Lunch with... Tyler Alexander

Now retired, the American is one of McLaren’s unsung heroes – a key cog during the company’s spectacular evolution
Writer Simon Taylor | Photographer Charles Cest

Career in brief
Born: 2/9/1940, Weymouth, Mass, USA
1961: SCCA mechanic.
1963: John Mecom.
1964: Bruce McLaren Motor Racing as engineer, then team manager in Tasman Series, sports cars, Formula 1, CanAm, Indycar.
1982: Mayer Motor Racing.
1985: Beatrice F1
1987: Indycar with Newman-Haas
1990-2009: McLaren Special Projects Manager

Wonder, if you will, the sheer speed of change in Formula 1. Not just the relentless progress of technology, but the galloping growth in global reach, in circuit facilities, in media attention and in the expectations and earning power of the protagonists. It’s been rapid enough, goodness knows, on a year-by-year and decade-by-decade basis. So what about half a century? If a motor racing Rip van Winkle had dozed off in his chair in a 1963 paddock and woken in the same place in 2013, he would simply not be able to recognise where he was. He would not comprehend what had happened at all.

So here’s a man who is in the almost unique position of having witnessed every step of that growth, and indeed has been a part of it himself. He was in at the very birth of one of the greatest Formula 1 teams of all time, and he was still there when it was winning its 162nd Grand Prix and its 19th World title. Tyler Alexander is no Rip van Winkle: in fact he probably got rather less sleep over that half-century than most. He has been mechanic, engineer, team manager, trusted lieutenant and general factotum, not just in F1 but also in Indycar and in Can-Am. Now he has retired from his final role as Special Projects Manager at McLaren. When he joined, it was three men in a smelly shed; today it employs thousands in its gleaming, futuristic Technology Centre. And now, finally, Tyler can pause and look back. He’s produced a wonderful book of his superb photography, McLaren on the Inside, which is reviewed on page 22. Meanwhile, I’ve persuaded him to let me take him to lunch.

Tyler is an American from Hingham, 15 miles down the Atlantic Coast from Boston. But the path he took means he has lived most of his adult life a stone’s throw from racing places like Surbiton, Colnbrook and Woking, and he still lives in a townhouse in Weybridge. A very fit 73, now absorbed by his passions of snorkelling and underwater photography, he chooses a charming Thames-side pub, The Minnow, for an abstemious lunch of fishcakes and rocket salad and a glass of house white.

After high school Tyler studied aircraft engineering at the Wentworth Institute in Boston. “They taught you how to do a lot of the basic things well – machine, drill, weld, use a lathe, make castings. A friend named John Field had a 500cc Cooper-Norton, and I helped him at the races. The F3 500s ran in SCCA events with the Formula Juniors, and John won his class in 15 out of 17 rounds, so he took the category title. Running in the Juniors were names that went on to be important: Timmy Mayer, Peter Revson, Jim Hall, Hap Sharp. Roger Penske, too. Timmy, who was from an influential Pennsylvania family, won the Junior championship in his Cooper, and with that came an invitation to the Nassau Speed Weeks. But then he was drafted into the US Army, so his older brother Teddy, who was managing him, lent the car to Penske. Teddy said to John and me, ‘Go down to Nassau, pick up the car from the docks and look after it, and I’ll pay your expenses.’ With BMC power Roger couldn’t stay with the Lotus-Ford 20s of Pete Lovely and Pat Piggott, but he came third.

“The following year, 1962, Timmy wangled enough leave from the army to get to most of the SCCA rounds, and he won the FJ title again. To run Timmy and Peter, Teddy had set up a little team called RevEm Racing, and I found myself helping out. I didn’t get paid, but I really found this stuff interesting, and I guess they thought I knew a lot more about it all than I actually did. Then in 1963, with Timmy’s draft finished, he and Teddy set off for Europe.” After shining in a Goodwood test, Timmy was signed by Ken Tyrrell as a regular in the Cooper FJ team, also racing in the works Mini Coopers and his own Cooper Monaco sports car.

