Drama! Lap forty one of the 1984 Detroit Grand Prix and Derek Warwick pulls off to the side of the track with no gears to choose from in his Renault, handing fifth place to a recovering Martin Brundle in his Tyrrell 012.
Minutes earlier the rookie, who had lost time due to a late pit stop, had just slid past the championship contender Alain Prost and was now setting a rather unflattering race alive in its closing stages.
By lap fifty the Englishman found himself in an incredible third, with the turbo on Rosberg’s Williams having given up the ghost and second-placed man Alboreto’s Ferrari engine expiring. In what had proved to be a race of attrition, six cars remained and all but Brundle appeared to be unable to contend with the sweltering conditions engulfing the street circuit.
The Tyrrell began to make massive inroads on second place Elio de Angelis – who was now driving without second gear – and in the space of six laps had made not only made up the ten second deficit, but found its way past around the outside on the entry to the final chicane.
This was not to say that Brundle was driving without any problems of his own. Not only was the 012 sounding flat due to a broken exhaust pipe, but a loose fluid reservoir cap had found its way into the car’s foot well area.
Despite this, the Tyrrell continued strongly and began cutting into Nelson Piquet’s twenty second lead at a rate of around five seconds per lap. By the sixty-third and final tour, there was little over four seconds between the pairing; with the Brazilian having to use all his guile to eek his Brabham over the line and to victory by only a handful of car lengths – after failing to find a way past Prost to lap him.
Ultimately the Tyrrell pit was overjoyed with the result; its second podium of the year since Stefan Bellof’s excellent third place in Monaco.
However the celebrations would be cut short only hours later when in post-race scrutineering officials from organisers the SSCA discovered impurities in a water tank used for the Tyrrell’s injection system and immediately disqualified Brundle – sparking an investigation which would place the team in the middle of a political storm.
As the sole normally-aspirated runner, not even the specially built Ford DFY Cosworth could prevent the Surrey team from battling equally with the rest of the field. To get around this, engineers came up with a canny solution whereby they fitted a 3.3 gallon rubber tank to the car which contained water which was pumped to into a mechanism then sprayed over the engine air-intake trumpets to cool the fuel-injection process and improve engine reliability.
Of course water-injection was entirely legal in Formula One at the time, but the tank also offered other potential advantages in the battle with the turbos. Not only could its contents be used to help make up the cars minimum weight, the team could now theoretically start the race light and thus at an advantage to other teams.
Similar water breaks had been employed by teams in the past, especially in the form of water-cooled brakes as used successfully by the likes of Williams and Brabham in 1982. What’s more the leniency of Parc Ferme rules at this time often meant that teams found a way to ensure their cars passed the legal requirements.
Nevertheless Tyrrell’s solution was for its cars to make a late pitstop during the race, where its tank would be replenished with two gallons of water, but also 140lbs of lead shot (lead balls) – which often trickled down the back of the car and all over the box of rival teams.
These tactics had been employed throughout the season, but it had only been in Detroit that questions had been raised. Subsequently, Mike Lang reveals in Volume 4 of his Grand Prix collection that water samples were taken from Brundle’s car and sent by various members of the SSCA, FISA and Tyrrell itself. However whilst the team did not believe that the samples were truly suspicious and destroyed them, both the SSCA and FISA sent theirs to be tested.
Subsequently, Ken Tyrrell was summoned to attend a meeting of the FISA Executive Committee in Paris on 18 July. There the team principal was left dumbfounded when the SSCA’s test results from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio revealed the presence of Hydrocarbons in the water – with the sample containing 27.5% aromatics.
In possession of this evidence, the executive committee felt that it had no other option but to charge Tyrrell for breaching four accounts of the technical regulations.
Firstly it alleged that instead of adding water to the tank, the team had instead been refuelling its car – something which had been outlawed at the end of the 1983 season. Secondly the Executive Committee also believed that the water-aromatic mix was a fuel additive and was therefore was giving the car an illegal performance advantage.
Next, it was argued that the lines used to transport the water from the tank to the injection system were indeed used to transport the illegal fuel, therefore breaching article 6.9, which stated that lines must have safety break away valves and 6.11 which stated that they must be capable of supporting a given pressure and temperature.
