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The Phone Call That Could Have Changed F1 For Ever

FEATURE BY MAT COCH
04/01/2013

A single phone call, made in late 1969, planted the seeds of Bernie Ecclestone's rise to power in Formula One. When Ken Tyrrell spoke to Jack Brabham, regarding the supply of cars for 1970, neither could have known they were helping transform Formula One in to a multi-billion dollar global business.

After winning the world championship in 1969 with Matra Ken Tyrrell disagreed with the French company's plans for the future. It prompted Tyrrell to approach Lotus looking for cars heading in to the 1970 season, before calling Brabham and eventually March.

Brabham himself had intended to retire at the end of 1969. The triple world champion sold his 50% stake in Motor Racing Developments (MRD) to Ron Tauranac, his Australian business partner. Tauranac was the chief designer behind the Brabham cars, which were built by MRD, a joint venture between the two.

Brabham, through Brabham Racing Organisation, purchased cars from MRD. His team was the flagship customer of a company he part owned, yet he received no preferential treatment. Tauranac would sell cars to anyone who could afford them, priority given to he who ordered first.

With retirement looming at the end of 1969 Brabham sold his shares in MRD, and closed Brabham Racing Organisation, giving Tauranac complete control of the pair's Formula One business. However Brabham's retirement plan was put on hold when Jochen Rindt decided to stay with Lotus.

Rindt had driven for Brabham in 1968 and had a strong relationship with Jack but Lotus made the Austrian an offer he couldn't refuse for 1969, and Brabham couldn't hope to match it.

Rindt's relationship with Lotus boss Colin Chapman was strained, the Austrian voicing frustrations about the lack of reliability and build quality. Lotus was a different environment to that at Brabham, where Rindt admired his team leader. So great was the rapport Bernie Ecclestone, Rindt's manager, worked hard to put a Brabham deal together for 1970 with Jack himself willing to vacate his seat in deference.

At the same time Max Mosley, one of March's founding members, visited Rindt in Switzerland in an attempt to talk him in to joining his new team. Rindt was unconvinced at March's prospects, and was, ironically, already speaking with Robin Herd about the prospect of forming his own team in collaboration with Ecclestone. Negotiations on both fronts fell through, as did the deal with Brabham when backing from Goodyear didn't materialise. Rindt died in a Lotus in September at the Italian Grand Prix, the sport's only posthumous world champion.

The Austrian's decision saw Brabham continue racing for another year. For the first time in his career the Australian raced as a factory 'Brabham' driver, under Tauranac's employ.

Meanwhile, buoyed by its championship success in 1969, Matra wanted to launch an all-out French attack on Formula One.

A company back by the French government, Matra dabbled in a number of industries including aeronautics, media and weaponry. It turned its hand to the automotive sector in 1965 when Director General Jean-Luc Lagardere acquired the Automotibiles Rene Bonnet brand. In later years Matra would build Renault Espace people movers.

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