“With the Mayers gone I needed something to do, so I talked Roger Penske into letting me help his man Roy Gane. Roy had turned the F1 Cooper crashed by Walt Hansgen in the US GP into the sports-bodied Zerex Special. Roger won a lot of races with the Zerex, then sold it to Texas oil man John Mecom but carried on racing it for him. So I followed the car down to Texas and worked for Mecom. He also had a Ferrari GTO and a lot of other stuff. And Mecom entered the Zerex for Roger to drive in the big sports car race at Brands Hatch on August Monday, the Guards Trophy. We were also going to pick up his new Lola GT for Augie Pabst to drive.

“So I found myself in England for the first time. Trying to get from the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane to Lola’s place in Bromley – well, that would be an article in itself. The Zerex originally raced with the seat central, but it was now offset with a tiny passenger seat squeezed in between the driver and the side fuel tank. We had a few scrutineering problems at Brands, and it took a couple of late-nighters to fix everything they didn’t like. And of course Roger led the race from start to finish. Timmy was there with his Cooper Monaco, finished third behind Roy Salvadori’s Monaco, and during the weekend Teddy took me aside and asked if I’d be interested in building a car for Timmy to do the Tasman Series. I said, ‘What the hell is the Tasman Series?’”

Bruce McLaren, Cooper’s team leader in Formula 1 and a national hero in New Zealand, wanted to run in the series in January and February, but Charles Cooper vetoed a works effort, saying their hands would be full getting the next season’s F1 cars ready. So Bruce decided to prepare two 2.5-litre Coopers himself, and to enter them he took the plunge and set up Bruce McLaren Motor Racing Ltd, with three directors: himself, his wife Patty and his New Zealand journalist friend Eoin Young. He did a deal with Teddy Mayer for Timmy, who would be Bruce’s number two in the Cooper F1 team for 1964, to race the other car.

“I must have said ‘Yes’ to Teddy’s offer, because after Brands we packed up the Zerex and the Lola, and then Roy Gane and the other Mecom guys and I went in a taxi to Heathrow. They all got out of the taxi, and I stayed sitting in the back. That was when I told them I was staying, and it didn’t go down too well. Then I took the taxi back to a house Teddy had rented at Thames Ditton, on Tagg’s Island by the AC factory. They used to roll the half-built Cobras outside during the day, and roll them back in again at night. I stayed there with Teddy, and every day I went to the Cooper factory at Surbiton. Behind the F1 workshop Wally Wilmott, Bruce’s mechanic, was building up Bruce’s Tasman car, and I was building up Timmy’s. It didn’t take the Cooper guys long to figure out that I could weld and machine things, so soon I wasn’t just the ugly American, and we got on fine.

“I first met Bruce McLaren properly when he came over to Teddy’s for Sunday lunch. Straight away, somehow, we clicked. I knew that what he’d done since leaving New Zealand five years before was pretty impressive: he’d won the US GP in his first F1 season, and finished runner-up in the World Championship in his second. But more than that, I thought, this chap really knows a bit about motor racing, so I’d better tag along and find out some more.

“We flew out to do the 1964 Tasman Series, four races in New Zealand and four in Australia, and it went really well, with Bruce winning the Tasman Cup and Timmy strong everywhere with seconds and thirds. Then in practice for the last race, at Longford, Tasmania, Timmy was killed.

“Looking back at it today, there was no way we should have raced on that track. But that’s what you did in those days. It was on the roads around the town, over a railway crossing, past a pub with people sitting drinking beer as the cars went past their toes. After a very fast downhill right-hander there was a hump where a stream ran under the road, and the cars took off. Timmy landed crooked, and the car got away from him and hit a tree. It killed him straight away.

