The Tyrrell team reminds me of the plot from a Spaghetti western. The hero’s on top, falls from grace, goes through a hard time, regains his self respect, and comes back into favour back on top. At the moment, the Tyrrell team has been through phases one to four, but do they have what it takes to reach that final stage — Top Team?
Much has been happening at that former Surrey timber yard in the last couple of years, but it has only become apparent since the start of the season — Clint Eastwood has crawled away from the near-lynching and has holed up to recuperate and plan his revenge.
The ingredients are right: driver, chassis, tyres, organisation and for next year, the Honda V10 engine. Unless there is an almighty mishap, the outlook looks promising for next year. But how did this all come about, was it by luck or was it by judgement?
The ‘star’ driver who arrived mid-way through last season has turned out to be that ‘little bit special’. Whether the team can retain his services for 1991 is still open to question although “We’ve got a contract with Jean for next year and we expect that to continue” was the official line being taken when it was the Alesi ‘open season’ at the end of July.
While there is no question that his skill has helped push the 019 further up the grid than the team had a right to expect, his is but one factor in the equation.
The change to Pirelli tyres has obviously helped the team. For years now, the Italian manufacturer has rather taken a mauling in Grand Prix racing at the hands of Goodyear. The general feeling was that the move to Pirelli would prove to be a costly mistake for the team from a competitive point of view even if it was financially beneficial. That, though, has not proved to be the case. Not being a front running team, the Tyrrell cars had had to use the Goodyears developed to suit the major league players, but that had not always suited the Tyrrell chassis. Tyrrell are now a much bigger fish in Pirelli’s smaller pond. The team’s input into the tyre development is a major factor and while the manufacturer is obviously benefitting, so too are Tyrrell.
“Pirellis have been very important,” states Ken Tyrrell. “We have been to a number of races this year where it has been quite clear that we’ve had a tyre which is better than the opposition. I was initially reluctant to make the decision to go with them because of their performance in race lap times last year, but Harvey Postlethwaite (the Engineering Director) and aerodynamicist Jean-Claude Migeot (both ex-Ferrari), having been to visit them and seeing the work they were carrying out, left me in no doubt that it was the way we should go. We made a technical decision to go with Pirelli.”
Although incongruous, chassis and organisation in Tyrrell’s case are closely linked and revolve around the recruitment of one man — Harvey Postlethwaite.
Along with his own engineering knowhow, he brought with him a sense of organisation which had been lacking for quite some considerable time. “It’s a much easier environment in which to work than that at Ferrari because everyone’s role is very clearly defined. We can therefore operate very well and efficiently although we’re still fairly compact, but as a group we do operate well. That situation doesn’t and can’t appertain at Ferrari.
“When I joined Ken’s team,” recounts Harvey, the master of understatement, “things were not as they are now. There had been a period of poor results and poor results cause lack of money and lack of money means lack of investment in human and other resources. Things had taken rather a bad turn, but it seemed that Ken was very keen to turn the thing around and try and get it back up to where it had been a number of years ago. I thought that if you’re going to invest your time and effort, it’s better to invest when the market is down rather than when it is up. In other words, you’re better off trying to take on something like that when everyone knows that something’s got to be done rather than go for some of the other options available at that time.”
The turnaround in the team’s fortunes, though, goes a little bit further back than that, according to Ken Tyrrell.
“The breath of fresh air for us was the decision by FISA to switch to normally aspirated engines. We never managed to get a competitive engine in the turbocharged era.” His opposition to the turbocharged engine was well known, the extra finance needed to run them competitively further increasing the gap between the ‘haves and the have-nots’.
Once Postlethwaite had joined the team, in the summer of 1988, he found there was a lot to be done. “The first thing that had to be done was to turn the thing around technically for that side of the business had become fossilised and needed a big input of new ideas.” (The 017 was probably the worst car ever to bear the Tyrrell name). “That was the object of the exercise in 1988 for the ’89 car. Then at the end of ’89 we were successful in getting the deal together for the Honda engine for 1991. So ’89 was really a building year and this year we have been able to be a little more generous with the car. We not only tried to bring the technical side up, but to get the team working properly and smartened up. I think that it has been fairly apparent that since the beginning of the year the race operation has been completely revitalised and revamped.”
