“Ken Tyrrell: The Authorised Biography” (Maurice Hamilton, 2002)

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Should teams be allowed to buy chassis from other constructors and race them in Formula 1?

It’s one of the most divisive arguments in F1 today and it’s not a new debate. Up until the early 1980s it was entirely commonplace for teams to race customer chassis.

Those in support of it today maintain that it would allow new teams to come into the sport and race competitively before taking on the gigantic financial burden of building their own cars.

For an example of how it can work brilliantly, we can turn to Ken Tyrrell.

Even as his team fell into decline from the dizzying heights of the early seventies, Ken Tyrrell remained a giant of the paddock. Notorious for his strident and uncompromising views, supreme dedication and the quality of his team’s engineering.

They used a Matra chassis to win their first championship in 1969 (their second season), then switched to building their own cars which won the 1971 and 1973 titles.

Tyrrell was unaffected by the glamour of Formula 1, invariably shunning the glamour of Monte-Carlo on his annual visits their for the race. Tyrrell Racing Organisation worked from the same base in Ken’s old timber yard for three decades.

Which explains both their down to earth appeal and the harsh reality of their decline. Tyrrell simply could not keep up with the times. It fell on the back foot during the turbo years in the 1980s and took a near fatal body blow when the team was disqualified from the entire 1984 on very dubious grounds.

Even after the banning of turbos and producing some competitive cars in the early 1990s the team failed to build a strong enough commercial grounding to wean itself of a mixture of uncompetitive Pirelli tyres, Yamaha engines, and rent-a-drivers.

This book tells you more about the happy times of the Tyrrell teams than its lingering decline. Indeed, it tells you a lot more about Tyrrell the team than Tyrrell the man.

But that in itself reveals one of the most vital things about Ken Tyrrell – he was so humble that he never considered himself being of much interest. Even after leaving motor sport Jackie Stewart was still explaining to him why Ford had been so eager to back the team all those decades ago.

No biography of Tyrrell would be complete without a detailed account from Stewart – the Scotsman who was intrinsic to Tyrrell’s success and brought him all of his championships.

Journalist Maurice Hamilton assembled a diverse array of Tyrrell’s former drivers and staff to give illuminating first hand accounts of the team that enrichen the text.

Alas, there is all too little from the person closest of all to Ken Tyrrell – his wife Norah, who passed away less than twelve months after Tyrrell himself.

Hamilton’s biography is comprehensive, if a little light on the details of Tyrrell’s final year with the team and his role in bitter row over the 1997 Concorde Agreement. It’s a decent read and an excellent account of one of F1’s most remarkable figures – the likes of which the paddock is sorely missing today.

CollinsWillow / Harper Collins

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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