Good housekeeping drives a patriarch

Andrew Baker visits Silverstone to see the cornerstone of a racing family

The pit-lane at Silverstone was a serious place last week. Five teams were fettling their cars for this weekend's race, trying tweaks, making minute adjustments. Drivers frowned, team managers scowled, mechanics groaned. But there was an exception to the general mood of high tension, in the garage at the far end of the pits. Jokes were cracked, backs slapped, and country music played on a stereo system. They weren't quickest, not by a long chalk, but they weren't letting that get them down. Light-heartedness is traditional at Tyrrell, the team that Ken built.

"We have a different attitude from the other teams," Mike Gascoyne, Tyrrell's Deputy Technical Director, said. "We have a friendly atmosphere, a simple management structure and absolutely no politicking. At the end of the day you'll find us in the motor-home having a glass of wine and laughing. But don't mistake all this for a lack of desire to do well: we're always pushing."

The team's philosophy reflects Ken Tyrrell's belief - almost archaic these days - that motor racing should be enjoyable. "He is a very funny man," according to Mika Salo, the team's Finnish No 1 driver. "It's great to have him at every race. I am new in Formula One so it is good to have someone who has so many examples to draw on. But often he is asking me the questions."

Tyrrell, universally known in the paddock as "Uncle Ken", is now 72 and relishes the role of elder statesman. "I keep an eye on them all," he said. "Make sure they don't spend too much money."

Money has all too often been the watchword at Tyrrell in recent years. The world championship years with Jackie Stewart (1969, 1971 and 1973), and the constructors' titles (1971 and 1973) are long ago, the last grand prix victory was more than a decade ago, and for season after season the team's neat little cars have raced with white spaces where sponsors' logos might be. But while once-great motor racing teams such as BRM, Lotus and Brabham have long since folded, Tyrrell has survived, still a privately owned, family team. How?

"With difficulty," the patriarch declared. "But what we have always managed to do, which some others haven't, is stay within budget. If we have had money left over after a good year, we have saved it for leaner times. It's good housekeeping."

Part of that is Tyrrell's role at a grand prix. While the day-to-day running of the team is in the hands of Gascoyne and the technical director Harvey Postlethwaite, and Tyrrell's son Bob searches for sponsors as commercial director, the chairman is everywhere, encouraging the drivers, glad-handing sponsors, exuding bonhomie and keeping an eye on everyone.

He has a great reputation as a talent-spotter, having developed the grand prix careers of Stewart, Jean Alesi and the late, sadly unfulfilled Stefan Bellof. Salo is the latest to benefit from his patronage, and is now much sought-after by other, richer teams.

"It sounds corny," Mike Gascoyne said, "but he is a father figure to us all. During a race weekend he always wants to know what you are doing. He is always poking his nose in, asking questions."

Busybody or not, the elder Tyrrell is a useful man to have around, not least because in not having missed a grand prix in 29 years he has become friendly with the powers-that-be in Formula One, notably the sport's multi- millionaire ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone.

But Tyrrell finds the idea that he is some kind of power-broker hugely amusing. "When people say that I am well-connected, they just mean that I am old," he said. "Anyway, I don't go as far back with Bernie as everyone thinks. I was talking to him about this the other day. He gave up racing the old 500cc Formula Three cars in 1951, and I started in 1952. It's just as well - I'd probably have crashed into him." What a sad loss that would have been. Tyrrell laughed like a drain. "Which one of us?"

Tyrrell has seen many new teams come in to Formula One. Most have lasted only a short time, victims of inadequate planing or finance. But next year Tyrrell's most successful protege launches a team of his own. How difficult does he think it will be for Stewart Grand Prix to become established?

"When Jackie was racing with me," Tyrrell recalled, "you went to Ford, gave them pounds 7,500, and they gave you an engine that could win the world championship. Things are harder these days. When you have an engine, you have to design and build your car. Then you get the driver you hope is right, the tyres you hope are right, and so on. It is very, very difficult. But Jackie will get there." Will he be ahead of Tyrrell next year? Uncle Ken did not laugh this time. "No," he said. "Not next year . . ."

general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before