Harvey’s role has thus been pivotal in the new-look Tyrrell. At the same time as he joined, Tyrrell was in the process of building a new factory. It was probably just as well that the planners had taken a lengthy time in giving their permission to the team’s application for a major extension to its premises on the Green Belt, the area around London where strict building regulations are enforced, for by the time consent had finally been given, Postlethwaite had joined the team. Since one third of the factory was to be allocated to composites, the area in which he had enormous experience, Ken Tyrrell was able to call upon Harvey’s help when laying the factory out. There was also the added bonus that by coming into it late, the team probably has the most advanced facility in Formula One for making components in carbonfibre.
Many of the specialists needed were recruited from the aerospace industry bringing the composites department up to full strength with a staff of 12. Expansion such as this has seen the organisation grow from 60 to 90 people in this year alone.
“We are much better technically now than we’ve ever been,” acknowledges Ken. “Harvey Postlethwaite and the team he has brought in have made all the difference to the performance of the car and the quality of our product, as we can readily see by the performance we’ve attained this year from our two drivers.”
Although the 019 has been Tyrrell’s best car for years, the irony of the situation is that the team is unable to improve it due to the work being carried out on next year’s Honda-powered 020. Did Harvey find this frustrating?
“You’ve hit the nail on the head! It is very galling because there are several things we can do to 019 which I think would make it go better, but I don’t have the manpower resources to do it. We must bear in mind, though, that next year for us is a crucial year and so must not sacrifice long term objectives for short term advantage. All our technical effort, effectively, is going into next year’s car.”
Realising that they were receiving adverse publicity for their success with only one team, Honda was keen to expand its engine supply. Its exclusive deal with McLaren International, however, precluded that. Dennis, with the power of veto, decided that if he wanted to extend his partnership with the Japanese after the ‘sell by’ date, had to conform to the Japanese wishes and so cast his eye around for a reasonable recipient.
Tyrrell, in fact, was a fairly logical choice: it lacked a competitive engine; it was in the process of building a decent design team around Harvey Postlethwaite and Jean-Claude Migeot; it was quite apparently underfinanced; and its marketing department was pretty well nonexistent. All these were noted by Dennis who not only saw the opportunity of doing his Japanese partners a favour, but also the opportunity of increasing his group’s business interests.
Unknown to many, McLaren International is but just one company in the TAG McLaren Group of companies. Another vital, but underplayed, company is TAG McLaren Marketing Services, which acquires and services the sponsorship for the racing team. As McLaren International was effectively at full sponsorship, Dennis could see a good opportunity of keeping the marketing staff at full employment.
“The marketing alliance started in late ’89,” according to Bob Tyrrell, Managing Director of the Tyrrell Racing Organisation and son of the founder, and now Chairman, Ken. “After opening talks with Ron Dennis about the supply of Honda engines for 1991, the ensuing discussions went deeper. We learnt that the business acquisitions side of TAG Marketing Services was not as active as it might be and so were in a position to handle our sponsorship activities on our behalf. We felt that was quite a good opportunity because it was very well set-up and had built up a lot of contacts in its search for sponsorship for McLaren International. Initially it may have seemed a strange marriage, but we came to the conclusion that they could handle the sponsorship activities for two teams quite easily with their own experienced staff.” It was obviously felt that a conflict of interests would not arise.
The TAG team started working on Tyrrell’s behalf in November, 1989, but the problem was that there was a credibility gap with regard to the team’s performance. The result was that the sponsorship only dribbled in. In Epson, PIA and Nippon Shinpan, who all came in on the coat-tails of Nakajima, they have three Japanese companies, two of which only sell to a domestic market, but are using Formula One sponsorship as a means of creating an international image for themselves, while Coutaulds and Essilor, are relatively low key.
