The man who spans the generations

Derick Allsop finds that Formula One racing's elder statesman, Ken Tyrrell, has lost none of his drive
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It was billed as the most open championship for years. Instead it is a closed shop, Damon Hill helping himself to everything. Even qualifying has become a diluted offering. Motor racing's "premier show" heads for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone on Sunday, condemned as contemptuous, over-priced and boring. All of which makes the sport's senior citizen smile the smile of a man who has heard it all before.

Ken Tyrrell was running a Formula One team before Michael Schumacher was born. He may not have won races, let alone championships, of late but his opinion is reckoned to be a barometer of sound judgement and plain common sense. He talks in plain and unambiguous language too. For instance: "Friday is not a bore. As far as we, as a team, are concerned, it means we have more time to try things out and we are happy for it to be the way it is.

"I don't think it makes any difference at all to the people who come through the gates. No one's out there pussyfooting. Everyone's trying to be quick all the time. Why shouldn't they be? It's just as exciting watching Schumacher going round there on a Friday as it is on Saturday afternoons."

Tyrrell's defence of the championship is equally vigorous. "The fact that Silverstone has been a sell-out for many months, and Canada was, means people must be happy with Formula One," he said. "I am waiting for somebody to suggest a better way of doing it. There have never been enough good drivers. Nothing has changed. You always get one guy who dominates. If you look at the last 10, 20 years, the world championship has almost always been won by the best driver that year.

"There are exceptions and there's going to be one this year. All Britain wants Damon to win. If Schumacher was in a Williams, he'd murder everybody. I think it's wonderful he's got the Ferrari and taken a big pot of money. After two years he'll get fed up with that and somebody will be able to get him back. He won't like not being world champion.

"Why aren't Benetton doing better this year? Perhaps they were actually like that last year, but they had Schumacher. Maybe there's a bigger gap now between the best and the rest, but there has always been one who outshines the others, and if he's in the right car, he's going to win the championship. McLaren have won many championships and 99 per cent of the grands prix they've won have been when they've had the best driver."

Tyrrell regularly won races in their early years and, with Jackie Stewart, the drivers' title in 1969, 1971 and 1973. More recently they have had to accept a supporting role, but that has failed to dull the enthusiasm of their 72-year-old boss. Tyrrell is never likely to bore his charges by lamenting the passing of "the good old days". He says: "Look at the equipment we are using now, look at the circuits we are going to. You have to have been going to circuits 29 bloody years ago to appreciate what we have now. When it rained they were mud heaps and there was no pit cover. In South Africa we towed the cars 15 miles from Johannesburg to the track every morning, and towed the bloody things 15 miles back every night.

"That's how grand prix racing was. It's changed. It's brought us into the modern world and the person who is responsible for that is Bernie Ecclestone. Formula One is just as appealing for me as ever it was. I haven't missed a race in 29 years and I don't intend to start now. Most people aren't as fortunate as me. I am part of a team that competes in Formula One. It's an exciting life. I do a lot of travelling, I like competition and I can't understand anyone who's in my job and wants to give it up."

Some might consider having to endure 13 years without a win reason enough to pick up that bus pass. On the contrary. "Not winning is the one thing I dislike intensely," he said. "Williams are at the top because they deserve to be. It's there for the taking and it's there for everybody. We have to get better in every department and will continue to. That drives me on. I want our drivers on the rostrum and I want one in the middle of the rostrum."

While Ukyo Katayama remains one of the more erratic drivers in Formula One, Tyrrell-Yamaha's other representative, Mika Salo, continues to underscore his credentials as one of the more gifted. Tyrrell, however, cannot hide his thrill at having had the services of the best driver in the world, albeit fleetingly. He explained: "I was walking into the circuit in Brazil and Schumacher offered me a lift in his Mercedes. He told me: 'I always wanted to drive for you.' I'd settle for that on a more permanent basis."