Features - News Feature

JULY 25, 2001

Arise Sir Jackie


Luciano Burti, Eddie Irivine, Jackie Stewart, Malaysian GP 2001
© The Cahier Archive

Why Jackie Stewart's knighthood took so long is a mystery. Besides his three World Championships and a record tally of 27 Grands Prix victories, not to mention a blameless lifestyle conducted with dignity and honor, no driver in history ever did more to boost the chances of survival in a sport that was a widowmaker in his heyday.

Why Jackie Stewart's knighthood took so long is a mystery. Besides his three World Championships and a record tally of 27 Grands Prix victories, not to mention a blameless lifestyle conducted with dignity and honor, no driver in history ever did more to boost the chances of survival in a sport that was a widowmaker in his heyday.

Motosport has always had slim pickings where knighthoods are concerned, even though it has generated vast chunks of revenue for successive governments as British engineering expertise has been exported the world over. British drivers haven't done too badly, either, with Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill winning World Championships. But it is the theatrical side of the game that has been the most successful in recent years, spawning knights as if they were going out of fashion. The motorsport 'backwater', which thrives on engineering talent that is the envy of all nations, the pickings have been slim.

Until recently Stirling Moss was the last man knighted for his services to motor racing, in 2000; before that you had to go back to Frank Williams in 1996 and Jack Brabham in the Seventies. Before them you had to trawl through the yawning chasm to the days between the two world wars, when Britain had no real Grand Prix presence but was pre-eminent in the land speed record breaking arena. In 1929 Henry O'Neil de Hane Segrave - who six years earlier had become Britain's first Grand Prix winner - was rewarded for achieving 231 mph with his Golden Arrow; two years later, with Segrave dead moments after a successful attack on the water speed record, Malcolm Campbell received King George's favors for 246 mph with Bluebird.

There were plenty of suggestions why Stewart was ignored for so long: his friendship with Princess Anne, his tax-exile status in Switzerland. But if you needed to find the perfect ambassador for the sport, John Young Stewart headed a single candidate list.

Stewart is a man who needs a challenge.

Most fans are aware of his 27 victories from 99 starts. They speak volumes. So do three World Championships and countless wins in other racing categories, all of them achieved without the need to push any other driver off the circuit or to bad mouth anyone. He was the epitome of the Sixties sports star, with the trademark Beatle cap and thick sunglasses, just as later, in the days of Stewart Grand Prix, the natty tartan trews and cap left no doubt of his identity. In the modern sound bite era of 10 second attention spans and brusque, sportsman's arrogance, feuds between drivers appeal more to tabloid newspapers than one champion paying tribute to another. But Stewart has always known how to conduct himself properly, and retains a strong sense of, and reverence for, history, the thread that ultimately unites all drivers when their racing careers are finished.

Until he sold up to Ford, the spring-heeled Scot found another challenge in running Stewart Grand Prix and he tackled it with his customary verve and insistence; second place for Rubens Barrichello early in the team's life, and Johnny Herbert's subsequent victory at the Nurburgring shortly before it transmogrified into Jaguar were testament to his management style. He irritated as many people as he impressed, but Jackie Stewart has never set out to win popularity polls if he thinks something needs saying or doing that is controversial.

Throughout all this Stewart's style and professionalism set a fresh example to those who aspire to follow, and to some who were already there. And despite the demands of his new role, which were sufficient to oblige him to give up his much-loved house in Switzerland, he remained as approachable as he was in his years between cockpit and pit wall duties.

Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi, Swedish GP 1973 © The Cahier Archive

The endearing thing about the bouncy little Scot is that he has also remained fundamentally modest. Yes, he likes talking - it is indeed a rare moment when he isn't! - but he has always had the nous to let his achievements speak for themselves and to let others draw the conclusions about them and place them into their proper perspective. Unlike another British champion, he has never felt the need to labor points nor to seek continuous reassurance of his place in racing's society, and its acceptance of him.

But Jackie Stewart's many achievements were not limited to the race track. There are many lads in the East End who have cause to be grateful for his work with the Springfield Boys' Club, as there are racing mechanics who have benefited from the Grand Prix Mechanics' Charitable Trust. His fund-raising efforts on behalf of the latter confirm that old adage that no sight is more impressive than a Scotsman on the make. His work with Ford has led to generations of safer road cars.

Dyslexics across the world have found him a valuable role model, and man capable of imbuing them with hope and self-confidence. Like every other problem he has faced in his 62 years, Stewart has coped with his own dyslexia with fortitude and determination, despite the lack of its diagnosis leading his teachers to label him a dunce at school.

Stewart's greatest crusade, however, was his campaign to enhance safety in the Sixties and Seventies. He has enjoyed high material rewards from the sport, but it has also exacted a high price. He and Lady Helen once counted all the friends it had taken from them, and stopped when they got beyond 50. He always invested a lot more than he received back.

Without his unstinting safety crusade in the Sixties, the sport might never have progressed from the senseless risk-taking of the pre-Armco days. There is no question that there have been many drivers who would not otherwise have survived accidents on circuits where Stewart's plea for tree-paring or barrier-erection had increased the margin for error.

Now, as president of the BRDC, his new crusade is to turn Silverstone into a "centre of excellence".

Even in defeat Stewart was gracious, and even though Clay Regazzoni's tactics in Germany in 1972 left him incensed he retained his outward composure. In victory he did not crow. He's been there, seen it, and done it. He saw the sport in its darkest hours, from the depths, and but he did it with fortitude and courage. Even more tellingly, he succeeded without recourse to malice, controversy or dishonesty.

A couple of years ago in Kilmany, the birthplace of Jim Clark, Stewart unveiled a statue of the Scot in whose shadow he spent his formative days in F1. With moving eloquence that was much comfort to Jimmy's many fans, he later addressed those who had gathered at Donington for the 30th anniversary celebration of Ford's DFV engine. When he spoke of Clark, Stewart said with simple, unforced humility: "In a car, Jimmy was everything I aspired to be...

Being a champion does not merely mean winning races.

When Fangio was buried in Balcarce two years earlier, Stewart moved heaven and earth to ensure that he and Stirling Moss were present, though the journey involved trials and tribulations that would have daunted a less principled fellow. "If I had not been there," he said, "I would never have forgiven myself." And he was deeply affected when he and Stirling were invited to be pallbearers.

In an age when it is more fashionable to dismantle icons in seedy newspaper serializations than it is to reward them, Sir Jackie Stewart stands as a beacon of integrity. Everything about him made him the perfect candidate for knighthood. The length of time it took his country to recognize that does nothing to detract from the rightness of the decision so to honor him and Helen, who was with him every step of the way.