On Grand Prix drivers

The Grand Prix world has accepted the fact that this year has seen the introduction of what would appear to be a phenomenon in its midst. I refer to the advent of 26-year-old Jackie Stewart in the B.R.M. Grand Prix team, and his performances to date.

Having a quiet discussion with a friend of mine on the ability of Stewart and searching for an explanation as to why he has beaten everyone except Jim Clark in his first season of Grand Prix racing, we began to get the glimmerings of a solution. The more we chewed it over the more certain we were that we had found the answer, even though we realised that many people would disagree and many people, drivers in particular, would be upset by our findings.

Let us review what Stewart has done in his first season as a B.R.M. team driver, and number two to Graham Hill. His racescore to date in Formula One races this year is: 6th, South African G.P.; 2nd, Brands Hatch; retired, Goodwood; 1st, Silverstone International Trophy; 3rd, Monte Carlo G.P.; 2nd, Belgian G.P.; 2nd, French G.P.; 5th, British G.P.; 2nd, Dutch G.P.; retired, German G.P. A good score for a seasoned Grand Prix driver, one first, four seconds, a third, a fifth and a sixth, with two retirements; in fact a result to be proud of, but Stewart has accomplished this in his first season of Grand Prix racing, and the season is not yet finished. His performances in practice are even more inspiring, for they read as follows: South Africa, 5th row of grid; Brands Hatch, 3rd row of grid; Goodwood, front row of grid and F.T.D.; Silverstone International Trophy, front row of grid and and F.T.D.;. Monaco G.P., 2nd row of grid with 3rd F.T.D.; Belgian G.P., front row of grid and 3rd F.T.D.; French G.P., front row of grid and and F.T.D.; British G.P., front row of grid and equal 3rd F.T.D.; Dutch G..P., 3rd row of grid, but only four-tenths of a second behind and F.T.D.; German G.P., front row of grid and and F.T.D. The rule rather than the exception is that Stewart is on the front of the starting grid, and often this has been on his first visit to the circuit in question, but more important is the fact that he has been competing against stars of Grand Prix racing that have been established for four or five years.

Many people have accepted the fact that he is a phenomenon and left it at that, without trying to find an explanation, but there must be more to it than that. You cannot join in with the Grand Prix “circus” and consistently beat people like Gurney, Brabham, Surtees, and even your own team-mate, Graham Hill, all in your first season, without there being a reason for it. Looking back a few years I began to get a clue to the reason for this situation, and this clue also gave me the answer to another problem that has been at the back of my mind for some time. Over the many years that I have been following Grand Prix racing there have been outstanding drivers that have been above the others in ability, and there have been new drivers with a “natural” ability that was obvious right from the start, and when they took to Grand Prix racing they were outstanding, but not quite the equal of the established top driver. The quick rise to fame of Bernard Rosemeyer in the mid-1930s was an example, but while he was outstanding nobody suggested he was better than Nuvolari.

In recent years Fangio was top man in Grand Prix racing, with Moss right behind him, when along came Tony Brooks, who was outstanding, but there was no question of him being better than Fangio. In 1961 there was no one who would deny that Stirling Moss was the outstanding Grand Prix driver. There were a lot of good, very good, drivers racing against him, but his driving prowess was above them all. In the spring of 1962 he had his regrettable accident at Goodwood, and the Grand Prix season started without Stirling Moss, and, more regrettably, had to continue without him. We surveyed the field and found we had four outstanding drivers, Clark, Gurney, Hill and Surtees (in alphabetical order), and any of these four were capable and justified in winning the major Grand Prix races. We said to one another, this is remarkable, we have four top-line drivers of equal ability, and we got over our disappointment at the loss of Stirling Moss. This where we made our mistake. We did not have four top-line drivers, what we had were four very good drivers, but at that time, 1962, none of them was the equal of Stirling Moss. We automatically accepted a lower standard as the top-line in Grand Prix racing, because we had lost our “standard of Grand Prix driving” overnight, on that fateful Easter Monday in 1962.

