since 1968 and the start of their Formula One efforts. Tyrrell logically points out, “Roger has either been in charge of the car, or chief mechanic for every GP we have ever won.”
The staff are split into three designers; two in the manufacture of glass fibre (always referred to as “Clag” by the team); two “in the office”; a gearbox specialist; two machinists, one works and one production manager (both former mechanics); eight devoted to actually operating, preparing, and transporting the cars (three six-wheelers) with two trucks. Bobby Tyrrell looks after his Tee shirts, rally jackets and other promotions for Dad, and then there are ten more who are broadly charged with the task of actually making or repairing cars, comprising sheet metal workers, fabricators and welders.
We went down to see the team between the Dutch and Italian GPs. This was quite a good moment to choose for they had two cars back from Zandvoort in the kind of race-finishing condition (Scheckter was fourth, Depailler seventh) where they could get on with the job of refurbishing them for Monza. There was also the chance to see a new monocoque being finished off after four weeks hard labour. The 007 four-wheelers featured a monocoque that took almost half this time to complete, and a six-wheeler monocoque would normally represent eight weeks’ labour! That mass of chassis work had been needed after Scheckter’s car was destroyed in Austria; it means that four racing six-wheeler monocoques have been constructed, plus the original Project 34 test-bed six-wheeler. The glassfibre bodywork is all by Tyrrell, save the side mouldings.
As Tyrrell says, “Formula One is all competition, whether you’re trying to beat the other teams onto the aircraft for the seats with most leg-room, or to the hire-car desk, because you know it can take hours if you’re queued up behind them, or to Cosworths to get an engine rebuilt.” The sense of continually working against time is there, even after the GP is over. Tyrrell’s people may well be clearing away during the closing laps, ensuring that the cars can be loaded up quickly and that personnel (normally nine) catch the charter airplane organised by the FICA. The object is to get back to England on Sunday night so that the mechanics can take their two days off on Monday and Tuesday, returning to work on Wednesday. Obviously the time taken for the trucks to get back will vary from circuit to circuit. Sometimes the transporter is back on Monday at 10 am (Zandvoort) and others (Oesterreichring) it can take until Wednesday for that precious cargo to arrive.
When the cars are back, the first task is to complete the team’s form of measurements. This includes details like suspension geometry, wing and ride heights, track setting dampers (bump and rebound) and spring ratings. When complete, this form will contain all the car’s settings on leaving the workshop, and on return. This is very useful data, especially if the car has been kerbed and remedial action may be needed!
More forms cover brake pad wear for Automotive Products Racing Division and oil consumption for Cosworth. You could not find two more disparate approaches. Tyrrell filled in one of the AP forms in ten minutes concentrated hard work that records wear and temperature in detail, while the Cosworth card is master of Duckworthian terseness. At the top there’s the legend, “It is preferable to be UN-informed than ILL-informed,” followed by a simple record to show where the engine has been performing, for how long in miles, laps, and hours. The only measurement the team needs is to drain the oil for a check on consumption: there is a blank side to report any problems, or other comments, but the card’s compact dimensions should keep any verbosity at bay.
Tyrrell comments, “Cosworth don’t ask us for much, so we try and make sure that what they do need is given to them as quickly as possible, so the oil may well be drained at the end of a race. In the workshops here, we drain the fuel tank to work out consumption. That has varied from 5.7 to 7.0 m.p.g. this year, Zolder being the worst and Kyalami, because of the altitude, the best.”
Moving on to the engine routine, Tyrrell confirms that Cosworth do all the work, “We only set the mixture at the circuit. We have varied our system of engine rotation recently, but we are now back to our old practice of using one engine for practice and race, plus a bit of testing, if that follows immediately afterward.
“At a dry meeting the engine will cover between 500 and 600 miles in official practice and the race. We have actually managed 1,500 miles on an engine, but 1,200 miles is a more realistic maximum to quote now.
“The trouble is that we have to keep revving the things to 11,500 to keep up with the bloody Ferraris! This leads to trouble with the valve springs, and that’s the Achilles heel of the Cosworth at present. To get round that trouble we tried using the engine for shorter periods, from second practice to the finish of a race. However, we found that if we were going to get trouble, it occurred very early in the engine’s life, so we’ve gone back to our original system now.
