Ken Tyrrell: Nigel Roebuck's Legends

Ken Tyrrell founded his team in 1960 and famously found success with Jackie Stewart. But his achievements are curiously undocumented, writes Nigel Roebuck

Ken Tyrrell, 1971

Tyrrell stands in front of his Elf Team Tyrrell 002 Ford Cosworth V8 in 1971

Grand Prix Photo/Getty Images

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

“In a time when motor racing was conducted with integrity and passion, one unique character graced the stage of Formula One. His name was Ken Tyrrell.”

The narrator’s opening words set the tone of a fine new film about a man whose achievements, it seems to me, have always been curiously under-documented. It has been made by Mark Stewart Productions, and no company could be better placed for such a project than one owned by the younger son of Jackie, most celebrated of all Ken’s drivers.

I have watched Tyrrell – Surviving Formula One several times now, in rapture. They tell me it will be shown on ITV2 in the near future, and will also shortly be available on videotape. It is not to be missed. Despite entreaties from many of us, Ken Tyrrell has always refused to countenance an autobiography – “No, no, I can’t be bothered with all that…” and the film gives some considerable impression of what we have missed. Ken and his wife Norah contribute much to it, and there are reminiscences and observations from such as JYS, Jody Scheckter, Martin Brundle and Walter Hayes.

Tyrrell begins by relating how he failed at everything in his youth, including an attempt to join the RAE “But then I got lucky,” he says, “because the war broke out and then the RAF would take anyone…”

After the war, with his ‘demob’ suit and his £25, he went into the timber business with his brother. Passionate about football, he and some pals took a trip to Silverstone, and that first sight of motor racing was enough to ignite a lifetime’s obsession. When it comes to a pure love for the sport, Ken belongs with Frank Williams and Mario Andretti.

He raced with some success himself, but his great strength lay in team management, and in 1960 the Tyrrell Racing Organisation was founded. What really changed his life, though, was a call from the track manager at Goodwood one day in 1963. A young Scot was testing there, and it was worth taking a look at him.

Thus Ken Tyrrell met Jackie Stewart, and a test in one of the team’s Formula Three Coopers was organised. Bruce McLaren, then leading Cooper’s Grand Prix team, was on hand to set a ‘target’ time in the car, but Stewart beat it almost immediately. Out went Bruce again quicker still; Jackie responded. At the end of the day the novice was the quicker of the two.

1974 British GP, Ken Tyrrell

Tyrrell sprays champagne on the podium after Jody Scheckter’s 1974 British GP win for the team

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

“John Cooper said to me, ‘That boy’s good – get him signed up, Tyrrell remembers. “So we did…”

In Ken’s Coopers, JY Stewart dominated F3 in 1964, most significantly winning at Monaco, in those days closely watched by GP team owners. Remarkably, there is footage of this event, shot on a home-movie camera by Jackie’s wife, Helen.

The following season Jackie was Graham Hill’s team-mate at BRM, and by the end of it had won his first Grand Prix. He stayed with the team for three, increasingly frustrating, years, and by the end of 1967 was on the verge of joining Ferrari.

Stewart had, however, continued to drive in Formula Two for Tyrrell, which had begun an association with Matra. “Ken said, ‘Don’t go to Ferrari – drive for me instead’. I said, ‘Ken, you don’t have a Formula One team’. He said, ‘No but what if we did?'”

Thus the legend got rolling. What Tyrrell had in mind was a Matra chassis with a Ford DFV engine, and obviously it was in Ford’s interests that Stewart should race with, rather than against, them. When Ken asked Walter Hayes to guarantee Jackie’s salary – £20,000 – he did so without hesitation.

What is more, Tyrrell points out, the deal with Stewart was based on a handshake. “Nowadays, it would probably cost you £20,000 in lawyers’ fees just to have the contract drawn up.” It speaks volumes for Jackie’s faith in Ken that he was prepared to throw up the chance of Ferrari, but undoubtedly part of the attraction lay in the DFV, which had been streets better than anything else in its maiden season, 1967. “Can you imagine,” he says, “going out and buying a Formula One engine for £7,500? Nowadays, a team’s engine budget can be £12,000,000.”

Some wonderful footage is on offer, not least of the Nurburgring in 1968. So heavy was the rain, so thick the mist, that Jackie truly believed the conditions too bad for racing, and his employer – for the first and last time – was obliged to make a driver get into the car. Stewart then won the German Grand Prix. By four minutes.

From the archive

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.

Ken Tyrrell, Monaco 1982

Tyrrell deep in discussion with Colin Chapman and Bernie Ecclestone at Monaco in 1982

Hoch Zwei/Corbis via Getty Images

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.”