Triple Formula one world champion, race-winning team owner, highly successful business tycoon, tireless safety campaigner, dedicated family man… Sir Jackie Stewart has led a truly extraordinary life in and beyond motorsport. we talk to him about the triumphs and the tragedies that shaped him, and about a fateful meeting with Enzo Ferrari
Estimated reading time: 19 minutes
I feel privileged to count Sir Jackie Stewart as a good friend, despite the slightly odd balance that occurs when friends are also heroes. Having said that, in this instance it’s not so difficult to feel privileged. One reason for this is that included in the package comes what appears to be the entire Stewart clan. Certainly the annual Christmas card with the family photo now needs two postmen to carry it to my front door. There’s the lovely Lady Helen Stewart, who probably remembers more characters and gossip from Jackie’s racing career than he does. Then there are Jackie’s two sons, Mark and Paul, along with Anne and Victoria, their respective wives. On top of which there’s an entire tribe of grandchildren. I should mention at this point that, in order to find something new and possibly scurrilous to say about Jackie, and being unable to hack into his phone, I managed to engineer an interview with a number of the Stewart grandchildren during the summer. It may be a testament to my failures as an investigative journalist, or more likely that they had no scurrilous tales to tell, but I had absolutely zero success with my attempts to elicit any scandalous information from them, despite intensive questioning and the offer of ice cream. In fact, all that I could wheedle out was affection and appreciation for a truly well-loved grandfather. My future career with the tabloid press lies in tatters. The problem with a conversation with Sir Jackie is that there’s simply so much to talk about. There are so many facets to both his history and his forthright opinions on many aspects of motorsport to cover. Firstly, of course, there is the Formula One racing driver and three World Championships (1969, 1971 and 1973). Not only his own racing story, but his appreciation and respect for all the other great drivers of that era – fellow Scot Jim Clark, in particular. Then there is Jackie Stewart, the businessman, who worked closely with companies such as Rolex, Moët
Hennessy and Ford. He was a trusted, expert adviser at the highest level, later becoming the ultimate ambassador when developing relationships between teams and sponsors. He has a vast global network of connections and friends, and I suspect his address book must be a solid multi-volume affair. Then there is JYS, team principal in Stewart Grand Prix, alongside his son Paul. In a big budget era they punched well above their weight and developed a team that eventually became a valuable contender in the F1 circus. I think Jackie would maintain that this was probably the toughest of all his engagements. F1’s Machiavellian politics were never something he approved of, but he dealt with it all with equanimity. Jackie has an absolute understanding of how to deliver a package to sponsors that has real value. I suspect he was one of the first to realise that, as well as honing driving skills and fitness, there was also enormous value in coaching his drivers in the art of public speaking and presentation to enable them to become more adept at sponsor interaction, but also to make this hi-octane sport less stressful on themselves. On top of all that, Jackie’s put a lot back into the sport. Apart from his dedication to improving driver safety, he was president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club for a number of years, through some fairly turbulent times. I suspect that was just as bruising as anything that happened while he was racing. And he still has a life outside the sport. He has a huge group of friends from the widest backgrounds, and retains a wicked (Scottish) sense of humour, wry, dry and occasionally outrageous. He’s always enormously appreciative of other people’s attributes and willing to share his own skills. A drive round any race circuit with Jackie is still a stunningly useful master-class. Not only in fast driving but also in smoothness and mechanical sympathy. Oh, and we haven’t even got time to talk about his ability with a shotgun.
The Official Ferrari Magazine: Your achievements in motorsport are legendary. But your relationship with Ferrari is less well-documented. When did it begin?
JYS: [British Ferrari importer] Colonel Ronnie Hoare asked me to drive at Le Mans, as a reserve, in 1964, I think it was. I was reserve driver for both his cars; one was being driven by Graham Hill and Jo Bonnier, the second might have been an LM, or maybe a GTO, driven by Innes Ireland and Tony Maggs. I had to qualify both cars, though I never raced them. I’d never been to Le Mans before, though, and it was nice being with Ronnie because he always stayed in good hotels with great restaurants. As I’d previously been driving for Ken Tyrrell, I’d been used to staying in a room with rats and a bare bulb. I hadn’t seen that side of motor racing before, so that was a big deal!
Nick Mason: You raced a Ferrari at the Nürburgring, didn’t you? How was that?
