The story of the Tyrrell Racing Organisation
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Bargain Brundle shot down
With Michele Alboreto and Danny Sullivan both moving on, Tyrrell needed new drivers, but the immediate conundrum was the loss of Benetton sponsorship to Alfa Romeo. No matter that Alfa Romeo hadn’t won in 1983 whereas Tyrrell had, the stark fact was that the Milan-based manufacturer was obviously more attractive to Italian sponsors, especially as it now had its own turbo engine and had accumulated some encouraging results during the second half of the season. Tyrrell, on the other hand, had no turbo engine and its most successful driver for years had left for Ferrari. The team was very firmly stuck in midfield, struggling to lift its head above the parapet to entice the kind of sponsorship that would help sustain an upturn in fortunes. Weighing up all his options, Ken Tyrrell took a gamble.
The 1983 British Formula 3 season had been one of the most fiercely contested in years, with an intense battle for the title between West Surrey Racing’s Ayrton Senna and Eddie Jordan Racing’s Martin Brundle. Senna had won the first nine races but then saw the second half of his season implode as Brundle won seven of the last eleven races. The Englishman led the standings going into the last round at Thruxton only for Senna to win the the race and leapfrog him to the title.
Ken had announced in early autumn that whichever British driver finished highest in the Formula 3 Championship would get a Tyrrell test drive, knowing full well that this would be Brundle because his closest rival, Calvin Fish, was way behind. In an interview with the author, Brundle took up the story.
“Toleman initially said they would take either Senna or me into Formula 1 but to be honest I think they were always gearing themselves up to take Senna regardless. So Ken, being patriotic, said that he would test the highest-placed British driver in Formula 3 — me. I turned up at Silverstone on a beautiful, crisp November day a week after I’d had a test in a McLaren, which was a prize for the 1983 season.
“I drove the Tyrrell 011 in the morning and did a time that would have put me about fourth or fifth on the grid at the British Grand Prix. Then in the afternoon I got a surprise when the tail lift dropped on the Tyrrell truck and out came this gleaming, shiny, all-singing, all-dancing 012. Straight away Ken had the confidence to give me the new car in the afternoon. I was very lucky that it was such a nice winter’s day as I think it would have been a different story if it had been raining. I was also lucky that the McLaren test had got me used to the extra horsepower.”
Martin probably sells himself a bit short with his comment about his times as they were nothing short of sensational, bearing in mind the lack of turbo. He worked down to 1 minute 14.90 seconds in the 011. Then in the brand-new 012, his best lap was 1 minute 13.22 seconds, which was well under the British Grand Prix lap record of 1 minute 14.21 seconds.
Back to Brundle: “So, that test was a massive confidence boost. The only two teams where I had a serious prospect were Toleman and Tyrrell, because the McLaren test was just a prize. I was linked to Brabham but that was just newspaper talk. Ralt, run by Ron Tauranac, wanted me to drive in Formula 2, but why would I do that when I could be in Formula 1?
“By December I’d heard nothing, so I went down to see Ken. I was just desperate for that drive, so I told Ken I had £150,000 worth of sponsorship I could bring with me. Of course, I didn’t. I was just a Toyota salesman in north-west Norfolk. He said, ‘That’s interesting, that might come in useful. I’ll let you know.’
“In February, he called me. I drove the three-and-a-half-hour journey down and sat in the office. Opposite the office was the ‘clag’ shop and Keith Boshier was looking at me, standing at the wooden door with his thumbs up and then down, waiting for a response from me. They all knew before I did, I think!
“Ken told me, ‘I haven’t got any sponsorship and I haven’t got a turbo engine.’ My heart sank as it seemed reliant only on that. Everything was going so negatively. Then he said, ‘I know you haven’t got £150,000 either, so let’s forget about that. But I’d like you to drive for us and I’ll pay you £30,000 a year, but you must pay all your expenses.’ Sassy old boy — he knew I hadn’t got any money.
“I played it cool and was quite understated. ‘Okay, yes, that seems all right Ken, sure.’ But as soon as I got in my car to go home, I yelled with joy all the way. It was my drive, 100 per cent. No conditions, even if someone came with mega-bucks. The only condition was that Ken had the option to renew the contract every year on November 30th. His contracts were like Ken — very straightforward, honest, direct, said what they meant. We were always paid, like clockwork, on the due date no matter what financial situation the team was in.”