“After that we had stuff to do. It was something I was starting to learn: in racing you work out what you have to do, that’s your task and you get on with it. I don’t want this to be misconstrued as callous or uncaring. Teddy organised a plane to get us back to Sydney and then the four of us – Teddy, Timmy’s wife Garrill and me, plus Timmy in a box – flew on to Honolulu, San Francisco and then New York. Teddy’s uncle Bill Scranton, who was Governor of Pennsylvania, sent his plane to meet us and fly us to Scranton, Pa. The next day there was a big meeting at the Mayer family home. Over lunch all the relatives were asking me pointed questions. What the hell was Timmy doing? Where is this Tasman place? I did my best to explain what Timmy did: he enjoyed it, he was really quite good at it, but an unfortunate incident had caused his death.

“After that I went with Teddy and Garrill up to Vermont, because Garrill had promised to teach me to ski. While we were there Teddy had a phone call from England. It was Bruce: ‘There’s a big sports car race at Oulton Park on Saturday week. Do you think we should try to buy the Zerex Special?’ Teddy said, ‘Tyler’s sitting here, I’ll ask him what he thinks.’ Phone calls went back and forth, Teddy did a deal with Mecom, and I was sent with station wagon and trailer to collect the Zerex. It was way down in Pensacola, Florida, where Penske was having his last race with it for Mecom. Sunday night Mecom’s guys helped me load it up and I set off for Kennedy Airport, 1200 miles north. I kept going on Coca-Cola and caffeine pills, and when those ran out I drove with my head out the window, like a damn dog. Teddy had organised some guys to load it straight onto a plane, I got some sleep in an airport hotel, and I got the morning flight to Heathrow. Eoin picked me up, we drove over to Tim Parnell’s workshop in Hounslow where we’d rented a bit of space, and the Zerex was already there. Wally Wilmott and Bruce Harré, another New Zealander, a really good guy, were working on it. And we got it to the race at Oulton Park three days later.”

Bruce retired mid-race with falling oil pressure. They changed the four-pot Climax, and a week later at the Aintree 200 meeting he scored a dominating win, beating Jim Clark’s Lotus 30. At the Silverstone International two weeks after that it was the same story. And the morning after Silverstone the little team gathered around the Zerex, and started to cut up the chassis. “We were now working in a corner of a filthy pre-fab shed just by the Kingston Bypass, where a road-works contractor stored his earth-moving equipment. It had a dirt floor, and if you went to the loo you needed a tetanus shot when you came out. Howden Ganley had joined us now, too, to raise the Kiwi quotient still further.”

By Wednesday Bruce had made a wire model of a new, stronger centre section and left it with Wally and Tyler to build while he went off to his Cooper drive at the Monaco Grand Prix. The new chassis was not only stiffer: it was able to accommodate an Oldsmobile alloy-block V8, bought from Mecom as part of the deal. Unbelievably, and after more all-nighters, the new car was finished 18 days later. Wearing eight stack exhausts because there was no time to make proper manifolds, it was hastily shaken down at Goodwood and then rushed to Heathrow and off to Canada. Ten days later in the Player’s 200 at Mosport Bruce beat the Chaparrals of Roger Penske and Jim Hall to take a fairy-tale victory.

“You could say this reworked, re-chassised Cooper-Oldsmobile was actually the first McLaren. But Bruce still led the Cooper team in F1, so we had to be a bit careful about that. We didn’t want to upset old Charlie Cooper.

“Teddy came up to watch at Mosport. He was trying to work out what to do next. As a 28-year-old lawyer from a wealthy family whose brother had been killed racing cars, he certainly hadn’t committed himself to McLaren at that point. But then he made up his mind, and he came over for good. He was an excellent businessman, and you wonder how much Bruce McLaren Motor Racing would have grown in the early days without him. They made an excellent duo: Teddy would piss them off, then Bruce would charm them, and we’d get what we wanted.”