“Normally we would have ten engines in rotation at Cosworth: So far as we are concerned as a team though, we are a bit short of engines at present because I am trying to run down the stock, ready to take in new Cosworths next year. Cosworth are going to make 15 magnesium construction DFVs, that’s the heads and block, a real full-house magnesium engine, available next year. These will save 20 kg, over 40 lb., and cost £2,500 more than the present £11,180 (subject to a further VAT charge levied at 8%, so present engine costs are near £12,000 apiece) So I’d like to keep stock low and funds high!
“At the beginning of the year I will buy anything between two and six engines—with the magnesium Cosworth I have asked for six, but it’ll depend on what they’ll give me—but this year has been exceptional. I sold three 007 cars with an engine apiece and I also sold Teddy Meyer a couple for his Indy project, so we are a bit pushed at present with just seven units. At Zandvoort we had five with us and two at Cosworth, but it is pushing things a bit.
“Of course we should only use two engines a weekend. Reliability seems to come and go in waves. At the moment we have this valve spring problem, but I can tell you a couple of stories that will show you that things are not always what they seem.
“The first occasion was Patrick (Depailler) at Brands Hatch. He trudged in from the infield and told me the Cosworth had seized: the bearings were shot. I said that it was most unusual for a Cosworth, but he had walked in a mile so I didn’t argue. There was nothing wrong with car, or engine, but Patrick was convinced that the engine was a rogue and told me never to put it in his car again. We did, and it finished in fine form at Zandvoort!
“Equally strange, but this time amazingly lucky, was Jody’s adventure at Paul Ricard. His engine actually dropped a valve onto the piston, which punched the head of the valve clean off, and sent the stem neatly back in place. He finished the race in the points: normally the car wouldn’t travel 50 yards before a con-rod came out of the side and destroyed the whole thing.
“From a constructor’s point of view you have to remember that Cosworth operate very fairly. They do make a rule that 1976 specification engines will be rebuilt first, jumping the queue of early engines, but, apart from that it’s first come, first served: thus the rush to get your engine into the queue first at Northampton. When Cosworth take their holiday, usually between the British and German, the drivers will sleep outside the gates in the vans, waiting for the door to re-open. I understand the rules and I know that Cosworth will look after any failure or damage within their walls, and I am liable, even if the unit is brand new, as soon as it gets into the chassis.
“I had a call that one of my engines had picked up a piston on the test bed the other day. Normally I know that Cosworth will return an engine within a fortnight from a rebuild, that costs between £1,500 and £1,700. This time they will investigate to find out why the engine has failed, at no extra charge. From their own point of view, it could be the start of something big; perhaps they have 5,000 faulty piston rings in stock, so they must get to the bottom of it quickly before a disaster,” Tyrrell concludes. Tyrrell also says that there is no way that Bill Brown at Cosworth would allow a special to be built for one team (Jackie Stewart was a rumoured recipient in the past) but, “they do put all kinds of special bits and pieces in without telling anybody: we’re often the guinea pigs!”
Next item in the six-wheeler’s between-race schedule is to look at the transaxle assembly. As with all the current British-based teams, Tyrrell has Hewland gearboxes (comfortably over £1,000 a time), but “we do quite a few modifications of our own. For instance we run our own dry-sump oil system, and we hang suspension components off the bottom. Normally we do 1,400 miles between complete rebuilds, inspecting the pinion in the c.w.p. assembly after each race, as this is the weak link at present. All of the modifications, whether for reliability or the ones we have talked about, are the responsibility of our specialist.”
Roger Hills takes over the car’s story at this point, and we have the opportunity of browsing around the main workshop area, where the monocoques rest in virtually bare metal form as the mechanics go through their comprehensive check lists. Roger says, “as we strip the car down, we do a fair bit of crack testing within the company. Things like the front and rear uprights are obvious items for this treatment, as are wishbones. Lots of items have a predetermined life (like an aeroplane) but are checked before and after every race. Rose joints are a good example: even if they are OK, we throw them away after three races. Wheel bearings need looking at carefully after every race and replacing frequently too.
