Mercedes and Red Bull at the back? The story of Tyrrell and Stewart’s 1998 season

In modern Formula 1, Mercedes and Red Bull have ruled the roost in the sport, but 25 years ago, things were very different, with both teams going through very different periods

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Since 2009, Red Bull and Mercedes have ruled Formula 1, winning every single drivers’ and constructors’ championship slaying the older guard of McLaren and Ferrari.

Both teams are the richest in the sport, have the two best drivers on the grid in Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as well as two of the shrewdest bosses, Christian Horner and Toto Wolff.

Red Bull and Mercedes origins stem from two F1 teams, Tyrrell and Stewart Grand Prix, both privateers using Ford engines but both at completely different ends of the performance spectrum compared to what they are now.

Back in 1998 things were very different for both teams as a rare podium or points finish would be as good as a win with pay drivers becoming a necessity rather than a desire.

Moreover, the two teams were managed by a pair who had spent the 1970s at the top of the sport, Ken Tyrrell and Jackie Stewart, once boss and driver, now rivals on the track.

For Stewart, 1998 would be the team’s second season of competition. At Tyrrell, it was the final year before the transition to British American Tobacco, with the old guard already gone before seasons end.

But how did the season pan out for the two former friends who were enjoying very different seasons.

The first half of the season and trouble at Tyrrell

After a decent debut campaign, which saw them finish second in the Monaco Grand Prix, Stewart kept their 1997 lineup for 1998, with Rubens Barrichello still the team’s lead driver alongside Jan Magnussen.

Magnussen came into the year under a cloud after an underwhelming rookie year with his seat in danger by the Canadian GP following Barrichello‘s heroic fifth place in Spain.

In contrast, it was all change at Tyrrell following Mika Salo‘s departure to Arrows, with former Mastercard Lola stalwart Ricardo Rosset, and the team’s test driver Tora Takagi taking over, forcing Jos Verstappen out.

Rosset’s signing enraged Tyrrell, who left the team in disgust shortly afterwards, with the Brazilian testing the patience of his mechanics by failing to qualify in Spain and Monaco.

Naturally, their patience cracked following the Monaco debacle defacing his paddock scooter by engraving it with the word ‘Tosser’. Meanwhile, Takagi had a best finish of 11th but struggled to adapt to F1, refusing to learn English.

Magnussen out Verstappen in

Canada saw more points flow for Stewart, as the team capitalised on in a race of attrition which was famous for Alex Wurz’s hair-raising barrel roll, with Barrichello finishing fifth and Magnussen sixth.

The long-awaited breakthrough wasn’t enough for Magnussen, who was dropped before the French GP in place for Verstappen. But he did Stewart no favours by stalling on the grid, delaying the start.

Over at Tyrrell, Rosset redeemed himself with eighth in Canada. However, he was still way behind Takagi in qualifying, with neither driver able to get near the points forcing them to fight with Minardi for 10th in the constructors.

On the Monday after France, Tyrrell’s deputy technical director Mike Gascoyne departed for Jordan, putting Malcolm Oastler in charge as the team secured Supertec engines for 1999 after attempts to secure factory ended fruitlessly.

Villeneuve arrives at BAR as Stewart continues to suffer

Despite not securing a factory engine deal, Tyrrell managed to sign Jacques Villeneuve for 1999 after Craig Pollock indicated the team would be built around the 1997 world champion.

Villeneuve’s arrival would be a welcome tonic to the team as Takagi and Rosset continued to languish near the back, with the Brazilian failing to qualify for the German and Hungarian GP.

Things weren’t much better at Stewart, with a hat-trick of double DNFs starting from the British GP and ending in Hungary when Verstappen finished a lowly 13th three laps down on race winner Michael Schumacher.

Both teams would have their race cars destroyed in the infamous 13-car pileup at the start of the Belgian GP, putting Rosset and Barrichello out of the restart due to only one spare car being available.

Although they wouldn’t have to wait long for their teammates to join them as Verstappen went out with an engine failure on Lap 8 whilst Takagi spun off on Lap 10.

One last indignity for Rosset and Takagi as Herbert signs for Stewart

As the season wound down, reliability did improve for Stewart, but neither Verstappen nor Barrichello could crack the top six.

Verstappen found himself out of a drive when Stewart picked up the services of Johnny Herbert, with the team finishing eighth in the constructors, one place better than 1997.

Things weren’t rosy for Tyrrell either as Takagi announced his departure for Arrows taking his sponsorship money with him, giving Mercedes sports car hotshot Ricardo Zonta an F1 birth for 1999, sealing Rosset’s fate.

The team’s Japanese swansong was nothing short of a disaster as Rosset failed to qualify for the fifth time whilst Takagi and Minardi’s Esteban Tuero collided on Lap 28, consigning Tyrrell to 11th and last in the constructors.

What happened next?

Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton during the 2022 United States GP | Jared C. Tilton/Red Bull Content Pool

Under new management, BAR came into F1 with vast expectations of instant success but endured an arguably worse season than 1998, finishing last in the constructors scoring no points.

However, Honda’s involvement in the team from 2000 onwards turned fortunes around until the Japanese manufacturer pulled out of the sport forcing Ross Brawn to step in buying the team for a pound.

What happened next would lead to one of the greatest fairytales in the sport’s history, with Jenson Button winning the drivers championship and Brawn GP, the constructors before Mercedes bought the outfit.

1999 was a much better year for Stewart as the team’s SF3 proved competitive, with Barrichello taking pole in France before Herbert won from 14th on the grid at the Nurburgring.

Midway through 1999, Ford bought Stewart renaming it Jaguar, but the bureaucratic nature of the team caused its downfall, and in 2004 the team was sold to Red Bull, who became world champions six years later.

Ed Spencer
Ed Spencer
FIA accredited journalist
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