BAR Honda has nothing on Team Tyrrell

Updated: May 15, 2005, 11:04 PM ET
By Dan Knutson | Special to

While the FIA penalty leveled against BAR Honda might seem harsh, it is nowhere near as ruthless as the punishment slammed against Team Tyrrell in 1984.

Jenson Button and Takuma Sato were disqualified from the recent San Marino Grand Prix because the FIA Court of Appeal ruled that Button's car illegally used fuel as ballast. As further punishment, the entire BAR Honda team was banned from taking part in the next two races of this season.

Back in 1984, Team Tyrrell was not allowed to take part in the final three races and it was retroactively thrown out of the entire championship season. Thus the results of Tyrrell drivers Martin Brundle, Stefan Bellof, Stefan Johansson and Mike Thackwell appear with asterisks and parentheses in the 1984 F1 record books.

As often is the case in F1, the Tyrrell saga in 1984 involved much more than accusations of rule bending. There were power struggles going on between the teams and hidden political agendas.

Sounds just like 2005, doesn't it?

Ken Tyrrell's glory years were a fading memory by 1984. He and Jackie Stewart won the World Championship in '69, '71 and '73. By 1984, however, Tyrrell didn't have the money to compete against the big teams.

Nor did Tyrrell have the engine power. By this time the 1.5-liter turbo motors from manufacturers such as Renault, TAG Porsche, BMW, Honda and Ferrari were vastly superior to the normally aspirated 3-liter Ford Cosworths used by Tyrrell.

In an effort to bridge the performance gap, the Tyrrell engineers came up with a solution that eventually caused the team's downfall. They installed a 3.3-gallon water tank in the car and rigged a system whereby water could be sprayed into the air inlet trumpets on the engine. Such a water injection system was legal.

Refueling was illegal in those days, but the Tyrrells would come in late in the race to have the water injection tank topped up. The mechanics, however, added lead balls along with the water.

Just as with BAR in 2005, the Tyrrells in 1984 could, therefore, conceivably run underweight during the race.

Brundle drove to a superb second place in the United States Grand Prix in Detroit in June. Afterward, technical inspectors took water samples from the injection tank. The affair dragged on, but FISA, then the sporting arm of the FIA, decided in July to throw Tyrrell out of the 1984 championship.

Ken Tyrrell filed injunctions and appeals to keep his team racing. FISA maintained that the water samples showed infinitesimal traces of hydrocarbons, and that could mean that the water tank illegally contained fuel.

According to the 1984 F1 annual Autocourse, FISA charged Tyrrell with: refueling during the race; using fuel that did not comply with the regulations; using illegal fuel lines; and using unsecured ballast.

Most F1 insiders believe that the impurities in the water came from contamination that probably came from the cans the water was carried in. The water had come straight out of a faucet in Detroit.

The FIA Court of Appeal heard the Tyrrell case in late August. Now Tyrrell was charged with: hydrocarbons in the water; movable ballast; and illegal holes in the bottom of the cars.

As hydrocarbons were absolutely forbidden in the water, Tyrrell was out of luck on that count even though he argued that no traces of any additive that could increase horsepower were ever found.

Tyrrell argued that tools were needed to remove the ballast, so it was not "unsecured."

The charge of illegal holes in the bottom of the car came out of the blue. They were there to allow air to escape during the "re-watering" process. Several leading F1 technical directors gave evidence that the holes could have in no way improved the aerodynamic performance of the car.

The court was unmoved. Tyrrell was banned from the last three races and thrown out of the entire championship. In losing the 13 points earned by its drivers, Tyrrell also lost the much needed travel fund money paid out in 1985 to the top 10 teams in the 1984 World Championships.

There was one other huge ramification of the entire Tyrrell saga, and it's what many F1 insiders believe to this day was at the very crux of the whole messy affair.

A rule change for 1985 called for the fuel tank capacity to be reduced from 220 liters to 195 liters. The thirsty turbo engines would have their power reduced in order to conserve fuel. While the other teams lobbied to keep the 220-liter fuel tanks in 1985, Tyrrell steadfastly refused to vote for it. It would be to Tyrrell's benefit in 1985 if the horsepower gap were reduced.

As it required a unanimous vote to keep the 220-liter tanks, the stubborn Ken Tyrrell was a stumbling block. With Tyrrell now thrown out, the vote went through and the 220-liter fuel tanks remained in 1985.

Since 1984, cars have been disqualified from a single race after being found to be illegal. Since then, drivers have been suspended from competing in future races for on-track infractions. But it was not until 21 years later and the BAR Honda saga that an entire F1 team was banned from competing because of a rule infringement.

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and