“We normally work two people to a car, with a third if we’re pushed. If it is a real -flat-out emergency we can call on pretty well everyone to lend a hand, and this year has been a bit like that. Both the first and second six-wheelers , made their races without any spares, and it took us a long time to build a spare car; in fact we used four wheelers, but at Zandvoort we had no spare at all for the first time in five years.
“So far as the drivers are concerned, we normally ask for their comments at the end of each race, but if there is a mad scramble to catch a charter, then they’ll phone up as soon as possible. In the case we’re talking about, after Zandvoort and looking at Monza, there are a couple of special things we’re looking out for,” concludes Roger.
Tyrrell adds, “in Holland we had a problem with the second axle, the ‘second row’ of front wheels, locking up under braking. This was caused by weight transference under braking into a corner on a gradient and we kept on changing the brake balance toward the rear until Patrick’s car was locking up rears, which was why he spun.” The boss and his mechanical expert then started to analyse what they would do for Monza, Tyrrell knowing that there were extra chicanes and both of them thinking along the lines of reducing the Tyrrell’s aerodynamic downforce and taking along the usual larger brake ducting: “The others will use bigger brakes, we just use bigger ducting.”
Perhaps the biggest problem the six-wheelers face is an almost complete lack of time to go testing. However, they were planning to fit some in at Dijon on the way down to Monza. Both drivers live in France, Depailler at Clermont and Scheckter in Monte Carlo.
Trudi Thomas is the lady who is charged with the responsibility of seeing to the team’s travel documentation. When Tyrrell walked back into the office after lunch with the paperwork needed just to move cars, engines and trucks, I was staggered. The pile of buff forms actually comprised 12 carnets, two for trucks, three for chassis, and the remainder for engines and spares. For France they use a separate Aquit a Cartir form that allows the import of spares without paying import duty (subject to the provision of being swiftly “re-exported”).
The object of the two trucks is so that they can go testing with one car, while the other(s) returns to the workshop: thus the separate documentation too, so that any engine can be paired with any chassis, in either truck.
Discussing the subject of travel reveals how important it is to any team to belong to FICA. As Tyrrell says, “If you’re not in the association there’s an extra £100,000 to find straight away and it’s £100,000 that’s not going to make you any more competitive. So it’s vital to get into FICA, and stay there. I think most people know about the FICA, and that the top twenty world championship point scorers are eligible, each constructor to run only two cars apiece. It gets interesting (Tyrrell’s face drops the cunning grin that must have grown into prominence when Gardner first explained the theoretical advantages of six wheels) when you look at March. Now they have an A and a B team, with only the A team—Peterson and Brambilla—eligible to score points that count for FICA membership. After Zandvoort they still only had one point, and if things don’t get better they could well not be in that top twenty. Now that’s fair if they’re thrown out, isn’t it? I would be sorry to see March out; Max has been ,a good member, but it’s the fair way of making sure the organisers really get the 20 best cars in the World, on proven performance.
“So, you can see, FICA membership is the first thing you need, and I can tell you that doesn’t mean Bernie’s club. If you journalists are going to blame use for something FICA has done, blame all of us, not just Bernie, because all of us are involved.”
Tyrrell paused for breath with a chuckle at the chance of telling Motor Sport’s representative how he saw things, merriment that died away as he turned to the logistics of team ,travel. “I usually book nine aircraft seats on the FICA charters at the beginning of the year: any more seats have to be paid for, of course. The transporters do about 20,000 miles apiece (just think about that in straight diesel fuel costs alone) but we use different methods outside Europe, of course. In fact that top twenty point scoring business came out of the carrying capacity of the Tradewind transporter aircraft that we use for South America at the beginning of the season. However, travel isn’t the biggest cost, the largest single item is about £150,000 in labour every year.”
I hope that some of the accompanying documentation will complete a brief picture of the life that goes on in a Formula One team between races, a life far removed from the noisy action of the circuits. Paper and planning those are the key elements in Formula One today, and you need lots of paper embossed with the equivalent of” I promise to pay the bearer the sum of…” in order to make any of it happen at all. In the case of Team Tyrrell, Elf and Goodyear pay the bills in a sport where the elite teams are beginning to sniff the £1 million per annum barrier. No wonder everyone tries so hard!—J.W.