In between Brundle’s two encounters with Ken, the team invited him to an extensive test session at Rio de Janeiro that took place in mid-January in stifling heat. Virtually all the teams attended, to evaluate tyres and develop their new cars, and also to experiment with race conditions and the pitstops that were now a feature of Formula 1. Unfortunately, Brundle’s first experience of a pitstop was not a glorious occasion.
“Now, that Rio test. I found it all a bit overwhelming as there were all sorts of things I’d never experienced before. The heat didn’t help, but the main thing was that all the teams were present. I’d never had to come into the pits before to stop and I didn’t know where the Tyrrell pits were! So, I practically stopped at every garage until I found it, which was a bit embarrassing to say the least.”
But aside from that, Brundle’s performance was very impressive, as Ken told the Lynn Advertiser, Martin’s local newspaper, a few weeks later: “A number of team managers came up to me, including the team manager at Ferrari, and said how smooth Brundle looked. They were particularly impressed and said he did very well. He did exceptionally well on a difficult circuit in hot conditions.” Hedging his bets somewhat, Tyrrell went further to explain the driver situation. “Martin is one of four drivers chasing seats. We might well keep Danny Sullivan, plus there are Jonathan Palmer and John Watson. Three of them are chasing the seat and John could also be around, it’s all down to sponsorship. With John, his wage demands are quite high so it’s just about agreeing something we can cover that works for both of us. We would need to give him a good package but Watson, although he is probably reluctant to admit this, has proved himself adept at racing from the back of the grid, having won five Grands Prix, and I know we are going to be very competitive in the actual races.”
Ken’s comments about John Watson came as a surprise to Wattie himself when told by the author 38 years later: “I’ve never even heard that before! There was never a formal approach, never a time that we sat down and discussed it. There was just a cursory comment from Ken to ask if I would be interested and I said ‘no’. All he could offer me was a Ford Cosworth engine and no sponsorship. After driving with McLaren, I saw Tyrrell as a step backwards. However, I will say that what Tyrrell achieved was remarkable considering their equipment and their budget.
“They had enjoyed their best days, and despite their two recent wins, there were no great prospects, in my eyes. After 151 Grands Prix, I felt it was the right time for my Formula 1 career to end. I was alive and healthy and didn’t really want to take my chances and risk it all again if it was a step back. McLaren was a good team to finish with.”
By hiring Brundle, Ken was also hoping that such a highly promising British talent would help to lure sponsorship from British companies rather than Italian ones. As he put it: “I can find sponsorship in Italy quite easily, but the sponsors will specifically ask for an Italian to race in one of the seats. I don’t want young British talent to miss out.” From this point of view, Brundle’s presence didn’t really help, as Bob Tyrrell recalls: “We took Martin on but really we should never have done so. We both thought to a certain extent that if we had a young British driver, we would attract British sponsorship. When Dad said, ‘I don’t want sponsorship, we’ll pay you,’ Martin was flabbergasted. He must have thought it was Christmas! But in hindsight, there were very few British companies at that time who sold consumer products all over the world and who would have benefited globally from the international exposure that Formula 1 sponsorship gives.”
To reveal his new British driver to the motoring press, Ken arranged a dinner with journalists on 22nd February 1984, hoping that by wining and dining them they would spread the word and help to pull in some of that elusive British sponsorship. Maurice Hamilton was there and described the ‘reveal’: “Coming out from behind the curtains, Martin Brundle stood awkwardly… Murray Walker cheered and went ‘Yes!’ The decision to hire Brundle was universally popular.”
As for Tyrrell’s second driver, Ken explained to Grand Prix International how, after reluctantly giving up on Jonathan Palmer, the decision came about: “Stefan Bellof was not high up on my list of drivers. He had some money, but very, very little. Willi Maurer, his manager, had been continually ringing me for several weeks. He wouldn’t stop asking me to give Stefan a drive. I kept on saying the same thing, I don’t have a sponsor. I had by then included Martin and I had this aim of going all British — ‘Racing for Britain’ — or something like that, as I thought it was the best way to get British sponsorship. Anyway, one day we were testing at Paul Ricard and Stefan arrived on the scene. I was somewhat forced to give him a run. We had a testing programme to complete, and we were behind schedule. We finished on time, so he did 15–20 laps and he was very good. I could see he got stuck into it straight away. He wasn’t afraid of the car. Martin is a clean driver, very much in the same style as Stewart. Stefan was more like Rindt. It really appealed to me. A young Stewart combined with a young Rindt.”