In August Bruce won the Guards Trophy at Brands Hatch in the Cooper-Olds, just as Penske had done the year before when it was the Zerex-Climax. Then he put it on pole for the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, and led until the clutch failed. And in new premises in Feltham, which Tyler remembers as “not particularly good, but bigger”, the first real McLaren was taking shape, ready to take its bow in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport. Painted in the New Zealand racing colours of black with a silver stripe, it made a dramatic debut, leading until a broken throttle linkage forced a pitstop. Then Bruce fought back to finish third, breaking the lap record. This was the ali-bodied M1 prototype: the M1A production cars had fibreglass panels.

From then on the McLaren story has been chronicled many times, and Tyler was with it every lap of the way, through the Robin Herd-designed Mallite M2 and spaceframe M3 single-seaters via the M7 F1 cars to the all-conquering Can-Am M8s. “I lived with Bruce and Patty for a long time, first in the flat in Surbiton, and then when they moved to a bigger house I had a bedroom there, and I’d ride to work with Bruce each day. It got to the point where he’d start telling me about a part he wanted on one of the cars, and before he’d finished his sentence I’d already started making it. He was always easy to get along with, and you didn’t work for him, you worked with him. If he had an ego, he never showed it. Yet he was the leader, no question, and we trusted him totally. If he had come into the workshop one morning and said, ‘OK, everybody line up in single file, today we’re all going to march across the Sahara Desert,’ we wouldn’t have asked why or what for, we’d just have followed him.

“Eventually Wally, Eoin and I rented rooms in a house in Surbiton we called The Castle, which cost us £5 a week. Just round the corner in Ditton Road was the house rented by Chris Amon, Peter Revson, Mike Hailwood and another New Zealand racer, Bruce Abernethy. We called them the Ditton Road Flyers. Abernethy bought half a dozen old Jaguars with Chris’ money that they were going to send to New Zealand and make a big profit. They were all parked on the lawn, some of them didn’t even run. The parties there were legendary. Hailwood had all these massive trophies from his motorcycle victories on the mantelpiece, and one guy who’d had too much to drink didn’t want to make a mess on the carpet, so he took one of Mike’s trophies off the shelf, threw up in it, and then put it back.”

For the 1970 Indianapolis 500, Denny Hulme and Chris Amon were to drive the new Offy- powered McLaren M15As, but in practice Denny had a fiery accident that badly burned his hands, while Chris decided Indy was not for him and flew back to England. “On high-speed road circuits Chris was hugely brave, but psychologically he couldn’t deal with Indy. We said we’d have to paint some trees on the wall, to make it look more like Spa.” Peter Revson and Carl Williams ran the M15As in the race.

The following Tuesday Bruce was back at Goodwood for final testing in the latest M8D Can-Am car before it was shipped to America for the series. At 180mph on the Lavant Straight the rear bodywork came adrift, and the car went out of control and hit a marshal’s post. Bruce was killed instantly.

“That Tuesday morning I was still at Indy, packing things up for the USAC race at Milwaukee the next weekend. I was having breakfast with Dan Gurney at the Howard Johnson’s and they said there was a phone call for me. I went to the desk, and it was Teddy, telling me that Bruce had died. I went back to my table and sat down, and I told Dan. I don’t remember the words I used, but the look on Dan’s face spelt out more about Bruce’s loss than I could have said. I went to the Indy garages and I told the guys, and I said they should carry on. Then I got a plane back to London and went straight to the factory. Everyone was in shock: what are we going to do now? The man who was going to lead us in single-file across the Sahara Desert is gone.

“I said, ‘Look, something very nasty has happened here. But it has happened. So what we need to do is get on with the things we have to do. That’s what Bruce taught us, and now it’s up to us.’ Then Teddy got everybody together – we were up to about 50 staff by then – and said, ‘We have a Can-Am race the weekend after next. Best get on with it.’ Then he went upstairs and got straight on the phone to Mr Gurney in California.”

A few days later Tyler was in Canada at Mosport, organising the two-car McLaren team for the first round of the Can-Am Series, Gurney in one car and Hulme, his burned hands still heavily bandaged, in the other. On the Saturday afternoon the death of American driver Dick Brown delayed qualifying for hours.

