My first memory of seeing Jackie Stewart is at the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting in 1964: a small trim man, talking to a pretty girl – Helen, his wife – with a scarf tied around her head. They were standing by their car, a green Mini. That day Stewart, driving Ken Tyrrell’s Cooper-BMC, won the Formula 3 race beating Chris Irwin’s Merlyn.
There was at first an innocence about him – a small-town boy in a world of bright lights – but he was already canny. “My retainer with Ken in ’64 – to make it legal – was £5!
Actually he offered me an alternative of £10,000, in return for 10 per cent of my future earnings, but I had enough savvy to go for the £5…”
Stewart didn’t lose many F3 races that season, and the Formula 1 teams were clamouring for him. Of particular interest were Lotus, with Jim Clark, and BRM, with Graham Hill.
The obvious choice was Lotus, which built the quickest cars, but Stewart was wiser than that. He knew that the team’s focus would stay with Clark, and also that Colin Chapman was a man who demanded results – and quickly.
Just as Alain Prost would turn down the opportunity of an instant F1 debut with McLaren, so Jackie similarly reasoned he could do without that kind of pressure. BRM, meantime, offered a competitive car and the chance to play himself in. He settled for that – and won his third F1 race, the International Trophy at Silverstone, beating the Ferrari of World Champion John Surtees.
Once in a while, a driver comes along who is just different, and from the start there was something about Stewart, his whole being, which radiated conidence. His jaunty step brought to mind Stirling Moss. Both walked through a paddock as if they owned them, and in a way they did. Following Fangio’s retirement, Moss’ place in the protocol of racing was mirrored by Stewart’s after the death of Clark. They were the best of their times, and they knew it.
Only a few races into his first season Stewart was already faster than Hill, and at Monza he won his first Grand Prix. In 1966 he won the Monaco Grand Prix, and the future could hardly have been brighter – but it might have been snuffed out in the rains of Spa, where his BRM crashed on the opening lap.
Although Stewart’s most serious injury was a broken collarbone, he was trapped in thewreckage – soaked in fuel – for some time. No organised rescue system was in place, and Jackie was removed from his car by two fellow drivers. The experience profoundly reshaped his attitude to safety, and would have a profound effect upon the future of the sport.
Not that it ever showed in his driving, mind you. Twelve months later Stewart returned to Spa with the cumbersome BRM H16, and, despite having to steer with his left hand only – the right being used to hold the lever in gear – he led much of the way.
A year on, Clark died at Hockenheim, and F1 was suddenly without a leader. By his actions – on the track and off – over the next few months, Stewart laid claim to the mantle.
Following Tyrrell’s decision to go into Grand Prix racing, Jackie had joined him, and in Ken’s Matra MS10 won three Grands Prix, including the extraordinary triumph at a foggy, sodden Nürburgring, where he was ahead by four minutes…
For the next five seasons the Stewart-Tyrrell partnership was the dominant force in F1, winning the World Championship three times. When Jackie retired at the end of 1973 his tally was 27 victories from 99 starts. Not all statistics are damned lies.
Away from the cockpit, too, his inluence was felt. Stewart galvanised attitudes to safety, and in so doing incurred the wrath of traditionalists. Certainly there were occasions when he imposed his will without much subtlety, but time was short, and kid gloves were useless in a fight with the establishment.
I met Jackie in 1971, the year in which he won his second title. At Barcelona, my first race as a journalist, Rob Walker introduced me.
“Welcome aboard,” he said. “If ever you need anything from me, you only have to ask…” Nowadays, you get emails from teams ahead of a Grand Prix weekend, advising that their drivers will be ‘available to print media’ at a certain time for a maximum of 10 minutes or so. Forty years ago, when PR had yet to raise its precious head, F1 was an informal world, with any lines of demarcation drawn faintly, if at all.
Even so, I was pleasantly gratified by the first meeting with Stewart, the king of the hill. A few weeks later, at a Silverstone test, I saw him in the paddock. “Hi, how are you?” he said.
“How are you settling in?” Very well, I replied – and could we do an interview some time? “Sure,” he said. “Want to do it now?” And so we sat near the Tyrrell truck, and talked for half an hour and more.
All these years on I find Jackie fundamentally unchanged, still dissatisfied with anything less than the best, still extraordinarily efficient and driven, still warm and approachable. He has always – like Mario Andretti – been aware of his market value, and gone for top dollar, but none of the companies with whom he has worked would say they were short-changed. To his business life JYS brought the same professionalism that characterized his driving.
He does it to this day. And no other driver has matched him in a willingness to put something back into the sport.
A straight question gets a straight response, and always has. In the late ’60s, when he left Harold Wilson’s Britain for Switzerland, there was criticism in the national press. Jackie shrugged it off. “It occurred to me,” he said, “that, nine weekends out of 10, I was risking my life for the Chancellor of the Exchequer…”
Risking his life he indisputably was, too, and it was the loss of so many friends, notably Clark, Courage, Rindt and Cevert, which spurred Stewart to transform attitudes to safety. Every racing driver of the last 40 years is in his debt.
Thinking back to that first year, 1971, I remember the sublime confidence of a racing driver who knew his position in his own world.
I think of Paul Ricard, scene of the French Grand Prix. Stewart had set the fastest qualifying time, and was in the pits, chatting with friends. Over the PA system came the news that Jacky Ickx had gone quicker. “Christ,” said Jackie, reaching for his helmet, “that means I’ll have to go out again…”
GRANDS PRIX: 99
POLE POSITIONS: 17
FASTEST LAPS: 15
OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS: British Racing Drivers Club president (2000-06), Scottish, Welsh, English, Irish, British and European Clay Pigeon Champion, Mediterranean Coupe des Nations (clay pigeon shooting) (1st)
From the archives
Earlier in the season I wondered if Stewart was running before he could walk, but after his performances this season there is no question about it, he is a natural fast driver and has set a new standard in Grand Prix driving, and he does it all with very little effort and without ‘blood, sweat and tears’, like some drivers.
Denis Jenkinson, September 1965
To vote for Jackie Stewart as your favourite driver, go to www.motorsportmagazine.com/worldchampions
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