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 disqualied 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