How Jackie Stewart came to win his first world championship with Matra
Jackie Stewart and Ken Tyrrell had for once not been on the same wavelength. “Ken was ‘travelling to France to find us a racing car’ apparently,” says Stewart. “I’d got confused and wasn’t in the most receptive mood.”
The weather and timing didn’t help: Stewart was champing to swap the chill of a British winter for the sunny Down Under fun that was the Tasman Series. “But Ken insisted,” he says. “Plus they were flying the car over in one of their ’planes. This was going to be different. Clearly they were serious.”
They were Matra. The car was a Formula 2 MS5 fitted with a 1.0-litre BRM P80 ‘four’ loaned by Tyrrell. It had been a rush in truth and stemmed from a chance meeting in Paris with Matra’s MD Jean-Luc Lagardère.
“I’d never heard of Matra,” Tyrrell admitted to journalist Mike Doodson in the December 1969 issue of Motor Sport. “I didn’t even know that they’d made the car which had won the Formula 3 race at Reims that year ; actually, I didn’t even know a French car had won it.”
He had been too busy fixing his F2 Cooper’s engine to notice. “[When] Lagardère said they were building a Formula 2 car for the following year I remember trying to be helpful and telling them that the first thing they ought to do was get themselves a driver.”
Lagardère’s leading reply was: “You’ve got the driver.”
Tyrrell’s mechanics collected the Matra from Gatwick and whisked it to a bitterly cold but crucially dry Goodwood.
First impressions were good. Matra’s aerospace and telecommunications expertise – missiles and satellites – had resulted in a riveted monocoque of exceptional fit-and-finish. “Every part exuded quality,” says Stewart. “The French had proved that they could build cars as good as the British, which was an eye-opener.”
But how did it drive? “Beautifully. I was absolutely at one with it.”
So began a relationship that would end with maiden world titles for Stewart and Matra. Not that either side knew it yet.
For Stewart was aboard his own personal ‘rocket ship’: he won that 1966 Tasman Series for BRM. And upon his return he won the Monaco Grand Prix, also with BRM, and came within 10 laps of winning the Indy 500 as a rookie in a Lola-Ford. Before he did so, however, he had packed three F2 races into April. (It would have been four but for snow at Oulton Park.)
The first of them was the final international race staged at Goodwood: the Sunday Mirror Trophy. It set the tone for the F2 season ahead.
Stewart qualified third behind the more powerful Honda-powered Brabhams of Denny Hulme and Jack Brabham and was clinging to them when his throttle pedal broke at half-distance. He then commandeered Tyrrell Racing Organisation team-mate Jacky Ickx’s MS5 and finished sixth.
The best of them was the last: the Juan Jover Trophy at Barcelona’s Montjüich Park. Stewart again qualified third but this time finished second to Brabham after setting fastest lap in the rain.
The following year saw the introduction of 1,600cc F2 and Stewart struggled initially, his boxy MS5’s best result being fourth place – 0.6 seconds behind the winner! – at Reims in June.
By the time MS7 was ready in July his rocket ship had been destabilised horribly by BRM’s misplaced faith in its bulky and sulky H16 engine in Formula 1.
“There was immense frustration,” says Stewart. “For me and Jochen Rindt [struggling in F1 with a Cooper-Maserati]. Doing well in F2 was vital to keeping our confidence high and reputations up there.
“And if winning meant beating Jim Clark in the process, so much the better.”
The svelte MS7 on low-profile Dunlops was a tonic and Stewart won at Karlskoga in Sweden and Enna in Sicily. But the fundamental question about his F1 future remained unanswered.
En route to Sicily in late August he had detoured for a second secret meeting with Enzo Ferrari. News of their handshake-for-1968 would reach Enna before he did. That wasn’t how Stewart did business. The deal was off. Now what?
“Ken said, ‘Why not drive for me?’ I replied, ‘Because you don’t have a Formula 1 team.”
Tyrrell had been so inspired by the victorious debut of Cosworth’s Ford-backed V8 at Zandvoort’s Dutch GP in June 1967 that he ordered four the very next day. Not that there were available to him. Not that he could afford them.
Matra, meanwhile, had been given six million Francs by its government ‘pour la gloire’ and its F1 V12 was singing on the dyno by August. Lagardère, however, was not blinded by patriotism and placed great store on Tyrrell’s experience, honesty and pragmatism. As did Ford’s debonair PR guru Walter Hayes.
Stewart was a catch, too. Hayes had offered him a £500 contract – plus a cream Zodiac with red upholstery – the first time they’d met, at the Earls Court Motor Show of October 1964. And the suave Lagardère was Stewart’s beau ideal of a businessman. The pieces were falling into place.
On New Year’s Day 1968 Stewart – on a £20,000 retainer paid by Hayes’ budget – started the South African GP at Kyalami from the outside of the front row in a Matra-Ford run by Tyrrell. This unpainted converted F2 car – the new MS10 wasn’t yet ready – led very briefly and was holding third place when a conrod broke on lap 43.
A more significant break would be the scaphoid bone in Stewart’s right wrist, legacy of a practice accident prior to an F2 race at Madrid’s Jarama in April. But for this he might have become that year’s world champion.
Despite it he won the Dutch, German – both brilliant drives in torrential conditions – and United States GPs. The latter was the first GP in which he realised that he was controlling the pace. He felt ready.
There would be no stopping him in 1969, safely secure and brimming with confidence in his favourite F1 car: the Coke bottle-shaped MS80. He won five of the first six GPs before clinching the world title with victory in a thrilling slipstreamer at Monza.
Throughout he had continued to contest – and win – F2 races in Matras, now run by Guildford garage owner John Coombs to take some weight from Tyrrell’s broad shoulders. It was almost too good to be true. Whereupon Stewart tested the V12 that Lagardère insisted they should use in 1970.
“It sounded magnificent,” says Stewart. “But it was larger and more complicated than the Cosworth and lacked its grunt. It was wasted power that you could hear.”
There was no animosity this time. But the deal was off nevertheless.
“Now Ken said [in February 1970], ‘What if I build you a car?’ I replied, ‘Can you afford it?’” He couldn’t afford not to.
A few weeks later Stewart himself “outside a semi-detached in rural suburbia.” It was the Leamington Spa home of first-time F1 designer Derek Gardner, a transmissions engineer who had kept his eyes and ears open while working on Matra’s MS84 4wd of 1969.