Bellof’s rise to prominence had been rapid. After finishing third in the 1981 German Formula 3 Championship, he had gone into Formula 2 with Maurer, impressing in 1982 with two wins before a disappointingly unreliable second season. Meanwhile, Germany’s supreme sports car team, the Rothmans-backed works Porsche outfit, hired him for the 1983 World Endurance Championship, where he won at Silverstone, Fuji and Kyalami as Derek Bell’s co-driver. His first taste of a Formula 1 car came at the same McLaren test that Ayrton Senna and Martin Brundle had attended.
While Tyrrell now had two new hotshoes on board, the team would continue to persevere with normally aspirated Cosworth engines even though pretty much everyone else had become turbo-equipped. Through 1983, Williams, McLaren, Ligier and Arrows had all persevered with Cosworths in the absence of viable turbo options, but now they turbos, respectively from Honda, TAG (designed by Porsche), Renault and BMW. However, there was one turbo possibility, Brian Hart’s four-cylinder unit that Toleman had been using for the past three seasons, but Ken spurned it as he explained to The Windsor Star: “We’re not running a turbo engine as there are none available. There is a Hart engine, which three teams use, but there’s not enough money being put into the development of it. Brian has to make a living as he has to sell the engines to make money. You can’t blame him for that but there are other engines where millions of pounds are being put into their development. Unless you’ve got a turbo with that multi-million-pound technology, you can’t compete.”
No sponsorship was in place when Brundle and Bellof headed to Brazil for the first round of the 1984 season. When the team arrived in Rio, something else was also missing, as designer Rob Bell remembers: “We had a little ‘Cock-up Trophy’ at Tyrrell that would be presented when someone made a mistake. I don’t know who made it, but it was basically the shape of a penis and balls! Someone won it in 1984 at the first race at Rio. Somehow the bodywork for the cars had been left behind. I took the call from Brazil. ‘Hello Rob, for some reason, we don’t appear to have the bodywork. Any idea where it might be?’ ‘Yep, it’s right in front of me in the workshop.’ All hell broke loose to get all this bodywork over on the next flight!”
The frenzied activity in Ockham was worth it as Brundle came home an excellent fifth, not that it changed his life. “I didn’t feel any added pressure. I mean, I was young, in my mid-20s, and I never thought about it, I just enjoyed it. It was a bit like a rocket ship for a while, fifth on my début, and then doing well. It all seemed normal, and I took it in my stride. I fitted Formula 1 and Formula 1 fitted me. Also, even after my Formula 1 début, the next working day I was still back selling cars in Norfolk. That didn’t change straight away because I still had to pay for my superlicence and hire cars, all sorts of expenses, and at first I just couldn’t afford to stop working. That kept my feet on the ground. Plus, I was also still racing touring cars, so there was a lot going on.”
It soon became abundantly clear that the 012, despite its lack of power, was a very reliable, neatly designed, driveable, capable car that suited both Brundle’s smoothness and Bellof’s more exuberant style of driving. Brundle noted that the turbos were far less reliable and chewed tyres much more.
On 3rd June, the sixth round of the World Championship was held in Monaco. It was an eventful weekend for both drivers. The best account of what happened to Brundle comes from his chat over lunch with Simon Taylor in 2007 for Motor Sport.
“The Tyrrell was very small, very nimble. When I look at it today it frightens me. The whole of your upper body, your shoulders and arms, were out of the car. At Monaco I was on a qually lap going down to Tabac — in those days it was nearly flat through the seafront chicane, so you approached Tabac at 160mph — and the brake pedal went soft. As I rammed it to the floor the balance bar caught the throttle and opened it. It was a very big accident, tore off two wheels, the car went down the track on its side. People watching there say they can still hear the thud as I went in, and my helmet hit the Armco very hard. Somehow I got out of the car. I wasn’t really with it at all, but by instinct I found my way behind the swimming pool back up to the pits, and I clambered into the spare car. I was 22nd fastest at that point, for 20 places on the grid. Ken plugged his radio into my helmet and said, ‘You’ve got eight minutes left, you have to go for it.’ I said, ‘No problem, Ken. Which circuit am I at?’ I’d asked that because I couldn’t remember whether I had to turn left or right at the end of the pit lane. Ken just leaned into the cockpit and switched it off.”
