Today marks ten years since legendary team owner Ken Tyrrell passed away.
Having served with the Royal Air Force during World War II, Tyrrell decided to venture into the timber industry, sensibly reckoning that he could make a tidy sum supporting Britain’s rebuilding effort after the War.
True to his prediction, he made a tidy fortune, and this helped fund his first forays into motorsport in the early 1950s, racing a 500cc-powered Cooper chassis in the national Formula 3 championship.
By the late 1950s, he was preparing cars for other drivers and his relationship with Cooper grew, to the point that he founded the Tyrrell Racing Organisation in 1960 to run the Cooper-BMC team in Formula Junior.
New Formula 3 regulations came about in 1964, and Tyrrell hired a young Scot by the name of Jackie Stewart to complement his line-up. The following year, Tyrrell entered a pair of Cooper BRMs in the Formula 2 championship, with Stewart now partnering Jacky Ickx – he later took over the running of the Cooper F1 team when team founder John Cooper was injured in a car accident.
The 1966 season saw Tyrrell switch to Matra-BRMs in Formula 2, and the arrival of the customer Cosworth DFV engine gave Tyrrell the impetus to go the whole hog and jump to Formula 1 with a Matra chassis for 1967.
Running an outfit distinct from the Matra team itself, Stewart sensationally claimed three wins, finishing second overall in the championship standings. In 1969, Stewart was joined by Jean-Pierre Beltoise. The Scot claimed six wins and the first of his World Championship crowns.
Under pressure from Matra to use its bespoke V12 engine for the 1970 season, Tyrrell refused and switched to March, while quietly hiring Derek Gardner to design a bespoke Tyrrell F1 car. Stewart claimed one win in the March, but there were plenty of teething problems when the first Tyrrell 001 challenger came on board.
Lotus would respond with its own 72 challenger, with Emerson Fittipaldi beating Stewart the following year, but in 1973 the Scot took his third and final title with five wins, although the season ended tragically when team-mate Francois Cevert was killed at Watkins Glen – the team withdrew from the event and gave up its shot at another Constructors’ Championship.
The incident effectively triggered the steady decline of the team from that point. Stewart confirmed his retirement just days later, and the team enjoyed limited success in the late 1970s, with the likes of Jody Scheckter, Patrick Depailler, Ronnie Peterson and Didier Pironi all driving for the team.
The team launched the radical P34 six-wheeler in 1976, which saw the team enjoy a brief – but fleeting – resurgence.
A big blow came when title sponsor Elf decided to throw its efforts behind the French Renault and Ligier teams in 1979, and with funds proving more difficult to come by, Tyrrell resorted to hiring younger, cheaper drivers.
This paid off well to a certain extent, with the Englishman helping launch the careers of several young stars, including Michele Alboreto (who would clinch the team’s last win in 1983), Martin Brundle, Stefan Bellof and Jean Alesi.
With F1 heading down the turbocharged path, Tyrrell refused to follow suit and remained faithful – often at the expense of the team’s competitiveness – to the normally-aspirated Cosworth engine. Attempting to exploit a loophole in the regulations, the team was thrown out of the 1984 championship amid scandalous claims of cheating.
Finally electing to switch (albeit briefly) to turbo power in the mid-1980s, and the team’s final shot at a return to the front of the grid came in the late 1980s when designer Harvey Postlethwaite joined the squad. His 018 and 019 challengers (the latter being the first to deploy the use of a raised nosecone and anhedral front wing) were seriously quick on occasions during 1989-90, and the team enjoyed a few podium finishes.
The team’s last podium finish came in 1994, and from there on it was a rather desperate case of surviving from year to year, snatching the occasional point that came their way.
By the end of 1997, there simply wasn’t enough money to continue, and Ken sold up to BAT’s blank chequebook for $30 million, initially staying on the management team. He left in February 1998 when he fell out with the new owners over its selection of drivers, and the team went on to become the failure otherwise known as British American Racing.
Sadly, Tyrrell’s retirement would prove all too brief. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 1999, but served as an excellent President of the British Racing Drivers’ Club in 2000, one of its most turbulent years, before finally succumbing to the disease on this day in 2001.