Tyrrell’s first F1 win: Jackie Stewart on the 1971 Spanish GP


Jackie Stewart's thrilling win at the 1971 Spanish Grand Prix through Montjuïch Park was a fitting first win for Tyrrell as a Formula 1 constructor

Jackie Stewart leads for Tyrrell at the 1971 Spanish Grand Prix

Stewart leads Ickx in the battle for the lead

Grand Prix Photo

The scenery was spectacular, but few spectators would have been able to pull their eyes from the thrilling duel through Barcelona’s Montjuïch Park, which ended with Jackie Stewart claiming the first Formula 1 win for a Tyrrell car 50 years ago this weekend.

Hard fought and won with precision and determination, it was a fitting first victory for a Tyrrell car.

In his first full season of racing his own chassis Ken Tyrrell had beaten the established manufacturers and was on his way to claiming the championship, in the fourth race involving one of his Formula 1 cars.

“It was a tremendous achievement for Ken and the team to win their first grand prix,” says Stewart. “It was pretty impressive. You know when you think of how small the Tyrrell team was, I mean, even to the very end of my career, we were talking about a car being designed, built and repaired or serviced in a wooden hut.”

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The win did not come easy, on one of the championship’s most challenging circuits after a fight at furious pace against Ferrari’s determined Jacky Ickx: a test of driver and car.

“Montjuïch was a fantastic circuit, very demanding,” says Stewart. “One of the great circuits in the world in my opinion, because it had both slow corners, fast corners, good long straights. Ups and downs, I mean a real difference in altitude. Barcelona, you know, really lived it. It was a very exciting place to race.”

Watching the race would have quickened the heart-rate too, as the Tyrrell vs Ferrari battle began in earnest.

“Stewart was hounding Ickx mercilessly and got by on lap six, but his lead was negligible,” wrote Denis Jenkinson in the Motor Sport race report. “For the whole race these two battled it out, lapping faster and faster, and Stewart was on the limit all the time, with Ickx driving equally as hard and keeping Stewart right on his toes.

“Diving, twisting and turning round the park these two kept at it in a masterly display of driving, leaving all the opposition behind, and lapping all the slower cars, some of them twice.”

It must have been a blast to drive.

“No,” says Stewart. “I removed emotion. If you got emotional you made a mistake. You learn how to be clinical. If you overdrive you make mistakes. The more relaxed you become, the faster you go.”

Stewart won’t admit to even a grin behind his helmet as he darted through the Barcelona parkland, with Ickx in hot pursuit.

And with Ken Tyrrell in charge in the pitlane, race weekends were businesslike for the team from Ockham, Surrey.

“There was no celebration,” says Stewart. “Really, not at all. Ken Tyrrell, all he did was clap his hand, and then rub his hands round in circles and then say, ‘Right, you get this box done you get that box done so let’s get home’.

“There was no dinner, there were no celebrations, there were no cocktails. If it had been cocktails, it wouldn’t have been a cocktail, it would have been a drink. It certainly wasn’t a drink. That was the Tyrrell team.

It was very British and in Ken’s case very English. There was absolutely no nonsense. He would occasionally clap. But that was his excitement of winning and it wasn’t shared.”

Stewart and Tyrrell knew plenty about winning. They had been at it ever since the 1964 Formula 3 season, clinching the 1969 World Championship in Formula 1 with the Matra MS80.

When pressed to change the car’s Cosworth DFV engine for Matra’s own V12 in ‘70, Tyrrell decided to stick with the power unit and switch to the March 701 chassis. Stewart won in Jarama but Ken wasn’t impressed by the car, resolving to build his own.

By September, the Derek Gardner-designed Tyrrell 001 was ready for the final three races of the year. Stewart pulled out a lead of around 30 seconds in Canada — until a stub axle broke and he retired. His lead was even greater when an oil leak forced him to stop laps from the end at Watkins Glen, while any hopes of success in the final race of the year at Mexico were ended in an unfortunate collision with a dog.

Clearly the pace was there and, despite the reliability issues, the car itself was strong and Ken’s meticulousness could be seen throughout the team.

“Jackie always used to say, ‘To finish first, first you’ve got to finish’. For me, the most important thing was to give Jackie a safe car. And also, a reliable car,” says Roy Topp, a mechanic on Stewart’s car.

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“We had a system: every night after the car’s been run, you have the procedures system which you went through everything. And obviously, the night before the race well. The important thing was not to overlook anything, obviously, some things we’ve heard about the bolts, don’t happen, but fortunately we didn’t have any nasty disasters from outside. We go the car reliable and safe. The rest we left to Jackie.”

“The rest” wasn’t to be sniffed at. Though 1971 brought the hope of success, the Tyrrell — mostly car 003 used from the second race in Barcelona — would need all of his talent.

“It was a quick car, but it was a very difficult car to drive,” says Stewart. “Very short wheelbase, very nervous.”

On the challenging Montjuich circuit, the focus was on keeping the car on the road.

“You’re giving much more to the technique on overcoming the nervousness of the car,” he says. “You’ve almost to try to sedate it, so when you hit the brakes, you didn’t hit the brakes, you introduced the brakes and the gas pedal was the same — I learned a lot of that from Jimmy [Clark]. “You couldn’t bully the car. You had to caress it.”


Stewart alongside third-placed Chris Amon

Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

It was a brilliant race, wrote Jenkinson in Motor Sport’s race report. “Hard-fought and won by sheer driving ability on Stewart’s part.”

Stewart won five more times that year to dominate the title, and he would win his third championship with Tyrrell in 1973.

The team would make 430 starts as a constructor, always under the eagle eye of Ken, before it was finally sold to BAR in 1997, in a journey that culminated in the current Mercedes team.

“Ken was focused and so down to earth,” says Stewart. “He was a fantastic man to work with.”