On race day, the rain came down in torrents. Bellof was on the back row of the grid, the last man to make the cut, and the only Cosworth-powered driver in the race. For a calculated risk taker, the rain was manna from heaven. At Monaco, the turbo advantage was already nullified to a degree, but in the rain Stefan would be able to fully work the throttle while all the turbo drivers would have to be more circumspect. Indeed, when the rain worsened, commentator Murray Walker even mistook the stuttering engine sounds from René’s Arnoux Ferrari and Keke Rosberg’s Williams as misfiring when in fact the drivers were just desperately trying to keep their savage power delivery under control.
Bellof made a superb start, quickly despatching Johnny Cecotto’s Toleman and Piercarlo Ghinzani’s Osella, and gaining three more places on the first lap when the Renaults of Derek Warwick and Patrick Tambay collided at the first corner and Andrea de Cesaris’s Ligier crashed out. It didn’t take Bellof too long to overtake the other Ligier of François Hesnault and, what with other retirements and mishaps, he was very quickly in the top ten.
On lap 11, Nigel Mansell (Lotus) took the lead from Alain Prost (McLaren) but, giddy with excitement at leading a Grand Prix for the first time, crashed only six laps later. By this time Bellof was fifth and rapidly catching René Arnoux’s Ferrari and Niki Lauda’s McLaren. The extreme weather conditions weren’t diluting Bellof’s style. Even in the most torrential rain, Stefan was a little more sideways, a little more adventurous than the illustrious pair in front of him, the Tyrrell twitching to and fro. For lap after lap, Bellof hounded Arnoux, trying any number of strategies to get past, and eventually succeeded with a brave move at Mirabeau. Not long before, Lauda had spun off, so Bellof was now third.
With little traffic now that only nine cars remained in the race, Bellof was in his element. He gained ground on Ayrton Senna’s second-placed Toleman while Senna himself was gobbling up Prost’s lead. But then at the end of lap 32, thanks to some rather favourable officialdom, the race was stopped, just when Senna had Prost in his sights. The published results gave the position after 31 laps and had Senna 7.4 seconds behind Prost and Bellof a further 13.7 seconds back.
Third place was a brilliant result but many observers believed the outcome for Bellof could have been even better.
Ken Tyrrell recalled the race, “with an unmistakable gleam in his eyes”, with Marcus Simmons for Motor Sport some years later: “From last on the grid, he got himself up to third spot, and was catching Prost hand-over-fist. Prost had a problem, and was waving to the organisers to stop the race. The rain had, in fact, eased off. There really was no need to stop the race.
“Stefan was overhauling Prost and, the lap they actually flagged him, Prost pulled in because he had a brake problem. That left us catching Senna, who would have been leading, and he was catching him at one or two seconds a lap.
“Bellof was the best German driver that we’d seen since the war. No question, he was quite exceptional. He was driving a very much underpowered car but, when it rained, he probably had exactly the right car for the conditions. But, nevertheless, he still had to do it, and he had to pass all the other cars in order to do it. He was brave, he was quick. Third, in the wet, in a grossly under-powered car, was an absolutely unbelievable performance.”
Dieter Stappert, a former journalist who became BMW’s competitions director, also spoke to Motor Sport about Bellof in that race: “Everyone says if the race had lasted five laps longer Senna would have won. All I can say is, if it had been seven laps longer, Bellof would have caught Senna. Knowing them both, though, I think it’s fair to say the most likely outcome would have been them both going off fighting for the lead.”
But what Stappert — and in fact almost everybody — never knew was that Senna’s Toleman probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway. Long-time Tyrrell mechanic Nigel Steer told Maurice Hamilton something that a Toleman mechanic had shared with him: “John Walton later told me that the Toleman’s suspension had broken when Senna went over the chicane towards the end of the race. So, he had no more than five laps left surely. So, if it had gone for ten laps, Bellof would have caught and passed Prost and won.”