JYS: Yes, I drove for Ronnie again at the Nürburgring 1,000km. I think I was quicker than the works Ferraris. I had a rental VW, from Cologne airport, and I did eight or nine laps, then, when I got tired, Graham [Hill] drove me round. [pause] I’m dyslexic. I don’t know the alphabet, I couldn’t recite it to you now. I can’t remember the words to the national anthem. But I could tell you every braking distance and every gear change for the Nürburgring in any car I’ve ever driven. It’s contradictory to a learning disability. But there are dyslexic people – Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Richard Branson – who can remember things in a way that other people can’t. The Ring is so complex. I won in F2 there, and three times in F1. The fact I could do that is unaccountable. I remember visuals – 187 corners or something – and I was so naïve it wouldn’t have impressed me that I was going that quickly. Actually, I was more scared I would damage the car; I was driving one of the most expensive racing cars in the world.
TOFM: Ferrari aficionados remember your drive in the 330 P4 at Brands Hatch with great affection. Do you?
JYS: That was in 1967, with Chris Amon; a drive that secured the World Sportscar Championship. Mauro Forghieri was the first guy who understood rebound control. There were very busy undulations at Brands, but the damper and springs settings he achieved made the car a joy to drive. I’d never driven a car that was such a joy to drive there, before or indeed since.
NM: I guess by ’67 your services were becoming very much sought-after…
JYS: [laughs] Porsche wanted me to drive for them. Huschke [von Hanstein, the famous “racing baron” and Porsche’s motorsports boss] had his secretary call me. By then I’d won Grands Prix, had been third in the Championship [in 1965], I was doing quite well. ‘Mr von Hanstein vood like you to drive one of his cars atthe 1,000km at Brands Hatch.’ I said, ‘That’s very nice.’ ‘Yes, we have Bruce McLaren and Jochen Rindt.,’ she continued. So I said, ‘Great. What’s the deal?’ [pause] ‘Ze deal???’ ‘Yes, what am I getting paid?’ And she said, ‘Ach, ze German drivers drive for the honour of driving for Porsche!’ And there was a lengthy silence at my end before I said, ‘Well, I’m a wee Scotsman and I drive to get paid!’ ‘Ach, I’ll have to speak to Herr Huschke…’ And I never heard another word. But the very next day Forghieri called me and asked if I’d drive with Chris in the P4. I think I was paid £10,000. It might have been dollars, quite a lot of money back then, either way. Chris got sick in the car – I don’t know what he’d been doing the night before, but it could have been a lot of things [laughs] – so I drove a large part of the race. And it settled the World Championship. The Chaparral would have been there. The big wing car. I think we finished second. [Reaches over to a nearby shelf] Dario Franchitti gave me this model of the car earlier this year.
TOFM: But you came close to driving for Scuderia Ferrari in 1968, didn’t you?
JYS: I met Enzo Ferrari at Monza, yes. Somebody thought I should meet him, and he was very nice, but no more than that. Back then, any driver going to Ferrari would be in awe. Today, you would still be in awe. Franco Gozzi met us at Milan and drove us to Maranello, and the Old Man was at the gate. There were no mobile phones in those days, so it must have been pure coincidence. I thought, ‘Wow, this is impressive, this is big time…’ Franco did all the translating, and I was shown round the factory. The idea was for me to look around Ferrari and be impressed. Which I was. Especially compared to Ken Tyrrell’s huts! Then I went back on my own, because they said they wanted to do a deal. I saw Franco again, had lunch with Mr Ferrari, and came to a deal. I would drive in 1968, the anticipated other driver was Chris Amon.
NM: So what happened?
JYS: Well, after that I flew to Enna to drive for Ken [in an F2 race, which he duly won], and Jacky Ickx was my team-mate. He said, ‘Are you going to drive for Ferrari?’ And nobody knew, nobody. I said, ‘I don’t want anyone to know, how the hell do you know that?’ He said, ‘Ferrari told me.’ I said, ‘Well, what’s the question?’ ‘Well, are you going to drive for them? They’ve offered me the drive if you don’t take it, because you’re asking big money for the season.’ So I said to him, ‘Take the drive.’ Everyone knew the Commendatore would have his favourite driver and would play one driver off against the other, he was famous for it. I went to Ferrari fearing that might happen – I had enough trouble looking ahead without having to start looking over my shoulder as well. When Jacky said that to me, I thought, ‘uh-oh’. And at the time I had nowhere else to go. The BRM I was racing in F1 was terribly uncompetitive.
