Jackie Stewart: F1's original young gun


Max Verstappen is a veteran. Having karted competitively since before he was five, and at an international level from the age of 12, he was a world champion by 15.

Formula 1 at 17 feels like a natural progression.

Jackie Stewart was a teenage hotshot, too: at shooting.

Though his elder brother raced internationally for Ecurie Ecosse in the first half of the 1950s, driving racing cars, even for fun, was not in young Jackie Young’s sights.

The shallow-breath, slow-blink concentration and deadeye focus that his first chosen sport demanded ring-fenced him from an undiagnosed struggle with dyslexia.

It took an Olympic-sized hiccup – a rare off day at the trials meant he would not represent Great Britain at Rome 1960 – to trigger a re-evaluation at 21.

His more famous sporting career took nervous flight in 1961 in a gull-winged Marcos.

He ventured turning semi-pro in 1962.

And, by March 1964, he had a burgeoning reputation south of the border, a contract for further raids with Ecurie Ecosse in his pocket and £50 in his bank account.

Then came the call from Ken Tyrrell that changed everything.

Stewart’s 1964 was his breakthrough.

Certainly his most diverse season and “as stimulating, frenetic and downright enjoyable as any in my entire career”, he started it a club racer of rich promise and ended it wiser, richer and – precisely half a century ago this week – a winner in F1.

Having been impressed by his few laps tagged unofficially to the end of a practice session at Brands Hatch’s British GP, Colin Chapman asked Stewart to replace Jim Clark – injured in a snowball fight in Italy! – at Kyalami’s non-championship Rand GP.

Showing wisdom – he would say Scottish canniness – that belied his experience, Stewart had turned down the Team Lotus boss once before. Feeling unready for F1 by July, instead he accepted a Plan B offer of a seat in Chapman’s Formula 2 team run by Ron Harris.

Stewart finished second at the first time of asking, at the daunting Clermont-Ferrand, and would win at Zolder (a heat) and Snetterton.

He still played cagily, however, and decided to learn his F1 trade in 1965 alongside Graham Hill at BRM rather than shiver at best – shrivel at worse – at Lotus in Clark’s towering shadow.

But, with BRM’s blessing, he accepted his South African one-off.

Armed with a brand new Type 33, he claimed pole position by six-tenths from his more established team-mate Mike Spence.

Then, having rubbed door handles with local Lotus Cortina stars Basil van Rooyen and Koos Swanepoel – near recipient of that Clark-bound snowball! – he boarded with much anticipation the green Lotus.

It had barely left the line when a driveshaft broke.

Forced to start the second heat from the back, he lapped 2.6 seconds faster than anybody had managed earlier to make short work of the rest and register his first victory in the premier category.

Graham Hill, aggregate winner in a Brabham-BRM run by John Willment’s team, no doubt would have offered sterner resistance had circumstance required, but Stewart’s transformation was obviously complete.

It had taken him 52 races in a variety of categories and cars: F3, F2, the British Saloon Car Championship, GTs (big and small) and sportscars; from pencil-slim Cooper T72 to bulky Jaguar XK120, via Elans and Lightweight E, tatty – according to Motor Sport – Cooper Monaco, Tojeiros (Buick and Ford), and Ferrari 250s (GTO and LM).

What with the Tyrrell Racing Organisation, plus Red Rose Motors, Ecurie Ecosse, Ian Walker Racing, hirsute Swedish privateer Ulf Norinder, Chequered Flag, hirsute Swedish privateer Ulf Norinder, Maranello Concessionaires and ‘Noddy’ Coombs, the phone at Dumbuck Garage in West Dunbartonshire was suddenly ringing clamorously off the hook.

No wonder. Stewart’s class was obvious from the moment of his blithe outpacing in March of Bruce McLaren – not two years his senior but already thrice a world championship GP-winner – at a Goodwood shakedown of Tyrrell’s F3 Cooper.

He proved it to all – especially those sundry hardy souls who stayed to the bitter end of a bitterly bleak Daily Mirror Trophy meeting at Snetterton – a few days later. Though John Fenning beat him to pole in Janspeed’s Lotus, Stewart held an 11-second lead at the end of lap one and won his first single-seater race by more than 40 after 10.

He would dominate that reconstituted Express & Star British F3 Championship, and also win with some comfort the prestigious Monaco GP support race, as well as events at Rouen (again in front of the F1 crowd) and Reims in France, and Zandvoort in Holland.

But for an inoperative clutch at La Châtre, where Eric Offenstadt’s Lola-Ford beat him, a spin at Brands Hatch while dicing with the more powerful Cosworth Engineering Lotus of Brian Hart (he recovered to finish sixth) and a diff failure on the warm-up lap at Zolder, he would have been unbeaten in the category.

His Cortina escapades were not quite so clear-cut. Fifth and sixth in early-season BSCC rounds at Oulton Park and Aintree, and third in a British GP support race, he proved his tin-top competence – and endurance – by winning August’s Marlboro 12 Hours in Maryland at the wheel of a works Lotus Cortina co-driven by Mike Beckwith.

Stewart’s love affair with America – and its dollar – had begun.

And within two months he would be contracted to Ford: the most successful and far-reaching driver/manufacturer deal in the sport’s history.

In Elans, he won at Mallory Park, Crystal Palace – the June day that he scored three consecutive victories in three different cars – and Brands Hatch.

He wrote off Ecosse’s ageing Cooper Monaco at Oulton Park in April, having spun it from the lead at Goodwood in March, and the team’s Tojeiros weren’t up to the job: the best he could manage was a fifth place at Silverstone in May.

“So fresh, so new, so lacking in knowledge and experience”, Stewart was keen to pack as much as possible into the year.

But not any cost.

How he handled himself out of the cars was just as impressive.

Tyrrell had offered two options. One was for £10,000, on the understanding that Stewart would pay him 10 per cent of his earnings for the next five years. The other was for £5 – sufficient to making it legally binding – plus 50 per cent of his season’s winnings and bonuses.

Not only did Stewart make Ken wait but also he backed himself. Alerted to the fact that there might be more money in this business than he had envisaged, he took that £5.

He earned £186 at grisly Snetterton – he was dyslexic not innumerate – and cleared £10,500 over the year.

From the off, he made decisions like he drove. A little bit of thought, he discovered, went a long way. Though he had fast reactions, he saw no reason to live on them.

A new generation of driver had been born.

Verstappen represents the next.

He packed 46 races into his breakthrough 2014 and, as did Stewart, regularly crammed three into a weekend. The big difference is that 34 of them were undertaken in an F3 Dallara. The others were achieved in a Formula Abarth Tatuus in Ferrari’s Florida Winter Series.

What Verstappen lacks in diversity, however, he more than makes up for in data gathered, crunched and stored.

Today’s F1, like shooting, is a standalone, more focused than ever before.

Much has changed…

Stewart’s contract with Tyrrell was the only written one in their long relationship. A firm handshake was sufficient thereafter.

And the team’s handsome transporter of 1964 was a converted bus salvaged from a shipwreck in the Thames Estuary.

…but the sport’s fundamental essence has not.

Stewart was 25-26 in 1965 when he proved conclusively that, ‘If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.’

And, in the racing ways that matter right now, Verstappen is arguably ‘older’ than Stewart was then.


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