Tyrrell designer Brian Lisles was impressed by the young German not only at Monaco but generally: “Bellof came from a very thorough programme at Porsche. He was disciplined and he would give us feedback as soon as he got out of the car; he’d reel it off. ‘Water, such and such… rpm, 10,300’. and so on. We hadn’t asked for it and we appreciated it immensely. You would ask other drivers what the rev counter was reading or something like that and they would respond with, ‘Er, I think it was…’ or, ‘Don’t know, I didn’t look’. But Stefan always gave us all of that.
“He was a naturally gifted driver. He had tremendous car control. He didn’t seem to like qualifying tyres, though, so he often qualified on race tyres. His reasoning was that the qualifying tyres often gave different variations at the same corner, so that the car would be slightly different at that corner. But with race tyres, it was consistent and did the same thing. I think that although qualifying tyres were quicker, he had a lot more confidence with race tyres, and went more quickly.”
Next came three races in North America. The Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal passed by with much less incident before the Formula 1 circus went south of the border, first to Detroit in Michigan and then to Dallas in Texas.
Detroit, of course, had already proved itself a favourable circuit for Tyrrell in 1983 and this year was no different, not least as Brundle qualified 11th and Bellof 16th, much higher than at any point so far in the season. The race went well too. Bellof, full of beans after his performance in Monaco, scythed through other midfielders to catch Brundle before ruining it all by crashing.
Brundle, having pitted for fresh tyres, was on form and moved up to fourth place. This became third when Michele Alboreto retired his Ferrari with engine failure, putting Brundle right behind Elio de Angelis’s Lotus. After a tense few laps, Martin passed Elio at the left-hander near the last chicane. It looked a slightly foolhardy move at first sight, considering the stakes at the time, but Brundle later divulged that de Angelis was having gearbox trouble. Now second, Brundle hounded race leader Nelson Piquet in the Brabham, finishing just 0.8 second behind the BMW-powered car. Had there been three or four more laps, perhaps Brundle could have won.
The Norfolk lad was naturally overjoyed with the result and that evening had dinner with Ken and Norah. “Ken gave me a bollocking. I couldn’t believe it. I’d just finished second in a Tyrrell in one of my first few races in Formula 1. Firstly, I was told off for holding up Stefan, although I say holding up… we had this system where if you thought you were faster and being held up, you would put your hand up and the team would either pit the leading car or find some way to let you get past. Stefan used to put his hand up all the bloody time, even if I was much faster… all the bloody time [laughs]. What a stupid system! Anyway, he only went and crashed, so his crafty ploy didn’t work. As Ken pitted me, it played into my hands because I came steaming back towards the end of the race and finished second!
“Then Ken told me, ‘Jackie [Stewart] said he would never have passed Elio de Angelis at that corner and Jackie would never have done this or that.’ I couldn’t get it and I said, ‘Well, does Jackie know that de Angelis was actually missing a gear or two? That’s how I got past because I waited and noticed he was missing a gear and couldn’t accelerate quickly.’ It didn’t pacify Ken.
“Twelve days later... I crashed at Dallas. What Ken was trying to tell me in that clumsy, obstinate way of his was, ‘Calm down, this is all good, but take it easy, enjoy it, there’s no rush, pace yourself.” He knew he couldn’t tell me how to drive, so he used Jackie as the sounding board either directly or in name. He was bloody right and I only realised it later on.”
That crash in Dallas occurred during qualifying and left Brundle with serious injuries. His recollections that follow come from his conversations with Simon Taylor for Motor Sport and with the author.
“The Dallas track was a joke, a car park lined with concrete walls, but I was riding high after my second place. I was cocky, possibly too over-confident as it was another street circuit. The car was flying and I had the mentality I would be on pole and it was only a question of by how much. Then as I turned into the chicane, I had a left-rear puncture, probably because I had collected a lot of marbles, with bits of rubber and small stones affecting the tyre. I slapped the right front on the wall at the apex at around 130mph, went straight into the second wall, and when I hit the third wall my feet were sticking out of what was left of the front of the car. It was an unusual place to go off so there was no tyre barrier to absorb the impact. In hospital there was no blood supply to my foot, and they thought I was getting gangrene, so they were going to cut my foot off. Professor Sid Watkins got me out of there and flew me home, got me into a Harley Street clinic and they saved my foot. There were three screws in the left foot where it was crushed and spread about a bit and there was a break in the lower fibula. The right foot had a couple of fractures.”
Brundle’s season was over. But for the team it was about to get even worse.
