Sir Jackie Stewart: A racing legend who pioneered safety in Formula One
Sir Jackie Stewart is not only one of the greatest Formula One drivers of all time but also one of the most influential figures in the history of motorsport. The Scottish legend, who won three world championships and 27 races in his illustrious career, is widely credited for improving the safety standards and conditions of the sport, as well as promoting its popularity and prestige around the world.
Born in 1939 in Milton, Dunbartonshire, Stewart grew up in a family of car enthusiasts and mechanics. His father was an amateur motorcycle racer, and his brother Jimmy was a successful driver who competed in the 1953 British Grand Prix. Stewart himself had a natural talent for driving but also faced many challenges due to his undiagnosed dyslexia, which affected his education and self-esteem.
Stewart started his racing career in 1961 when he was spotted by Barry Filer, a customer of his family’s garage, who invited him to test his Cooper Formula Three car. Stewart impressed Filer with his speed and skill and soon joined the Ecurie Ecosse team, where he won several races and championships in various categories. In 1964, he was offered a contract by BRM to race in Formula One, alongside his idol and mentor Graham Hill.
Stewart made his Formula One debut in 1965, at the South African Grand Prix, where he finished sixth. He quickly established himself as one of the top drivers on the grid, winning his first race at the Italian Grand Prix later that year. He also competed in other events, such as the Indianapolis 500, where he narrowly missed out on victory in 1966 due to a mechanical failure.
Stewart’s breakthrough season came in 1969 when he switched to Matra and dominated the championship with six wins out of 11 races. He became the first British driver to win the title since Jim Clark in 1965, and also the first to do so with a French team and engine. He repeated his success in 1971 and 1973, driving for Tyrrell, and became the only British driver to win three championships until Lewis Hamilton in 2015.
However, Stewart’s career was not without tragedy and danger. He witnessed many of his friends and rivals die or get injured in horrific accidents, such as Clark, Jochen Rindt, Piers Courage, Jo Siffert, and Francois Cevert. He himself survived several crashes, including a near-fatal one at Spa-Francorchamps in 1966, where he was trapped in his car for 25 minutes before being rescued by fellow drivers.
Stewart was appalled by the lack of safety measures and medical facilities at many circuits and became an outspoken advocate for improving them. He campaigned for better barriers, run-off areas, fire marshals, helmets, seat belts, and emergency services. He also formed the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (GPDA) with Hill and Rindt and led several boycotts and protests against unsafe tracks and conditions. He faced resistance and criticism from some officials, promoters, and fans, who accused him of being a coward or a troublemaker. However, Stewart persevered and eventually succeeded in making Formula One a much safer sport than it was before.
Stewart retired from racing at the end of 1973, after winning his third title. He had planned to race one more time at the US Grand Prix but withdrew after Cevert’s fatal crash during practice. He decided to focus on other ventures, such as becoming a television commentator for ABC Sports in America and BBC Sport in Britain. He also became a successful businessman and entrepreneur, launching several companies and projects related to motorsport, aviation, media, education, and charity.
In 1997, Stewart returned to Formula One as a team owner and principal of Stewart Grand Prix (later Jaguar Racing), in partnership with his son Paul. The team achieved one win (with Johnny Herbert at the 1999 European Grand Prix) and two podiums (with Rubens Barrichello) before being sold to Ford in 1999.
Stewart has received many honours and awards for his achievements and contributions to motorsport and society. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2001 for his services to motor racing. He was also inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1990), the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame (2002), the FIA Hall of Fame (2017), and many others. He has also been involved in various charitable causes, such as supporting research and awareness for dementia (which affects his wife Helen) and dyslexia (which affects him and his son Mark).
Sir Jackie Stewart is more than just a racing legend. He is also a long-time Rolex ambassador, who has been wearing the prestigious Swiss watch brand since 1966. Stewart shares Rolex’s values of excellence, performance, and innovation. He is a role model and an inspiration for generations of drivers, fans, and people who appreciate fine craftsmanship and style. He is the perfect embodiment of Rolex’s motto: “A crown for every achievement”.