Finally FISA charged the team with using the lead shot as unsecured ballast, which was not adequately sealed and could be removed without the use of tools. As Denis Jenkinson wrote for Motor Sport Magazine at the time, the use of lead was permitted to being the car up to the minimum weight limit of 540kg, but this had to be fixed firmly and if necessary by the scrutineers’ own seals. On the last account Tyrrell argued that the lead balls could not be removed by hand, but FISA ruled that because it was added during the pit stop then it was outside the control of the officials and could not be fastened securely.
As a result the Committee felt that it had no other option but to ban Tyrrell from the rest of the 1984 campaign and exclude it from the championship altogether – crucially losing all of its points.
Unsurprisingly the team immediately appealed against the decision, but this would not be heard until August, leaving Ken Tyrrell with the prospect of lengthy legal blockades just to continue to race. To make matters worse, the outfit had been forced to call upon Stefan Johansson for the remainder of the season after Martin Brundle had broken both his feet in a huge crash at Dallas weeks after his initial disqualification.
Tyrrell only just managed to make it onto the grid at Brands Hatch for the British Grand Prix, after successfully taking out a London High Court Injunction against both the FISA and race organisers the RAC MSA.
Next time out in Germany the team was granted the right to race outside the championship standings until its appeal was heard, but this was not after its team principal had drummed up the support of all the teams to support the motion.
Finally, in the week immediately after the Dutch Grand Prix, the FIA International Court of Appeal convened in Paris to hear the defence. All in all Ken Tyrrell was cautiously optimistic about his chances, after having contacted the Southwest Research Institute and been informed that the analysis of the samples had been done on the Hydrocarbon content only and not the water as a whole. Additionally a further request had revealed that the entire sample only contained around 1% of Hydrocarbon, therefore rendering any claimed advantage to be highly dubious.
This was backed up by the results of tests done on FISA’s samples, by MB Analy-Co in France, which showed the percentage to be even smaller.
However instead of accepting that a mistake had been made the court decided to revise the charges against Tyrrell – dropping the case against the use of fuel lines but arguing that the presence of Hydrocarbons in the water was still giving the team an advantage. Ultimately the team had no firm idea how this compound could have entered the tank, but concluded that it may well have come from the churn used to transport the water from the pits or the water supply itself.
Controversially the court also added a new charge to the case, claiming that two small holes at bottom of the 012 was being used for aerodynamic benefit and not, as Tyrrell argued to allow air to escape in the water tank when it was replenished during a pit stop.
Nevertheless, despite supporting evidence from Patrick Head and John Barnard which disproved the theory that Tyrrell was using any sort of ‘Ground-effects’, the court rejected the appeal and excluded the team from the championship.
This would prove to be devastating for Tyrrell, with the team losing its FOCA travel concession for ’85 – a financial penalty of $1 – as well as half a million dollars in damages to Stefan Bellof’s manager Willi Maurer (who had secured much sponsorship for the team).
What’s more the damage would have a lasting effect on Tyrrell’s reputation and come at a time when the team was starting to feel the pinch as Formula One’s operating costs began to rise. The team had already lost the right to free supplies of Elf petrol and oil and had been refused the use of the Renault V6 turbo – which was a large part behind its continued use of the Cosworth powerplant.
Afterwards Ken Tyrrell was highly aggrieved and felt as though his team had been stitched up. Although a link was never proved, the outfit’s exclusion opened the door for the remaining turbo runners to block FISA’s plans to reduce the fuel allowance for next season from 220 litres to 195 – something which required all the teams to agree with and had been utterly refused by Tyrrell, with the team having no issue with its fuel consumption nor wishing to hand an even bigger advantage to its rivals.
However, as Jenkinson stated, Tyrrell had not been shy from confrontation with authorities or rival teams since the introduction of turbos and had been at the centre of a number of protests over the years which questioned their legality. Given this it can only be assumed that whilst other teams had broken the rules and often escaped with a wrist slap, Ken’s outspoken nature had left him a target for some quarters within the sport.
Regardless, the entire episode was a major blot on the copybook of Tyrrell and would prove to be the darkest day in the team’s history; an episode which would have serious consequences on and off the track for its foreseeable future.
Internet and Video:
Jones, M. A. “The F1 FAQ” – http://www.atlasf1.com/99/can/preview/faq.html.
Wikipedia: Tyrrell Racing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrrell_Racing#1960s.
DUKE/FOCA: 1984 Formula One Season Review
Jenkinson, D.S.”The Formula One Scene”, Motor Sport Magazine (Motor Sport Magazine Limited, October 1983).
Lang, M. Grand Prix Vol.4 (Haynes, 1992).