From Tyrell to Mercedes: A story of team ownership

17 Jul

I never really truly understood the world of team ownership until quite recently, but now that I do it really is quite amazing. With all the different buyouts, so many teams still technically exist. Minardi, Jordan, Benetton all still grace the grid with their presence, albeit under different names and owners (Minardi as Toro Rosso, Jordan as Force India and Benetton as Lotus). Even HRT used Dallara skeletons that used to be found on the Orange Arrows.

My favourite  line of team ownership though has to be the transformation from Tyrell, a team that started racing in 1968, to the Mercedes team we now know and love (Well, some of us do). The Tyrell team were apparently quite successful,although considering the fact I wasn’t really alive when they existed, I can’t give you an account of that first hand. In the 430 races they competed in, they won 23 and claimed their sole constructors championship in 1971. They were also the pioneers of aeroplane structured fuel tanks and 6 wheeled F1 cars, aswell as being controversial (They were excluded from the 1986 championship for adding water/lead solution into their cars to act as a ballast). In short, they weren’t a bad team at all.

In 1997 they were bought out by British American Tobacco, in a time where tobacco advertisement was about as illegal as eating a salad. They continued to race as Tyrell through the 97 and 98 seasons, before BAT took full control and created my favourite team ever; British American Racing, or BAR

Now it must be noted that BAR are only really my favourite team because of Jenson Button, my favourite driver. The fact he was their for so long almost made it some sort of little F1 family, one which I loved, especially as they often seemed to be the little team punching above their weight (2004 being a particular highlight). BAR got off to an inconspicuous start (That’s a lie), scoring a massive 0 points and employing luminaries such as the almighty Ricardo Zonta, Mika Salo and Jacques Villeneuve, who failed to finish the first 11 races. Infact, BAR apparently overspent their budget by so much that it could have funded Minardi for at least 3 seasons on what it had overspent alone.

2000 was a much better season with the team finishing an amazing 4th in the constructors championship (Or 5th, depending on how you look at it), and so the legacy was started.

JB entered the world of BAR in 2003 after a successful season with Renault where he outscored Jarno Trulli, yet was being replaced by Fernando Alonso. As much as common sense might say Trulli should go, he didn’t, end of story. 2003 was a good season for BAR, although it has to be said Villenueve was way past it at that time, and the fact that, in one race, Takuma Sato managed to scored half the points Villenueve had scored in the previous 15, meant Jacques was gone for good. BAR may not have been the inovators Tyrell were, but they were sure putting in the performances.

2004 was by far their best season, finishing second in the constructors championship behind Ferrari with Button taking an impressive 10 podiums and scoring in every race he finished, even if a win still eluded him, finishing 3rd in the championship. Teammate Taku managed a credible, if not spectacular, 8th in the championship, taking his only podium in America.

Come 2006 and Honda decided that it would be a good idea to fully take over the team. Having already bought 45% in 2005, they purchased the remaining 55% and Honda was born. 2006 was successful, with Button finally claiming his first ever career win in Hungary, and so finished 4th in the championship behind the big hitters Renault, Ferrari and Mclaren.

Unfortunately it seems Honda really didn’t know what they were doing, and 2007 and 2008 were complete utter disasters. I’m not even going to talk about it, it’s far too embarrassing.

And then came the miracle. Following a buyout from the legend himself Ross Brawn, and a switch to much more competitive Mercedes engines, Brawn GP was born. From a team that was all but dead, came a team that was not only fast, but won both the Drivers and Constructors championships on it’s first attempt. Winning 6 of the first 7 races of the season, and delivering some fantastic results despite a development budget of pretty much nothing. (Ross Brawn may be rich, but he’s not rich enough to compete with the development budgets of, say, Mclaren or Ferrari. Infact, Brawn GP were only so good because Honda had already built the car).

With Brawn unable to fund the team for a second season, Mercedes (Who had supplied them engines) stepped in and made sure that the team, one of the oldest in the sport, would continue to survive, even if it was in it’s 5th different guise.

And that’s where we are now, with Mercedes going very strongly in the 2013 season so far. From the highs of the 1971 constructors championship under Tyrell to the disaster of the 1999 BAR Honda, from 2004’s awesome BAR and first victory under Honda in 2006 to the abominable 2007 and 2008 cars, from 2009’s phoenix rising from the ashes to current Mercedes ownership, it’s fair to say it hasn’t been an easy ride. I don’t support Mercedes as the Mercedes team, but I will forever follow them as the descendants of my favourite team BAR, and hope they can continue the legacy it, Tyrell, Honda and Brawn GP have left behind.

I think if Ken Tyrrell was still alive today, he’d be proud of what they’ve achieved.


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