Here’s a pub quiz question for you: Which team entered a six-wheeled car in the Formula One World Championship?
The answer? Tyrrell.
While it may sound like Tyrrell’s greatest success is being a pub quiz question, in actuality, the team was a successful mainstay of the F1 circus for many years.
Tyrrell, named after founder, Ken Tyrrell, was one of the most successful independent teams to be a part of Formula One. 33 wins and 1 constructors’ championships are a testament to that. Tyrrell was a likeable, driven team, always looking to innovate and not afraid to take risks, particularly with drivers.
Even though Ken Tyrrell was a clever, charismatic team boss, the team would never have been the success they were without their greatest driver, Sir Jackie Stewart. Nurtured by Ken in his Formula Three and Two teams, Stewart quickly transitioned to Formula One in 1965.
By 1968, Tyrrell joined his driver in Formula One, matching a Matra chassis with the legendary Ford DFV engine to create the team’s first F1 car. This combination gave Stewart his first Drivers World Championship in 1969, yet, because the chassis was Matra, the Constructors’ Championship went to them rather than Tyrrell.
With Matra declining to incorporate the Ford DFV into their future cars, Tyrrell built his own chassis and the team won their first, and only, constructor’s championship in 1973, with Stewart at the wheel. Unfortunately, at the final race of that season, held at Watkins Glen, Tyrrell’s second driver, Francois Cevert, was killed. With Stewart announcing he was to retire earlier in the season, Tyrrell ended 1973 with the world championship and no drivers.
Tyrrell’s fortunes dipped through the 1970’s. Though they had innovative designs, like the aforementioned 6-wheeled P34, they only managed a handful of wins through the rest of the decade, coming thanks to Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler.
The 80’s saw even less success, with only 2 wins, coming in 1982 and ’83 respectively. However, by the end of the decade, fortunes for the perennially cash-strapped team were on the up. Two, second places in 1990 by Jean Alesi seemed to turn the tide for the team, but it was not to be. By 1998 the team was sold to Britsh American Racing, for $30million. Compared to the $120 million Renault paid Benetton in 2001, the amount BAR paid puts the position of the team in the eyes of the sport into perspective.
Apart from the six-wheeler, Tyrrell was notable for being thrown out of the championship in 1984. By adding lead shot and extra water to their car to make the minimum weight stipulations, they contravened the then rules. Some saw this attack on the only normally aspirated car at the time as the FIA trying to remove an obstacle from the grid to encourage more automotive manufacturers and sponsors to join the sport. This has never been proved.
Formula One owes a debt of gratitude to Tyrrell. Due to their issues with finances the team was always forced to employ younger and cheaper drivers. As such, drivers like Jackie Stewart, Jean Alesi and Didier Pironi were given their start in Formula One. Each would go on to achieve race wins and successful careers in the sport. There were other notable drivers as well, with Ken having an eye for talent and the guts to put them in his car.
Ken Tyrrell was a passionate racing fan who managed to win races, championships and unearth diamonds in the rough all while chasing sponsorships and money to allow him to race his cars. He was an inspirational British independent team owner, the like of which, sadly, will never be seen again in Formula One.