Let’s set the record straight about Tyrrell

“Balestre didn’t like Tyrrell be­cause they were Cos­worth, English and anti-es­tab­lish­ment”


Author­ity, wit and in­tel­li­gence from the voice of F1 Rac­ing

Stand­ing on the out­side of Tabac, on Monaco Satur­day in 1984, I watched the mar­shals wav­ing their arms and the crowd grow­ing rest­less in the grand­stands as they awaited the start of prac­tice. I was there to watch Alain Prost, Niki Lauda, the new Tole­man driver, Ayr­ton Senna, and my friend Nigel Mansell. I’d watch them ap­proach from the chi­cane, note the turn-in phases – then walk to­wards the swim­ming pool.

The tur­bos had the power, of course. Up the hill to Casino and through the tun­nel, a DFV en­gine couldn’t com­pete. On the other hand, you had guys like Ste­fan Bellof, Martin Brun­dle and Marc Surer throw­ing their Tyrrells and Ar­rows around in ways you sel­dom see.

Ayr­ton was exquisitely pre­cise, skim­ming the Tole­man ush with the guardrail. So was Nigel in the Lo­tus-Re­nault – an on-rails ash of black-and-gold that was a coun­ter­point to the power-slid­ing brio of Elio de An­ge­lis. There was no ques­tion of Ayr­ton or Nigel see­ing the Tabac apex and then squeez­ing-in the power: the com­mit­ment be­gan with the rst, al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble, move­ment of steer­ing.

Martin Brun­dle was breath­tak­ing. Ste­fan Bellof was a Ron­nie Peter­son of a driver; Martin, un­der pres­sure, lost none of his Pi­quet- pol­ish. He ap­proached Tabac via a clean exit from the chi­cane. He braked less on this lap. The Tyrrell looked fast and nim­ble.

He edged into the apex. The Tyrrell seemed able to take the load… un­til the back broke away. There was a spec­tre of op­po­site lock, then whack! – the back of the car thumped against the Armco. I ducked. Mar­shals ran. The crowd erupted.

I looked up sec­onds later. The bar­rier had eaten the car’s front and rear out­side wheels. The Tyrrell had skated along the track on its side. I could see Martin’s arm hang­ing out of the cock­pit. He wasn’t mov­ing. Mar­shals waved ags. Prac­tice ground to a halt. Sirens drowned the bub­bling French com­men­tary. I was by the car. Still no move­ment from Martin.

Sud­denly, he shook his head. The mar­shals lifted the car back into a hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion and I could see then that Martin’s arm had been saved only by the car hav­ing rested dur­ing its skate on its ex­haust man­i­fold.

He un­clipped his belts and the mar­shals lifted him from the car. Then he ran back to the Tyrrell pit, still wear­ing his hel­met. It was only when Ken Tyrrell asked him what had hap­pened that Martin re­alised he didn’t even know how he’d got back to the pit. Driv­ing the spare car then was out of the ques­tion.

Ste­fan alone of the Cos­worth run­ners made the cut. He would drive from the back of the grid to nish third be­hind Prost and Senna. He was up there with the best.

That was the start of it. Pho­tos were snapped of the Tyrrell all akimbo with two slots ev­i­dent in the mid­dle of the chas­sis. Tech­ni­cally, these in­fringed the at-bot­tom chas­sis reg­u­la­tions. But as Tyrrell pointed out, they were just breathers for the car’s wa­ter tank (used in those days as in­jec­tion­cool­ing for the en­gine, but in re­al­ity to load the car over the weight limit in a quick topup in the clos­ing phase of the race), noth­ing more was said.

At the Detroit GP, three weeks later, Brun­dle’s Tyrrell was found, dur­ing a wa­ter­sam­ple check, to have a con­tam­i­na­tion level of 0.0005 per cent. Within hours, FIA Pres­i­dent, Jean-Marie Balestre, said Tyrrell had been run­ning ni­tro-meth­ane in the wa­ter tank, in­ject­ing it into the en­gine then drain­ing the tank late in the race through one of the oor holes dis­cov­ered af­ter the Monaco shunt.

Ken Tyrrell, ab­ber­gasted, ar­gued that the team had used im­pure wa­ter in Detroit rather than clin­i­cally ltered wa­ter. He con­ceded he had been adding lead shot to the wa­ter but that this was “xed” to the car – and so le­gal – in the sense that it still re­quired tools to re­move.

The FIA was in­sis­tent. Tyrrell would be dis­qualied from the 1984 world cham­pi­onship and lose all their travel and prize money con­ces­sions. Ken Tyrrell ap­pealed.

It is a great shame, I think, that his ap­peal was not up­held. Ev­i­dence from the SCCA (Sports Car Club of Amer­ica, which ran the Detroit GP) was dis­carded. Had the Ap­peal Court lis­tened to the SCCA’s John To­ma­nis, they would have heard that hy­dro­car­bons in the tank were limited to fewer than 0.0005 per cent. The FIA, prior to the hear­ing, stated that up to 27 per cent of the wa­ter had been con­tam­i­nated. To­ma­nis was then banned from com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the press or Tyrrell. “I’m at a to­tal loss to ex­plain,” said Tyrrell af­ter­wards. “I’ve been stitched up…”

We all knew what had hap­pened. Only Tyrrell and Ar­rows ran Cos­worth DFVs in 1984. The turbo teams wanted to ght the FIA’s new 220-litre fuel tank limit for 1985. In a vote that re­quired unan­i­mous agree­ment (or dis­agree­ment), Ken stood his ground.

It was F1’s per­fect storm. Balestre didn’t like Tyrrell be­cause they were Cos­worth, English and to his mind anti-es­tab­lish­ment. The other teams didn’t like Tyrrell be­cause he wouldn’t vote against the 220-litre fuel limit. Ken was there­fore hung out to dry. He didn’t run fuel ad­di­tives; and his cars were as le­gal, in a clever F1 sense, as any oth­ers at the time.

Thirty years later it’s time, I think, to undo the dam­age. Some­one should apol­o­gise to the Tyrrell fam­ily and F1 in gen­eral ought to re­mem­ber the part played by Ken in the good years and the bad. Af­ter the 1984 lu­nacy, Ken kept on ght­ing, for that was his way. The per­ma­nent dam­age, though, had been done.

A deputy team prin­ci­pal said re­cently that it would be aw­ful if their team “went the way of Tyrrell”. I found that to be un­speak­ably sad: go­ing “Tyrrell’s way”, with Ken’s level of dig­nity would, for any­one with rac­ing blood in their veins, be the great­est of com­pli­ments.

Team owner Ken Tyrrell (above and above right) fought hard to prove his in­no­cence af­ter Martin Brun­dle’s ter­ri­fy­ing crash at the 1984 Monaco GP (be­low) re­vealed holes in the Tyrrell’s chas­sis that the FIA in­sisted were ev­i­dence of the use of il­le­gal fuel ad­di­tives

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