The first of Jackie’s three World Championships came the following year, in the Matra MS80, which remains his favourite of all the cars he ever raced. And the sight of the blue car sliding through the swerves in Mexico is enough to make you curse anew the advent of downforce.
When Matra opted for their own V12 for 1970, it meant a sad parting with Tyrrell, who remained rightly convinced of the DFV’s superiority. Everyone lost: Ken was obliged to run the utilitarian March 701, and if Stewart won but a single Grand Prix, it was one more than Matra.
Clearly, the only way for Tyrrell to go was to design and build their own car, and in 1971 – its first full season – they won both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
Not surprisingly, Francois Cevert features strongly. He was, on the face of it, the racing driver who had everything: immense natural talent, strikingly good looks, charm. Cevert and Stewart became close friends, and it says everything about Jackie that he held nothing back from Francois – indeed helped him in any way he could. Quite clearly, when JYS decided to call it a day, Tyrrell had a driver ready to take over as number one. Cevert, without a doubt, was a potential World Champion.
In fact, Jackie made up his mind to retire at the end of 1973. It was another season of triumph for Tyrrell, the highlight being a dominant 1-2 at the Nurburgring, which was Stewart’s 27th, and last, victory.
Watkins Glen, the final race of the year, looked like rounding off his career to perfection. Already confirmed as World Champion, the American race would be the 100th Grand Prix of his career, but sadly he was not to start it, for Cevert was killed in qualifying.
Scheckter, due to be Francois’s team-mate in 1974, was first on the scene. “I jumped out, and tried to do something…” he says, but then he can speak no more. Devastated by the tragedy, Tyrrell almost gave up motor racing on the spot.
This was an exceptionally perilous time to be a racing driver, and the film does not pretend otherwise. “In my world,” Stewart says, “there was… death.” He retired at 33, and if he were still emphatically the best driver in the world, unquestionably the time was right.
After his retirement, the Tyrrell team never reached such heights again. There were fine drivers over the years – Jody Scheckter, Patrick Depailler, Ronnie Peterson, Didier Pironi, Michele Alboreto and occasional victories continued until 1983, when Alboreto won in Detroit This was Tyrrell’s last win, and also, fittingly, the last for the Cosworth DFV.
Like other British team owners, Ken was fundamentally opposed to the advent of turbocharged engines in Formula One; unlike the rest of them, he remained so. By 1984, only Tyrrell continued with a normally aspirated engine (the DFV, naturally), and ultimately was struck from the World Championship, following accusations of cheating.
“They said we were carrying lead ballast that wasn’t properly secured,” Ken says, denying absolutely that such was the case. Martin Brundle was his number one driver at the time. “It wasn’t a cheating issue – it was a political issue, and we all knew it.”
Had Tyrrell been hounded out because of his opposition to the turbo? “My vote only counted if I was in the championship,” Ken says, a tight smile on his face. “Draw your own conclusions…”
Max Mosley smoothly suggests that it might have been “prudent” for Ken to withdraw his opposition (in other words, to sacrifice his principles), but adds that, had he been the kind of man to do so, he might never have had success in Formula One.
True enough. Jackie Stewart’s parting words sum up the feelings of a great many of us: “This sport would be better by a million miles if there were more Ken Tyrrells in it.”