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Ken Tyrrell's French connection



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Jackie Stewart


Matra International Matra-Cosworth MS9




1968 South African GP


It's hard to imagine that the operation which steamrollered the 1969 championship started off in this shambolic fashion. Still it's not an unknown fact that Matra's first steps into Formula 1 weren't guided by precise planning but by plain haste.

The rocket missile factory had been extremely successful in Formula 2, with young Jacky Ickx taking the 1967 title for the Tyrrell-run outfit. Also, works driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise had been taking part in some Grands Prix with the F2 MS7. With the momentum clearly in favour of the French company and with the support of state oil company Elf, Matra Sports decided to move into F1 with a self-designed V12. Next to the factory team of Beltoise and Pescarolo a semi-works outfit called Matra International was set up by Matra's F2 partner Ken Tyrrell. While Matra Sports would develop the V12 it was decided that Tyrrell would take the DFV route with the same chassis. Jackie Stewart, Matra International's new signing, had left BRM after a disastrous season with its painfully unreliable H16 engine and was clearly hoping for better times after he had two-timed for Ken in F2.

Their historic cooperation, however, got off to a rocky start, both Matra teams hurrying to get their equipment out in time for the New Year's Day season opener at Kyalami. Just as Beltoise did for the works team, Jackie went out in the 1.6 litre F2 Matra MS7 before the DFV-engined car finally arrived for final qualifying. To get the car out for practice Tyrrell's people had been taking care of the important bits - their most obvious omission was neglecting to get some decent French bleu onto the primered bodywork...

Despite the sloppy paint job the beefed-up F2 chassis proved a revelation, Jackie taking the paddock by surprise by putting it third on the grid. At the start Stewart even powered into the lead before falling back to third and finally into retirement when the engine let go. Jim Clark went on to win his last and 25th championship victory, eclipsing the great Fangio's total of 24 Grandes Epreuves wins.

By the next race Tyrrell had the all-new F1 MS10 DFV up and running, with Beltoise drafted in to debut the car for Matra International. Once in the hands of John Young Stewart it proved to be a highly efficient motor racing machine, JYS taking the MS10 to three victories in the team's debut year.

Matched with the even more effective MS80, Stewart was unstoppable in 1969, taking Ken Tyrrell to the first of three championships. Strangely enough, the works Matra effort which campaigned the V12 engine (later dubbed Simca) until 1972, was completely overshadowed by Tyrrell's semi-works outfit. Only after being fitted in the back of a Ligier Matra's V12 started working well.

With Ken quitting F1 at the start of 1998 and the Tyrrell team having run its last Grand Prix at Suzuka on November 1, 1997, this picture of the team's debut over three decades ago is a fitting hommage to the greatest garagiste of them all. The Tyrrell didn't immediately disappear from the tracks altogether, however. At the hands of 'Jules' Boullion the latest Tyrrell was doing duty as a Mecachrome-engined BAR test hack, while former sponsor European Aviation planned a gentlemen series based around the 1990-1996 Tyrrell chassis it had acquired, before its Aussie owner Paul Stoddart decided on an F3000 adventure and the subsequent takeover of Minardi.

Reader's Why by Rick MacLennan

The start of something special. Jackie Stewart first began driving for Ken Tyrrell in F3 in 1964, winning most of the races they entered. Tyrrell and Matra had first joined forces in 1966 and '67 when Stewart drove Tyrrell's F2 Matra. He was also driving for BRM in F1 at the same time.

During the summer of 1967 several events transpired which would lead to their appearance at Kyalami.

Ken Tyrrell had been a spectator at the 1967 Dutch GP and was so impressed by the debut of the Cosworth- Ford V8 engine that as soon as he returned home he immediately ordered three of them. The fact that the engines were not yet for sale, or that he had niether a chassis nor driver to use them with didn't seem to bother him.

The newly created state owned oil company, ELF, was eager to promote itself by sponsoring a French built F-1 car, the Matra. The engineering team at Matra realised that their inexperience in F-1 could hold them back so they accepted a proposal from Ken Tyrrell to supply him chassis for his Ford engines. Meanwhile, Stewart was disappointed with the performance of the BRM and very nearly signed with Ferrari for 1968, but instead accepted a drive with Ken Tyrrell in the new "Matra International" team.

The Matra engineers first built a fully adjustable prototype (the MS9) based on the MS7 F-2 car. They considered it strictly a test vehicle and it was shipped to Tyrrell painted only in an ugly green primer. The most notable feature of these cars was the "structural" fuel tanks with their internal bulkheads that made them lighter and more rigid than the competition. Tyrrell decided that the best place to find good weather for testing would be in South Africa, so he may as well enter the first race of the year at Kyalami and have a chance to win some prize money to pay for the shipping costs. Once in Kyalami the team had to chop back the makeshift nose that came with the car in a vain attempt to cure an overheating problem.

In the race Stewart started from the front row and led the first lap before giving way to Clark's Lotus, which would go on to win. He had a good dice with Hill in the second Lotus before his engine let go on the 44th lap. This was to be the only race for the MS9. It would be used only once more for some testing at Albi later in the season.

Stewart would win nine races (the only Matra wins) and his first World Championship during the two years he drove the Matra MS10 and MS80 cars. For 1970 Matra insisted that Tyrrell use the Matra V-12 engine, but he refused and instead began building his own cars. Stewart would score another 18 wins and 2 championships in Tyrrells.

Sadly the 1968 South African GP would be the last F-1 race for the great Jim Clark. He was killed in a F-2 race at Hockenheim several weeks later.