My message to F1's stars

Sir Jackie Stewart, Guest editor

One of the most difficult aspects of my life has been my lack of education, due to not being identified as a dyslexic during my school years. Because of this I was never able to learn about history — and history can teach everyone a great deal.

In our world, I am always disappointed that so many young racing drivers — and even some of the more mature — apparently have no wish to know more about the great names and events of the sport’s past. A knowledge and understanding of them would undoubtedly help today’s drivers better to go about their business. I have no doubts that the lessons I learned from having a keen interest in the sport’s history provided me with knowledge that greatly helped me in my career as a professional racing driver. I was also privileged to spend a great amount of time, in my formative years, with the late Jim Clark.

I’ve always believed that, whether in business or sport, you should have two respected people from whom you can seek counsel. This brings me to the fact that motor racing is one of the very few sports that doesn’t utilise coaches. Racing drivers seem to be so clever that they don’t need that kind of help. They are totally wrong.

There is no point in saying, ‘I’m alone in my car — how can anyone else influence the way I drive?’. That is presumptuous, and simply wrong. Drivers employ managers to assist them in their commercial dealings, so why should they not, from time to time, be in need of counsel with regard to their performance in the cockpit?

Some coaches are very tough on their athletes — but in almost every case the athlete’s performance is enhanced by that guidance. In golf people like David Leadbetter and Butch Harmon never won major tournaments themselves, but they are great coaches. In motor racing, the coaches might be retired drivers who enjoyed huge success, but they could also be folk who never reached the heights themselves, yet have studied the sport intimately, and can see how to help drivers, be it in their skills or their mind-management.

In a series of incidents this season at least two drivers have been particularly prone to both errors of judgement and collisions with others. If a coach were on hand, he would recognise the trend and suffocate whatever demons were causing his driver to make those mistakes. These incidents don’t just happen by chance — there have been too many for that excuse to be made. My biggest worry is that if this behaviour is allowed to continue, sooner or later there will be a huge accident, which could easily take the life of one of our F1 heroes. Sadly, it’s a timely thought in the wake of Dan Wheldon’s fatal Indycar accident (see p14).

Through all the years I’ve been involved in the issues of improving safety, my philosophy has always been to remove as many of the risks and unnecessary hazards as possible — many of which are in the hands of drivers who become over-confident, even cavalier.

It’s at such times that there is a need for a coach — someone close enough to a driver to be able to recalibrate his behaviour so he becomes more aware that actions can have potentially devastating consequences. The governing body of our sport also has a responsibility here, to police the behaviour of drivers more stringently, before the wrong kind of accident happens. Preventative medicine is much less expensive and less painful than corrective medicine.

History shows that the truly great drivers — Caracciola, Fangio, Moss, Clark, Lauda, Prost — seldom had collisions with others. So let history be our mentor here: let counsel, leadership, wisdom and discipline be more vigorously developed so that a driver’s skills are further enhanced — not only to win, but to survive and live happily ever after.