AUGUST 25, 2001
Ken Tyrrell dies of cancer at 77
KEN TYRRELL, who died early on Saturday morning, will be remembered not only as one of Britain's leading formula one team owners, but also the man who helped mastermind Jackie Stewart's run of three world championships.
Driving the blue-liveried Matra and Tyrrell-Fords for the craggy, Surrey-based former timber merchant, Stewart won all but two of his career's 27 grand prix victories, taking the title in 1969, 71 and 73. The two men forged a close personal bond which lasted endured to the end of Tyrrell's life, 28 years after the Scot retired from F1 at the end of 1973.
Nine years earlier Tyrrell had given Stewart his first opportunity driving one of his team's formula three Cooper-BMCs in the 1964 British championship. Stewart won the title and earned a formula one drive with BRM the following year, but continued to drive Tyrrell's formula two cars in major international events for the next three seasons.
In the summer of 1967 Tyrrell decided that he wanted to move up into formula one. He committed to an order for five of the new Cosworth-Ford DFV engines at 7500 apiece and signed a contract with Matra, the French aerospace company, for the loan of their brand new formula one chassis.
Formula one racing was relatively small-time in those days, a far cry from today's lavish global circus. There were half a dozen mechanics, Ken's wife Norah working the stop watches from the pit wall and a transporter built from truck chassis that had survived a dunking in the River Thames when the boat taking it to Cuba sank following a collision.
For 1968 the deal was that Tyrrell would raise the sponsorship and operate the team and Stewart duly won the first of his three world championships in 1969. The following year Matra wanted the team to use its own V12 engine, but Tyrrell and Stewart were adamant that the Ford engine was the one to have.
Instead, Tyrrell purchased customer chassis from the fledgling Bicester-based March company which had been founded by four ambitious racing entrepreneurs, including the current president of the FIA, Max Mosley. But even by the time Stewart had qualified the March 701 on pole position for the 1970 South African grand prix, the Scot had concluded it was a dud and Tyrrell had already taken the plunge to commission his own formula one chassis.
Tyrrell 001 was unveiled in August, 1970 having cost 22,500 pounds to develop and manufacture. In 1971 it carried Stewart to his second world championship and he won the title again in 1973 after an intervening season spoiled by a stomach ulcer.
Characteristically, the non-nonsense, lugubrious Tyrrell told Stewart that he would have to manage the stressed-out state he plunged into during the 1972 season. This was the whole thing about the relationship between the two men. Tyrrell was part mentor, part manager, but always a steadfast friend to the brilliant Scottish driver. They both relied and fed on each other for their dazzling success.
Amazingly, considering what he achieved in the sport, Ken Tyrrell explained that he got involved in motor racing by accident.
"In 1951 the local football team at Ockham in Surrey, for which I used to play, and the local football team got a coach trip together to go to Silverstone," he recalled, "but it could just have easily been a trip to the seaside at Brighton or Bognor."
Ken raced in formula three and formula two through much of the 1950s. "When eventually I discovered I could only finish fifth, sixth or seventh at this level, it didn't satisfy me," he recalls. He switched to team management.
After Stewart won his third world championship in 1973, Tyrrell had hoped to sustain the team's momentum into 1974, promoting Jackie's team-mate Francois Cevert to the team leadership after Stewart's retirement. Sadly, Cevert was killed practising for the 1973 US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen and the link was broken.
Tyrrell always played down his reputation as a talent spotter, but there were plenty of fine drivers who served their apprenticeship under the Tyrrell banner. They included Francois Cevert, Patrick Depailler, Jody Scheckter, Didier Pironi, Michele Alboreto, Martin Brundle, Stefan Bellof, Jean Alesi and Mika Salo.
Alboreto won the team's last grand prix victory at Detroit in 1983 after which the team went into a gentle decline, leavened only by second places from Jean Alesi in the 1990 US and Monaco grands prix. Tyrrell and his family eventually sold out to British American Racing for ten million pounds in 1998.