Ken Tyrrell began his own racing team in 1958, running Formula Two cars for himself and others, but retired from driving the following year. Tyrrell became adept at spotting talent in Formula Two and gave single-seater debuts to John Surtees, Jacky Ickx and most famously Jackie Stewart. Tyrrell was recruited to run the BRM Formula Two team while Stewart moved up into F1 with the BRM senior team and the two were reunited in 1968 when Tyrrell started a Formula One team in partnership with French manufacturer Matra. Tyrrell-Matra and Stewart were strong contenders from the off and won the 1969 championship, and Tyrrell as a solo concern won the inaugural Constructors’ title in 1971 with Stewart taking drivers’ titles in 71 and 73. After Stewart’s retirement that year, Tyrrell continued having some success with his replacement Jody Scheckter and gained a reputation for innovation, most famously with the 1976-77 six-wheeled P34, but as the late 70s wore on, results dropped off. 1977 saw the team’s first winless year since its formation, followed by a lucky win at Monaco for Patrick Depailler to prevent the same in 1978. 1979 saw two third places apiece for Depailler and Didier Pironi as the highlights of the season and 1980 was even worse with Derek Daly’s two fourth places the best results as the team scored a mere twelve points.
For 1981, “Uncle Ken”‘s team had lost its sponsorship deal with Candy and would be heavily reliant on pay-drivers until a new sponsorship deal could be found. Lining up at Long Beach were two US drivers in Eddie Cheever and Kevin Cogan, but few expected the pairing to last the season if someone came along with a better offer.
3. Eddie Cheever
Born in Phoenix but brought up in Rome, Eddie Cheever raced karts and won the Italian and European championships at age 15, working his way up to Formula Two and getting his F1 debut in 1978 at just 20 years old. Two failures to qualify for Theodore and a retirement for Hesketh saw him not driving in 1979, but in 1980 he was back with a full-time drive for the Italian Osella team. Despite only posting one finish – 12th – in a sea of retirements and non-qualifications, he impressed Ken Tyrrell enough to get a seat at the team for 1981, not least in the hopes of attracting American sponsors before the Long Beach race.
Born in California, Kevin Cogan progressed through the junior Formulae in the US circuit, and would eventually go on to have a long career in American open-wheel racing. Drafted in by the RAM team to drive a customer Williams car in the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix, he failed to qualify in the same car driven by the winner, Alan Jones. Signed by Tyrrell on a pay-by-race basis, his first race would be his home round; the Long Beach Grand Prix of 1981.