Two regulation changes to try to restrict escalating turbo horsepower had had a big impact on the 1984 season: firstly, mid-race refuelling had been banned; secondly, a car’s fuel capacity had been limited to 220 litres. To make the best of the available fuel, the suppliers concocted special brews, teams cooled the fuel to increase its density, and the practice of water injection (as protested by Ken in 1983) continued as a cooling measure. For Tyrrell, a non-turbo team, water injection provided a different benefit: the water in the 13-litre rubber tank on the 012 could be used as ballast to bring the car’s weight up to the obligatory minimum and additionally this tank contained lead pellets as a further ballast medium. This method had a distinct echo with the ‘water-cooled brakes’ controversy of 1982, when the teams concerned had been able to race their cars underweight by quickly dispersing water over the brakes before replenishing it after the race. Now, though, post-race replenishment wasn’t allowed, so the necessary water had to be added at a mid-race tyre stop, but that still allowed the possibility of running underweight — without breaking any rules — for the first part of a race, after the water had been pumped to a spraying mechanism over the engine’s air intake trumpets.
On 18th July, ten days after the Dallas Grand Prix, Ken Tyrrell was summoned by FISA to attend a meeting in Paris. Following post-race scrutineering in Detroit, a sample of water taken from the tank on Brundle’s car had been found to contain ‘aromatics’ — fuel in layman’s terms — and FISA’s response was extreme. Its statement said: “The Tyrrell team entered for the FIA Formula One Championship is excluded from this Championship and as a result its entry is cancelled. This decision takes immediate effect.”
Not only did this judgment dictate that Tyrrell could take no further part in the 1984 World Championship but it also meant disqualification from the races already held. Bellof’s stunning third place at Monaco and Brundle’s second place in Detroit were null and void, as were Bellof’s other points finishes, sixth at Zolder and fifth at Imola.
Of course, the team was devastated. The timing of the decision, on the Wednesday before the British Grand Prix, couldn’t have been worse. Ken’s immediate response was that he would take the matter to the FIA Court of Appeal. Peter Cooper, chief executive of the RAC Motor Sports Association, which organised the British Grand Prix, called the decision “very rough justice”. He added: “We will do everything we can to ensure Ken’s cars race this weekend but I must also safeguard the race itself.”
Before the appeal could be heard, Tyrrell took part in four Grands Prix, in Britain, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, the team gathered evidence to support its case. In response to FISA’s announcement that the aromatic content of the water had been 27.2 per cent, a barely credible amount, the team commissioned independent analysis that found the true amount to be, in Bob Tyrrell’s words, “one-thousandth of the contents of a teaspoon for every litre of water”. This, of course, was negligible — and significantly below the permitted 1.0 per cent and therefore within rules.
This put a very different complexion on FISA’s charges, for the governing body, by defining the ‘contaminated’ water as ‘fuel’, had come up with five accusations of illegality encompassing not just the so-called ‘fuel’ itself but also the ballast in the water tank and the associated pipework. It’s worth itemising these five supposed transgressions as expressed in FISA’s statement of 18th July concerning “violation of the following articles of the F1 Technical Regulations”:
- Art. 6.14: any refuelling during the race is forbidden.
- Art. 14.1.2: fuel not complying with the regulations.
- Art. 6.9: fuel lines must have safety breakaway valves.
- Art. 6.11: fuel lines must be capable of supporting a given pressure and temperature.
- Art. 4.2: ballast may be used provided that it is secured in such a way that tools are necessary to remove it. It must be possible to affix seals to it.
As far as Tyrrell was concerned, the team’s findings about the water ‘contamination’ rebutted the first four of those accusations, while the fifth, concerning securing of ballast using tools, was erroneous in the team’s opinion because tools were indeed required to remove the tank containing the lead balls.
Prior to the Court of Appeal hearing, however, FISA came up with a different misdemeanour, concerning two small circular holes in the flat bottom of the 012. The holes were there simply to allow air pressure and excess water to escape during the water-spraying process — but having any such apertures contravened the regulations. Although Patrick Head of Williams and John Barnard of McLaren provided statements that these holes gave no aerodynamic or other advantage, they proved to be one of the factors in the tribunal’s decision to reject Tyrrell’s appeal. The other factors were, in FISA’s words, “the presence of traces, however, infinitesimal, of hydrocarbons which should not have been there” and “the impossibility for the stewards to fix seals on the ballast”.