“We had several offers from companies wanting to do part sponsorship for groups of races,” confirms Bob Tyrrell, “but we really felt that it was important to maintain the right image rather than just putting on a show for sponsors for individual races. We also didn’t want to offer cheap deals for last minute sponsorship because it is very difficult to get back to having the proper budget, so our philosophy, and that of TAG McLaren Marketing Services, is not to search for sponsorship deals which we don’t think have future potential, but to concentrate on getting a full sponsorship package for next year.”
As if to emphasise this alliance, which many see as making Tyrrell the McLaren ‘B’ team, Stuart Wingham left TAG McLaren Marketing Services after seven years with the company and joined the Ockham outfit to head their own smaller marketing department. This was another factor which helped reinforce the theory that Ron Dennis had bought into the Tyrrell team, kicked Ken Tyrrell upstairs, had his son installed as a figurehead, while his own man ran the show behind the scenes.
Whatever the true scenario, there is no doubt that next year is looked forward to with enormous relish now that they have got their hands on a decent engine.
The actual deal to run Honda engines took no time at all iron out. “A meeting was arranged with Mr Honda and his fellow directors in Tokyo after the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix. After a four to six hour meeting, the whole thing was settled. We shook hands on the deal and it was announced the next day by Mr Honda at the Tokyo Motor Show. That was before we had even put anything into writing!” What was one of the deciding factors in Honda’s decision of supplying Tyrrell with their engines was the fact that the team was prepared to carry out a great deal of research and development.
020 is already effectively designed and the team is well on the way to building it, as witnessed on a visit to the team at the end of July. This is unlike Tyrrell of yore who got into the habit of producing its new model halfway through the year.
“We have to be ready,” asserts Postlethwaite. “There is no going back. I mean, we can’t turn up for the first race next season with this year’s car. For that reason, the car has to be running well before Christmas to get the development mileage and ensure the installation is correct. At the moment we have some mock-up engines, various jigs and fixtures for the engine, but we haven’t got any Honda engines or personnel working with us yet.
The responsibility for the engine will be totally Honda’s and a team of its technicians will go with the team to every Grand Prix and test session. Communications with Honda on a day-to-day basis will be with Mr Goto, chief of the Formula One division at their UK base at Langley, and will include many of the administrative and PR functions. For more technical matters, communications will be direct with Japan. The engines themselves will return to there for re-building.
The knowledge that the team will be capable of winning Grands Prix and possibly the World Championship brings with it a certain amount of responsibility. “It has been all too easy for us to throw our hands up in the air and say `Ah yes, but we’re 80 horsepower down — aren’t we doing well for being 80 horsepower down?’ It won’t be like that next year. We are not going to be 80 horsepower down, we’re going to have an engine capable of winning and we’ve got to perform up to that standard.”
“Our aim next year is to win the World Championship,” Harvey confirms, “because that is what we are here for. I have to say that I am amazed race after race to see how well Honda can make its engine go. When I look at the straightline speeds and the speeds off the corners that the McLaren is doing and compare them with our own, then I am stupified by how much power they can clearly continue to bring out of the engine. Even if they did nothing to it between now and the end of the year, I think they will be giving us an extremely competitive unit. Hopefully, though, they’ll still be more to come. If we can keep our chassis technology as fresh as we have been able to for the last couple of years, then I think that with that engine, we should be able to put something together which is very competitive.
“Whether we will be able to beat the Honda V12, I don’t know. History may yet show that the V10 is a better configuration than a V12. Compared with the other engines that are around, I feel that to have that engine in a reliable state to put in our chassis next year is going to put us in a very good shape.” Whichever way you look at it, the next two years will make or break Tyrrell. If they do not score the results expected of them, it will be a setback from which they may never recover. If that performance is realised, however, it should put the team right back at the very top from which they descended so long ago. WPK