TOFM: I’m guessing the news was not well received at Maranello.
JYS: I phoned Gozzi – a wonderful, well-mannered man – and I said, ‘Franco, I just want you to know I’m not going to drive for Ferrari.’ He said, ‘You can’t do that, you shook the Commendatore’s hand and heshook yours!’ And I had, absolutely. But Franco Lini [Scuderia Ferrari team manager] should never have told Jacky Ickx about it, because that is how he found out.
That stopped the deal right there. [pause] At Tyrrell, you see, I was the number one driver.
TOFM: What do you think would have happened if you had gone to Ferrari?
JYS: Who knows. [pause] Whatever else is happening you’ve also got to be with the right brands, and if I’d driven for Ferrari things might have been even bigger for me subsequently. Because that is a brand. A Maasai warrior knows what Ferrari is. They would have known who Enzo Ferrari was…
TOFM: Do you ever think about it?
JYS: No. Because my time with Tyrrell was so invigorating, so stimulating. Anyway, there was a big row. Ferrari was very upset at the time. Ken didn’t have an F1 team at that point, and when I told him I wasn’t going to drive for Ferrari he said, ‘Would you drive for me?’ I said, ‘But you don’t have a team Ken!’ ‘What if I did?’ he replied. So we stitched something together… [pause] If Jacky Ickx hadn’t told me about it, well, it could have been interesting. The Ferrari loss was compensated by a pretty unusual year: I finished second in the World Championship. Not to a Ferrari…
NM: After those great race wins and the championships, you also seemed to know how to retire properly. Was it a difficult decision?
JYS: I had no regrets when I retired from motor racing. It’s very easy to retire early and also easy to retire too late, and you’ve lost that little something that can make the difference. Both of the sports I was involved in [Stewart was also an Olympic-standard clay pigeon shooter] came to a comfortable end. I’ve never missed the competition aspect of driving. I don’t miss the necessity to compete. I still love driving, but the urge to compete… in my case, it just stopped. I had a very good reason to retire when I did. By 1971, I was running out of steam – I crossed the Atlantic 86 times that year! The Can-Am series, the television work I was doing [for ABC in the US], F2, racing Escorts and Capris, F1… I nearly retired then. In 1972, I suffered a duodenal ulcer – I was out for six weeks with that. In 1973, I finally thought, ‘Do I really want to get on another plane?’ I always got over it before, but in April 1973 I’d made up my mind. Now the reason I bring this up is: Michael [Schumacher]. The only thing he did wrong is, he retired too early. He decided to retire on that first hit of, ‘I don’t need to do this.’ Nothing to do with money, he knows that. The money looks after itself. You do it because you enjoy it. Or stop enjoying it, as the case may be.
NM: Money’s certainly not the driving force…
JYS: Correct. Michael had all the money he’d everneed. Maybe Ferrari wasn’t keen. And he thought, ‘OK, damn it, I’ll go, that’ll show them.’ But he retired too early, he got bored. He didn’t have an ABC TV contract, a Rolex contract, a Ford contract… He didn’t have that channel for the adrenaline.
NM: And now he’s damaging his reputation and driving in the way he always used to drive, when he got away with more because he won constantly…
JYS: He’s damaging his reputation, no question. He’s not used to being overtaken, and his Ferrari years were halcyon years for the Scuderia. No disrespect to Michael, but one or two other drivers might have achieved what he did with those cars, they were so good. Back then, people got out of his way when he loomed in their mirrors. They’d hear, ‘Michael’s going to lap you or pass you,’ on their head-set, and they’d move over. The new guys, Kobayashi, Perez, Lewis, they just don’t care. That’s a whole new experience for Michael. You might say, how could Michael Schumacher have a new experience? Well here it is. And it’s only come about because he retired too early. Had he kept going he could have won himself another couple of World Championships.
NM: He’s a thinker and yet he didn’t have anything set up for retirement. One of the remarkable things about your career is that you were a driver, you had these commercial arrangements for various companies, then you went on to become a team manager…
JYS: Oh, I made much more money out of business than racing. Because of my motor racing experience and all the things I had to learn about business, dealing with contracts and so on, I was getting through all the doors at Ford that were relevant and which I couldn’t possibly have got through if I hadn’t been who I was. I was dealing with the CEO, the President…
NM: Why did you move into F1, as a team owner?