“All that time Dan had [mechanic] Vince Higgins and me changing every damn thing on his car: roll bars, springs, ride height, so I had no idea what we ended up with. With only 10 minutes of qualifying left I said to Dan, ‘Look, we need to do a time.’ So he went out, did a couple of laps, and came in again. Pole. And he won the race. Denny still wasn’t fit – not that he ever did much to get fit, Denny wasn’t a guy to go to the gym – but he finished third. After the race he just sat in the car, unable to unwrap his bandaged hands from the steering wheel.

“What those two guys did, so soon after Bruce had gone, brought Bruce McLaren Motor Racing back to life. And the next weekend we were at Zandvoort with the F1 cars for the Dutch Grand Prix.

“After Zandvoort practice I was having dinner in one of those hotels in the sand dunes with Dan, his wife Evi and Teddy. It was the first time Dan had raced in Europe since the Eagle programme had ended, and he started to reminisce about all the drivers he’d raced with since he first came over in 1958. Then he went through how many of them were dead. It was a long list. I sat across the table listening to this and I thought, ‘He wants to stop’. Then on the Sunday Piers Courage was killed. A month later, after doing the Watkins Glen Can-Am and the Grands Prix at Clermont-Ferrand and Brands for us, Dan did stop.”

For 1971 Peter Revson joined McLaren, finishing second in the Indy 500 and winning five Can-Am rounds to clinch McLaren’s fifth successive Can-Am title. “Peter was a real racer. He’d have a go in anything. You wonder who would have turned out better out of him and Timmy. A lot of people thought he was a bit aloof, but he and I got along very well. Then in 1972 Penske arrived in Can-Am with the turbocharged Porsche 917/10, and at the end of that year we got out of Can-Am to concentrate on USAC. We weren’t afraid of taking on the Porsche: Gary Knutson built one of our big V8s with twin turbos and it had 1200 horsepower and 900lb ft of torque. Peter tested it at Road Atlanta and it would spin its wheels in any gear at any speed. But it needed a new drivetrain and a new aero package, and we didn’t have the finance to do it. Meanwhile Goodyear was keen for us to do the full USAC programme, and I ended up running that.

“But I still commuted back to a lot of the F1 races. For 1974 Emerson Fittipaldi came in alongside Denny in a big deal involving Marlboro and Texaco. I fought like hell to keep Peter at McLaren, and Teddy proposed that he should drive the Yardley car. That would effectively have made him a number three, and he didn’t fancy that, so he went to Shadow, and Mike Hailwood took the Yardley drive. Then in March, when Peter was testing the Shadow at Kyalami, a titanium front upright broke on that high-speed downhill corner round the back. He went through the Armco. Denny and a couple of others who were on track stopped, but by the time they got to him he was dead.

“Johnny Rutherford won the Indy 500 for us in 1974 and 1976. He had balls as big as a grey elephant, and he was so quick on ovals, although the road courses were more difficult for him. There were lots of characters among the other drivers: AJ Foyt, for one.

“Foyt was a bully, and you just had to stand up to him. When we put the turbo DFX into what was effectively the M23 F1 car to make the M24 it was quick, and Foyt didn’t like it. He came up to me in the pitlane, grabbed me by the collar and said, ‘Why don’t you f***ing Limeys go back to England!’ I just looked at him and said in my best New England drawl, ‘I’m from Bo-o-oston.’ Then there was the time we all got together for a meeting about the future of CART, and AJ opens his briefcase, gets out his .38 and puts it on the table. Say what you like, though, a helluva race driver.”

In 1979 Tyler was summoned back to England to concentrate on McLaren’s F1 efforts, which had been without a win for three seasons. So he was on hand when Alain Prost arrived. “We were doing an F1 test at Ricard, and Teddy had lined up this little French F3 driver to do a few laps. Almost at once he was equalling, and beating, John Watson’s times. When he came back into the pits Teddy bounded over with his clipboard. Prost thought he was going to show him his lap times, but Teddy had a contract and a pen, and was already saying, ‘Sign here!’”

