We clapped and clapped in a spontaneous show of affection. Someone stood up. We all stood up. And clapped some more. Awards ceremonies do not float my boat as a rule, but I will cherish forever my presence at the 1998 Autosport Awards, for that was the glittering occasion at which Ken Tyrrell’s outstanding contribution to motorsport was ‘officially’ recognised.
Ken was moved. Everyone was. But he recovered his stiff upper lip, better than most, and regaled ‘the great and the good’ with an array of one-liners and a few shaggy dog stories.
He finally left the stage and we clapped some more.
That season was supposed to have been the last of his illustrious career. He had sold his eponymous team to British American Racing on the understanding that he and son Bob would have one more year at its helm. It didn’t work out. Tyrrell and BAR were chalk and cheese. Ken wanted gutsy Dutchman Jos Verstappen hard-charging for him back in the pack; BAR wanted Ricardo Rosset’s money. Ken and Bob resigned their posts before the first race. And at one point during the season, the hapless Rosset discovered an unflattering anagram of his surname affixed to the side of his car.
What Tyrrell `nuts and bolts’ BAR didn’t want, i.e. just about all of it, was sold at the end of the season to Paul Stoddart, now the owner of Minardi.
Ken had agreed to meet me for an interview at the factory while it was in the process of being asset-stripped.
This building, which bears an unfortunate resemblance to a Kwikfit garage, is a far cry from the fortresses of smoked glass and stainless steel from where the 500-strong teams of today launch their global campaigns. But then this no-nonsense row of up-and-over doors was a big improvement on the shed, a large one, I grant you, but a shed nevertheless, from where, in 1970, sprang the first car to carry the nomenclature, Tyrrell.
This place had been his life for 40 years and yet Ken was clearly on edge. Strictly speaking, the site belonged to BAR for a few more days. He’d asked for permission to be there, and refused to open doors lest they give away some secret or other. Ken Tyrrell was as straight as a ruler. One of the old school. He chided me over my lack of suit, shave and haircut, but was soon entertaining me with anecdotes of Cevert, Depailler, Alesi, Danny Blanchflower and Denis Compton he loved football and cricket almost as much as motor racing.<.p>
The article I subsequently wrote for sister magazine F1 Racing was entitled the end. (sic). It was also meant to be a new start, of course. Ken talked about buying a
Cooper 500, the car which had sparked his interest; he talked too about what his beloved Norah would have to say about such a hare-brained scheme. And he laughed like a drain.
I can still hear him