It may have been the reaction to the Stirling Moss disaster that caused me, and many others, to overlook the need of readjusting our standards of Grand Prix driving. However, during 1962 and 1963 I was never inwardly convinced that we could have four top-line drivers, and close and detailed study of the four drivers in question convinced me that Jim Clark was going to leave the others behind as his experience increased. This was prompted by two things, one the fact that I had come across J. Clark some years before in Club racing, in a set of known circumstances by which I could assess his ability, and I was most impressed; and two, that Stirling Moss returned from some South African races in the winter of 1961/62 and told me quite frankly that he was worried by Clark. He said that he could beat any of the other drivers, even if he was driving an obsolete car, as he had done in 1961, but that he was going to need an equal car to beat Jim Clark. He was quite happy about beating him, but insisted that conditions would have to be equal; he was not prepared to take Clark on with a handicap. I am certain that he was sincere in these remarks and the last three and a half years have shown that Moss was right. Over the past eighteen months, Clark has convinced most people that he has risen from the original four and is their unquestionable leader, just as Fangio was ahead of Moss, Hawthorn, Brooks and Collins, so that we have returned to what has been normal in Grand Prix over the decades; and the freak situation of 1962 has been resolved. I am not decrying the ability of Gurney, Hill and Surtees, or any of the others who are just behind them; I am merely putting things into the right perspective and getting my “standards” straight. I have had enough experience of Grand Prix drivers to know that an apparently mediocre one is a very good driver by ordinary standards, such as Club racers and those of us who just enjoy driving fast. I am discussing the absolute peak of Grand Prix driving, the sort of ability that puts a man into the “artist” category, which is above the hard-working fast driver.

At the beginning of this year I was convinced that Clark had made the grade from being one of a group of really first-rate Grand Prix drivers into a special category of “superman,” and this season has given me positive proof, and it has given it to a lot of disbelievers as well. Now into this situation arrives a new young apprentice from Scotland, who begins to make the first-rate lads puff and sweat a bit to keep in front of him; and in a very short time they are “scratching” to keep up with him. But Clark is not unduly troubled by him, though he may well be in the future. We now have the situation which was like the arrival of Tony Brooks into Grand Prix racing, and it all makes good sense, and conforms to plan. The idea that Stewart was a phenomenon never really convinced me, because he was human like anyone else, and made mistakes and showed a lack of experience as any new driver would. But he also showed a remarkable number of outstanding attributes that put him in a very high position in the Grand Prix driver field. His speed of reflexes, his timing of foot and hand movements, his judgement, his “feel” for the limit of tyre adhesion and so on, all matched up very well when analysed. You only had to watch him closely on a sharp corner that called for heavy braking; rapid gear-changes, and hard acceleration away, to see remarkable ability. His right foot was obviously hard down on whichever pedal was required, accelerator or brake; there was no hesitation; and the speed and precision of his gear-changes, up or down, were that bit sharper and quicker and more forceful than many of his rivals. During the part of the season that has so far been run, he has met challenge after challenge with most convincing results. It was thought that his first attempt at the highspeed stuff at Spa would sort him out, but he took it in his stride, and the race in the wet in addition. The twists and turns of Clermont-Ferrand were obvious child’s play to him, and then came the challenge of the Nürburgring. His practice times made most people look like amateurs, and it was his first drive on the Nürburgring with a Grand Prix car. That he is human like anyone else was illustrated by the slight mistake he made during the race, which caused his retirement with a bent wishbone. He made no bones about it, he “goofed,” just as he had done at Monaco, when he spun at Ste. Devote. There is no doubt about the fact that he is a “natural” high-speed driver, born with all the faculties required of an outstanding driver. Like Fangio, Moss and Clark, he is obviously blessed with good judgement, sharp reflexes, outstanding eyesight, and sense of balance, all to a higher degree of perfection than our previous top-line “standard drivers.”

If we are prepared to accept the fact that the level of ability of Clark, Gurney, Hill and Surtees in 1962 was not as high as we thought it was, and I for one will accept this fact, then it is a straight-forward matter to fit Stewart into the picture. Looking back to 1961/2 again, it becomes more obvious that this was the situation; if you consider, what we assumed then was that overnight the ability of these four had reached the level set by Stirling Moss. We had Moss with a figure of merit of 100, and the others around the 91-95 figure. Moss is taken from us and we automatically gave the others a figure of merit of 100, as being the best we had. What we should have done was to have left a space above them, to be filled by someone known or unknown. If Clark had not developed with experience the way he did, then there is no reason why Stewart should not have stepped straight into that space, and that really would have caused a stir.

Just in case any readers are still not convinced, and before they reach for pen and paper, may I suggest that they return to the beginning of this article and read again the results obtained by Stewart in the Formula One races and Grand Prix events run so far this season.—D. S. J.