In 1980 Ron Dennis bought into McLaren and, after 18 uneasy months with Ron and Teddy as joint managing directors, Teddy decided to sell his shares and move on. Tyler, who also had some shares, went too. “We took a unit in Woking Business Park and set up Mayer Motor Racing to do Indycar. Robin Herd was one of our directors, he put in two cars, and I went back to Detroit, rented a building just across from Eight Mile Road where McLaren Engines was, bought a couple of vans, and we were in business. For 1984 we signed up Texaco and Tom Sneva, and we got Howdy Holmes who brought money from his family biscuit company.

“At March Robin Herd now had the young Adrian Newey working with him. Robin was one of the best guys in the pitlane on aero, and when he got hold of Adrian he knew at once how good he was. After some work in the MIRA wind tunnel Adrian made these little winglets to go in front of the rear wheels. At Phoenix in April Tom and Howdy qualified 1-2, finished 1-2, lapped the field. Then we went to Indy, and all through May we were finding more and more speed, and every night [engineer] Phil Sharpe was cutting more and more off the rear wing. Come qualifying Sneva took pole, first ever over 210mph – and right at the end Howdy went second quickest, beating Rick Mears. In the race Tom chased Rick the whole way, and right near the end he was lining up to pass him. He had more speed in Turn Three, and he was ready to do it. And the left real wheel bearing failed. We were going to win that damn race.

“Right at the end of the season at Las Vegas the championship was between Sneva and Mario Andretti. Tom had to win that race, and that’s what he did, but Mario Andretti came second and took the title. Andretti drove for Newman-Haas, of course, and during that year Carl Haas had taken Teddy aside to talk about going Formula 1 in 1985.”

It was an ambitious plan. Sponsorship was coming from the American food giant Beatrice, who also owned a string of companies from Avis car-hire to Krispy-Kreme doughnuts, and Ford agreed to fund a new turbocharged engine from Cosworth. “Because Carl sold Lolas in the US he called the car a Lola, but it wasn’t. It was designed by Neil Oatley, who joined us from Williams, and we had Ross Brawn and John Baldwin, and then Adrian Newey came on board. We had a factory in Colnbrook, we built a neat little car, and all the ingredients were good. It was just the politics that were bad.”

Because of delays with the Ford engine the first car, the THL1, ran with a Brian Hart turbo. Alan Jones did just three races in 1985, and the car was neither competitive nor reliable. But there were great hopes for the THL2, and Patrick Tambay was signed alongside Jones for 1986.

“But Keith Duckworth didn’t like turbos. Cosworth gave us lots of promises about when the engine would be ready, but in January I went up to Northampton and they said, ‘We won’t have an engine ready for you until Monaco.’ On the way back I stopped at the first public phone box and called Teddy and Neil and said, ‘You’d better be sitting down when I tell you this.’ We had to change the cars back to Harts, different intercooler system, radiators, exhausts, everything to get to the first race at Rio. There have been many times in my life when I had no sleep, but that February stands out. We all worked the hardest I think I’ve ever worked in racing. We got the first Cosworth engine for Imola at the end of April, and by Monaco both cars had it. But when you turned the boost pressure up to go for a qualifying time it went no quicker, it just got hotter.

“However we did make some progress, and in Austria both cars finished in the points, fourth and fifth. For Monza we had a new engine, and because it was an unknown quantity Teddy put it in Tambay’s car. In practice Tambay comes down the straight tucked in behind Senna’s Lotus. Next lap, he’s still there. Turns out he was about 18kph faster in a straight line than Jones. Jones started mouthing unprintable things, and went and sat in the motorhome and sulked.