Besides the harsh penalty of disqualification from the entire season, the team received fines from FISA for missing the last three races and also lost subsidised travel and other benefits for the following year’s World Championship.
In short, Tyrrell had been utterly shafted — and wrongly branded as cheats.
There was, as there so often is, more to it. No-one had rushed to Tyrrell’s aid. It was thought that Ken was possibly getting his comeuppance not only for his opposition to water-cooled brakes but also because he was a dissenting voice on another matter to do with fuel. FISA wanted to further reduce fuel capacity in 1985, from 220 litres to 195 litres, but all the turbo teams opposed this because they would have to reduce boost and therefore performance. To get their way, they needed the unanimous agreement of all team owners but Ken stood in their way — and quite rightly too. Why, after all, should he agree to put himself at further disadvantage? But what if Tyrrell were no longer in the picture as an eligible team? Well, that would be a different situation altogether.
Sure enough, with Tyrrell excluded, the new rule to reduce the fuel capacity was abolished just one day later. It was, as Autocar stated, “shameful”.
As Denis Jenkinson wrote in his typically forthright style, Ken had also made enemies over some wider issues: “Ever since the first turbocharged engine began to make its presence felt, he has been mouthing off and putting in formal protests about turbochargers being additional power-producing engines and about teams using illegal petrol. He has opposed certain rule changes when everyone else has been in agreement, and has caused embarrassment to his fellow constructors by attending a FISA/FOCA meeting when he was not invited. In other words, he has not kept a low-profile, exactly the opposite in fact, which has made him very unpopular with a lot of people. In recent times Elf have felt forced to withdraw his free supplies of petrol and oil, and Renault have refused him the opportunity to use their turbocharged V6 engine, and BMW have conveniently avoided getting involved with his team. He has found little sympathy among the inner sanctums of the world of Formula One, and he must know why, even if the outside world does not.”
If there has been one incident in Tyrrell’s history that has rankled more than any other with members of the team, this is it. They have always seen it as unjust and unfair to be castigated as cheats when they were really just pawns in a political move by the governing body of the sport. This book is naturally sympathetic, of course, but in the end the only proven illegalities were those trivial matters of two small holes in the bottom of the car and using ballast that wasn’t secured or sealed to FISA’s liking. The views that follow have all been gathered in interviews with the author.
Martin Brundle: “It was laughable how we were treated. There were races in 1984 where we were ten seconds off the pace. Nowadays, there’s drama if you’re more than a second off pole. We were so down on power. Just imagine, all the time I saw turbos disappearing into the distance. Then I had all my points taken away because of an alleged unfair advantage. That doesn’t really compute in my simple Norfolk mind.
“Ken was so good at keeping a secret that sometimes he judged it wrongly. I was in a private hospital room in Harley Street. I’d just been taken off the drugs as I had been filled up with painkillers and anaesthetics and I was well out of it. My feet were hoisted in the air. So, when this journalist, Barrie Gill, managed to get hold of me at 10.30pm to ask me how I felt about Tyrrell being thrown out… well, I wasn’t best pleased. It was so disappointing. My injuries were all for naught.
“Looking back, well, I didn’t know what was going on. I was very green. I couldn’t work out why, at Imola, they’d called me in with ten laps to go, with the car working perfectly, to top the car up. I thought I might speak to Maurice Phillippe about designing a bigger water tank so it didn’t need to be topped up.
“But it was such a silly argument. As we only had 540bhp, we never needed to fill our fuel tank up. At Detroit the tank was only 80 per cent full as that’s all you needed for a street circuit. So for them to accuse us of having an auxiliary fuel tank made no sense at all.
“In my trophy cabinet at home, I have the trophy from Detroit and next to it the screws that were put in my feet. It reminds me that my result existed. On Google or whatever, it doesn’t exist. Wiped from the records. But I have a limp, and now I’m getting older it’s getting worse. So, just because Tyrrell were thrown out, you can’t tell me that I didn’t finish second, or didn’t get banged on the head, or didn’t get seriously injured.”
Bob Tyrrell: “It was very difficult. Dad didn’t initially understand it. Why did they bother? We were so far behind everyone that this was stupid and way over the top. But Dad sometimes didn’t have the ‘correct’ approach. He wouldn’t agree with all the others if it wasn’t sporting to do so. So, with the fuel tank situation, every other team had turbos, we didn’t, and that’s it, he felt it wasn’t sporting. He felt dreadful as we were banned for something we didn’t actually do.