JYS: Ford wanted to improve its F1 presence. We’d built up a good business with Paul Stewart Racing, in F3. We’d nurtured a lot of talent: David Coulthard, [Juan Pablo] Montoya, Allan McNish, Hélio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti… We knew how to look after sponsors, about being immaculately presented, having a proper motorhome… we were even dressing all our drivers. We couldn’t trust them to do it! The Brazilian guys had never tied a tie. I sent them to [Savile Row tailor] Douglas Hayward. All the drivers got a blazer, shirts from Frank Foster, shoes from George Cleverley, even socks, we did everything. I knew in F1 we could only have six sponsors’ names on the car or they would get lost. When I got those together we had a full budget. But we had good people, and then others wanted to join because they saw it as a family business.
TOFM: You did rather well at it, too…
JYS: We never had an overdraft, no equity partner and no overdraft. We didn’t borrow a penny, and sold it for £65m with no liabilities. [pause] I think F1 is like owning a corner shop. The proprietors know where every box of matches is, it’s family owned, and it operates 24/7. Ford bought the corner shop then tried to run it like a big corporate business. Everyone was frightened to make a decision in case Detroit went against it. You can’t run an F1 team like that.
TOFM: Ferrari Chairman Luca di Montezemolo is very unhappy with the current regulations in F1. What do you think of DRS, KERS and the Pirelli tyres?
JYS: If I was the ruling body, I wouldn’t have put in KERS and DRS for [the sake of] the public because we knew that KERS would potentially allow passing – although it had failed previously. The ironic thing for me is that the governing body, under Max Mosley, made KERS happen at great expense to the teams and then it was outlawed, and then introduced again while there was supposed to be a cap put on spending – totally contradictory. Anyway, I thought it was too complicated to do that, plus the moveable wing thing. I like the idea of it being allowed. It’s common sense: if you take the wing off, you’ll go faster. But the onesecond thing is difficult for the general public, or your auntie and uncle [to understand]. The racing is better than it’s ever been, but it’s less understandable to the larger TV audience. Somebody phoned me while I was watching the Turkish GP. I told them I would have to call them back, but by the time I’d hung up, I lost track [of what was going on]. The complexity of it…
NM: In your autobiography, there’s a very powerful section where you talk about the number of friends and colleagues who died racing during your era.
JYS: Yes, 57 of them. It’s not one of those things in life you want to experience, where you’d want to say, ‘I’m glad I’ve been there…’ [pause] You wouldn’t want to be there. It’s something the modern Grand Prix driver simply wouldn’t understand. You were losing people all of the time, sometimes you were there when it happened, sometimes you weren’t. Some were close friends, but they were all acquaintances.
TOFM: Yet you kept performing, at the highest level, even in the immediate wake of, for example, Jochen Rindt’s death at Monza in 1970…
JYS: You look back on these things now and wonder where it came from. You’re almost living in a haze when that happens. It happened with Francois [Cevert], with Piers [Courage]… it certainly happened with Jochen. Nobody would admit Jochen was dead, but I knew he was dead. There were no tears at that point, not even shock, no one was prepared to say how serious the accident was. With Francois’s accident, I wish I’d never seen it. It was something no one should ever see.
And when it happens, it has an immense effect on you that lasts the rest of your life.
NM: How do you process something like that?
JYS: We all coped with it. You overcome it, you live with it. The loss is something most people only face once or twice, maybe three times in their life with a parent or grandparent perhaps. When you see it repeatedly and you’re all doing the same thing, taking the same sort of risks…
TOFM: What has it done to you as a man?
JYS: [pause] I can’t imagine it’s done very much for me. It hasn’t given me a hate for the sport, or a bitterness in any way. It was just a time we lived through. Sometimes it was an escape getting into the car. We were like fighter pilots, there was the same sort of spirit and camaraderie. The grief gave me an experience… if you were being mercenary, you could say it gave me an experience of life. But I don’t think too many people deserve those sorts of experiences.
TOFM: Are you slowing down now after all this time, after your recent scare in Geneva?
JYS: No, I get as much fun out of it all now as I’ve ever done. There’s more to do now actually.
Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 15, December 2011