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For the December issue of Motor Sport we decided that editor Damien Smith needed a break. In order to fill his chair we needed someone who could not only speak authoritatively about the history of the sport, but someone who still had his finger on the pulse of modern Formula 1. Enter three-time World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart.
His enthusiasm for the job was astonishing, and after quite a few hours in the office he left us to formulate the December issue. As you can read in Damien’s website editorial (we didn’t let him get away with not working at all…) Sir Jackie talked us through his perfect dinner party as well as chatting to Nigel Roebuck about his friend and former boss, the late Ken Tyrrell.
Before sitting him down for an audio podcast we also quizzed Jackie on his top five F1 drivers from this year, and of all time. “A list of top drivers for the current season is always a personal one,” he began. “However, five drivers have stood out from the rest for me.
“Sebastian Vettel is the most mature 24-year-old driver that’s ever been in Formula 1. To have achieved what he did last year and this, at 23 and 24 years of age, is incredible.
“This year his pace has been amazing, but I wouldn’t have allowed anybody to get that close to me in Canada or Singapore – like Jenson Button did. Especially when he had such a commanding lead a few laps before.
“I mentioned it to [Red Bull team principal] Christian Horner at the airport when we were leaving Singapore, and he gave me the impression that there was more to it than that. Apparently there were a couple of issues with the car that stopped him from keeping the gap to 10 seconds.”
Attention soon turned to Fernando Alonso, who Jackie described as the driver with “the best tool kit on the grid”. Even though the Ferrari hasn’t been able to match the Red Bull’s pace this year, Alonso has led the team and even helped Felipe Massa perform, according to the Scot. “Ferrari is not as competitive as they should be this year, and therefore Alonso’s had to hold them up.
“Felipe Massa’s done well from time to time, but that’s because he’s had to try and keep up with Alonso. Fernando has brought that speed on. I have a high respect for his driving skills.
“After Alonso I’ve got Jenson Button,” he continued. “He is the neatest of drivers. He’s got less steering angle going into and out of the corners than any other driver. His driving style is also very smooth. When you watch the on-board footage you’re seeing a man driving well within the capacity of the car and not stretching the elastic. He’s much like Prost or Fangio in that respect. To be a really great driver, you’ve got to do that.”
There was much discussion about McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s current form, but Jackie is still convinced that he is one of the fastest drivers on the grid. “Hamilton came into F1 with the best team and car in the world,” he told us as we finished lunch, “and he nearly won the championship. Nobody’s ever done that. Alonso went to Minardi and Ayrton Senna went to Toleman, for example. Lewis was hugely privileged and the next year he did win the championship. I don’t think he drove as well then as in 2007, incidentally.
“Since then I don’t know what’s happened to his driving. He’s still got the speed, but I cannot understand why he makes mistakes so often. None of the great drivers had collisions. The only two people now who have been doing that regularly are Michael Schumacher and Lewis. You can’t have that many collisions and be right.
“Lewis nearly had an accident going out to qualify in Singapore! I could not believe that. There’s no manager, no coach, nobody saying ‘what are you doing?’ And nobody on the horn saying ‘for God’s sake get your head together’.
“I’ve put Hamilton in my top five because of his speed and there was a time when I admired his skills of overtaking. But the attempted pass he made in last year’s Italian Grand Prix, going into the second chicane with Massa… Even a blind man wouldn’t have gone there.
“I could have put Mark Webber ahead of Lewis because I think he is actually a cleaner driver. Whatever’s happening with his starts, I do not know. I don’t know whether it’s him or if it’s a systems problem. He gets the revs right and then you hear them dip. I thought it sounded like a systems failure to me, but I can’t believe that happens every time.”
Jackie soon moved onto his top five drivers of all time which was interesting not just because of who was included, but who wasn’t. To find out more, pick up a copy of the December issue. You won’t be disappointed.
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