“With the people we had, it could have developed really well. But in motor racing a lot of things don’t turn out like they should. At the end of that season Beatrice got sold, and it all stopped. Then Carl asked me if I’d like to come back to Indycar, running Newman-Haas Racing with Andretti, and he asked Adrian to come in on the technical side. I talked to Adrian and he said, ‘Well, if you go, I’ll go.’ So we did.

“I didn’t really know Mario before then, but when we started to talk we became friends in 15 minutes. The guy is magic. Whether he’s in the car with helmet on, or out of the car talking to you, he’s got magic eyes. There’s something there. He doesn’t have to show it: it’s like with Bruce, it just oozes out of him.

“Well, the car arrived from Lola, the engines arrived from Ilmor, we tested at Laguna Seca and it all ran well. Then the rear wing fell off. Mario came walking in, one side of the car was on one side of the track, the other was on the other. Turned out the wing wasn’t glued together properly, which didn’t please us at all. But we fixed the car, went to the first round at Long Beach, and Mario put it on pole. As the cars are lining up I’m walking down onto the grid with Paul Newman, who was a friendly kind of a guy. We bump into George Harrison and Tom Petty, and Paul says, ‘After the race, come round to the motorhome for a glass of wine.’ So Mario wins the race, and they all come round. That was a neat little party. Next race was Phoenix, Mario’s on pole again, but a valve broke in the wastegate. And then it’s Indianapolis. Mario’s quickest just about every day, puts it on pole, leads pretty much the whole race, and with about 10 minutes left to run an inlet valve spring breaks. I didn’t know whether to cry or throw up.

“I stayed with Newman-Haas nearly three years. I was the team manager, Carl was the wheeler-dealer with anyone within range, Paul was the figurehead. For 1989 they decided to run two cars so Michael Andretti came in, and I stayed on to get that up and running. But meanwhile I’d had a letter from Mr Dennis: would I be interested in rejoining McLaren? You know, I can’t think of anyone else who has left Ron and then been asked back. In the end Ron and I sorted out a deal, and I went to Suzuka at the end of 1989. That was the race when Alain Prost ran into Ayrton Senna, Ayrton went down the escape road, and they stitched him up for that. Afterwards Nelson Piquet said to the officials, ‘What the hell are you people doing? That’s what the escape road is for. You guys screwed up.’ Which is surprising, Piquet standing up for Senna, because as you know there was absolutely no love lost between them.

“Ron had signed Gerhard Berger to replace Prost for 1990, and asked me to fly down to the last race in Adelaide with Ayrton and Gerhard and get to know them. Gerhard was a great guy to hang around with, and Ayrton and I got on straight away. We stopped off at Port Douglas, and as we were sitting beside the swimming pool at the Sheraton Ayrton said to me, ‘Tyler, something you should always remember is that in Formula 1 no one tells the truth.’ He didn’t say it in a violent tone, it was one of his low-key pronouncements. Then we chatted about something else.

“I went to a bunch of the tests, did two or three of the races, and then I spent a long time in Los Angeles working with Pete Wiseman on his version of a quick-shift gearbox, a funny complicated thing. After months we got it to the point where it seemed it might work and sent it back to England. At the same time I was flying to Japan to do a lot to work with the Honda guys. There were more and more electronics on the cars, and I had to learn about all that, along with everybody else. They called me Special Projects Manager, but that was just a title. I worked on whatever needed doing. In the end I did another 20 years at McLaren. Finally, after the cars left for Melbourne in March 2009, I retired.

“But when I left, Ron told me I could go back in there any time I want. There are still some things a little group of us can talk about. So, if I’m around, I still go over every Friday.”

After nearly half a century, it’s almost impossible to calculate how many races Tyler was involved in: how many starts and finishes, how many pitstops, how many dramas, how many all-nighters, how many disappointments, how many joys – and tragedies, too. His input has been immense, his share of responsibility for the best results very real. Tyler himself, ever modest, takes a practical view:

“I learned about it, and I did it, for a long time. You just get on with what you have to do. Motor racing is like being at war: no, it is war. And if the war starts at 2pm, it’s no good being ready at five past.”