In the hot seat

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He set the place alight in a wooden car, was quick on the draw and had a fast older brother. A winner in his first season of F1, Sir Jackie Stewart made enemies with his safety stance, but shone at the tracks Jenks loved

Did you realise when racing that Marcos at Charterhall in 1961 that you were world champion material — as many of us did? Charlie Harrison, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Absolutely not.

What did you think of DSJ’s anti-safety stance and did you talk to him about it? Robin Middleton, Newbury

I have always been a big admirer of Jenks. He was a terrific writer, a genuine eccentric. He had strong views on safety and would stand at places on racetracks where no others would, like the Masta Kink at Spa. His head would pop out at wheel level from behind a building so that he could get a real impression of who was lifting or braking. I asked him why he put himself at such a risk and he said he trusted the guys he poked his head out at. It wasn’t a very robust answer because anyone can make a mistake. It was disappointing that he took such a strong view which was never going to hold up. Safety was abominable and things had to change. But we agreed to differ.

Have you kept in touch with film director Roman Polanski? Fred Redfern, Manchester

Yes, we occasionally speak. He’s based in Paris. We rarely see each other, but I still count him as a friend, one of those who you don’t have to see that often to remain so.

How did you rationalise your safety stance with the fact that you were quick at places like Spa, Clermont-Ferrand and the ‘Ring? Edwin Bray, Stoke

I drove within what I believed to be the limits of myself and my cars. That allowed me to avoid circumstances where I would go off at places where the penalties for doing so were high. You can probably count on one hand the times I went off the road, but it was still quick enough to win races. If you look at Michael Schumacher, he goes off the road nearly every weekend at some point because he has enough space to accommodate errors.

How many laps of the Nürburgring did you have to do before you really knew it, and would you still know your way round it? Chris Hardy, Bucks

I could give you every braking distance and gear change right now. It is never to be forgotten. I went round there the other day and some things have changed in terms of landmarks and foliage, but give me five or six laps and I could drive it as I did then. It’s so ingrained in me. I learnt it in a VW road car and went to the 1965 1000Km race with Maranello Concessionaires and drove its Ferrari P2 — so that was a pretty good introduction to the place. Graham Hill and Dan Gurney both took me round and I tried to remember it, which was something I was reasonably good at.

How good a driver was your brother Jimmy? Rachel Taberner, Northwich

Very good. He was very smooth and very clean. To be invited to drive for the Jaguar works team and Aston Martin was a big deal. You had to be good — and there were a lot of very good drivers about then.

What was your first impression of Tyrrell 001 and did you have any say in its design? Barry Smith, Horsham, West Sussex

I had no say in its concept, but we did talk about what would be good and bad. I did the cockpit sittings very early on and the car was made for me. It was an extremely good car and it was a remarkable performance for Ken to win the drivers’ and constructors’ titles in his first year of building cars. It probably wasn’t done before then and won’t be done again. It felt like a good car from the first test I did in it.

Do you think your shooting skills helped your driving? Matthew Lund, South Shields

Yes. I gained experience of competition from the young age of 15 and shot at the highest level for Scotland and Great Britain. When I retired at the age of 23 I had won a lot of championships and knew exactly what went into winning — and losing. It was all about what I call mind management; how to stay focused. If you make a mistake driving a racing car you can make it up at the next corner. If you miss a clay you can’t make it up unless someone else makes a mistake. It was a good lesson.

Without wishing to demean Tyrrell, do you think you’d have had an easier time winning the 1973 title in a Lotus or even a McLaren? James Bryce, Chelmsford

I don’t know. The Lotus 72 was remarkable, we knew that all the way through. And so was the M23 in 1973, no question. I could have switched teams, but I was very happy where I was. I was very comfortable at Tyrrell and there was a lot of trust. We had a couple of mechanical issues over the years, but they were few and far between. There was an incredible culture, where safety was put first; the team was way ahead of its time in that respect.

Were you at Monaco when Johnny Servoz-Gavin took your place in the Matra squad, and were you able to give him any advice? Rupert Sawyer, Andover

Oh yes. Ken had him come up to my hotel room right through the weekend, in practice and before the race, and I told him everything he needed to know. It was a big moment for him, but he had everything he needed to win that race. Once you get in the lead you don’t have to drive that hard. I know he’s claimed that he never hit anything, but there was an awfully nasty mark on the car!

Did you try to dissuade your friend Jochen Rindt from driving for Team Lotus? Timothy Fitzgerald, Long Island, New York

No, but we talked about it a lot and he was very nervous about going over there. Colin Chapman will probably go down as the greatest designer of racing cars from a creative aspect, but Jochen was nervous about how light he built everything.

Could Francois Cevert have gone on to be world champion? Walter Tooley, Bermondsey

Yes, I think so. He had all the right ingredients and drove very well. He was much loved by the team, too.

People today talk about the speed you carry into a corner being what sorts out the great from the good. Was it so in your day? Tommy Spann, Czech Republic

Oh yes. It’s not when you brake but when you take them off that counts. Most people don’t understand that.

As far as I can remember, you have not raced since 1973. Have you never felt the slightest urge to do historic or ‘celebrity’ races? Tm Harrison, Horsham

No, never. I’ve always been comfortable with my decision to retire. Most drivers go through withdrawal symptoms, but my cup had been full and I had taken my fill. I’m very lucky.

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