“But Dad always got on with it. Win or lose, he was focused on the next race. He never dwelt on the past, just rubbed his hands, and said, ‘Right, let’s get ready for the next race.’ So that’s what we did in 1984. Just got on with plans for 1985.
Graham Heard: “Like everyone else, I felt very frustrated and annoyed that we were labelled as cheats. Ken was an amazing bloke. A true British bulldog. He was Uncle Ken. He treated you as a son and was kind to you, but he was also sharp as a razor. There’s no way that Ken would have ever done anything illegal. But what he did do was push the regulations to the very limit to try to gain an advantage. Unfortunately, in 1984, we were probably a bit too clever.”
Roger Hill: “It had taken us ages to work out all the rules and how to get weight into the car — and we weren’t breaking any rules. But now there was the stigma and that upset Ken. He became so disappointed and disillusioned. Frustratingly for him, he could do nothing about it. No-one would side with him even though he knew he was right. It was the only time I saw him come close to stopping.”
Roger Finnis: “Everyone was bending the rules in some form or another. We were caught out because we got picked on. We were naturally disappointed to miss those last three races but I never felt tarnished. I never felt it was anything other than situation normal. I think the only change was we had to switch from being paid weekly, which was unusual, to monthly, which caused a few issues for some people, but Ken and the accounts department would always help.”
Brian Lisles: “We were bending the rules, not breaking them. But they — the governing body and so on — couldn’t figure out how we were bending the rules. After they got the analysis from Detroit of the samples and the ballast bags, they used that to say we had lead in the water and that’s how it was presented to non-racing judges. But it was a minute amount of lead shot, it was a minute amount of some kind of chemical substance in the water. If the governing body wants to get you — whatever that reason may be — they will get you. They will not admit they are wrong, they will not change their mind. They will do what they need to do. It’s a fact of life. C’est la vie. When you are in a minority of one, well…”
Mark Hannawin: “Ken was fantastic. He kept everyone on, on full pay, even though there was barely anything to do. Anybody who wanted to go because of the situation could, but barely anyone left, such was the strength of feeling towards Ken.”
Rob Bell: “Ultimately, there was less chemical substance in that sample of water than there is in drinking water. If you look at the make-up of what comes from the tap, there are far bigger amounts of so-called illegal substances than we had. We knew we were legal. The trouble was for everyone that a lot of us needed some kind of stability and some kind of security with the future. My wife was heavily pregnant at the time with my son, and I had to know I had a job, so I did go.”
Even those outside the sport couldn’t understand the outcome, as Keith Botsford opined in The Times: “Tyrrell lives by the rules. He is forever a gadfly in the ranks of the motor racing establishment. He couldn’t have exposed himself to such alleged cheating, particularly when there is no motive. His cars do not need additional fuel. No-one has talked of additives to make his fuel more efficient.”
In the end, there was even doubt that Tyrrell would be allowed to race in 1985. But as the year started, finally there came some good news when Tyrrell won an injunction that suspended all the sanctions meted out. Ken was in typical fighting mood as he told Autosport how he felt: “I feel a little cleaner now and now we qualify for FOCA travel, and it helps with sponsors. Until now, all a sponsor has heard is that ‘Tyrrell cheated’. Now he’s reading this, he knows that wasn’t the case after all. However, we are clear this is not the end of it. I want a full hearing in the French courts but that won’t happen for six to twelve months. The matter must be settled by arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce. We consider we were penalised illegally. The decision was against their own rules. Let me be clear, I will not imperil Grand Prix racing. It’s up to FISA to act on this. I think that taking away my membership of the F1 commission the day before it was due to vote was too much of a coincidence.”
The appeal process rumbled back and forth for another couple of months before an agreement was reached to allow Tyrrell to race. And with that Ken decided to abandon any further legal attempts at redress: “In the end, it is far more important to go out and race. Of course, we are disappointed, because we hoped the courts would prove we are innocent of all the charges made against us… But it had gone on long enough, so we decided to compromise. The object after all is to go motor racing. A settlement was reached whereby all FOCA teams agreed to help cover the huge transport costs.”