With the F1 circus in Abu Dhabi now, one of my all-time Grand Prix heroes, three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart, is in town.
I wonder how many motorsport fans realise the massive effect Stewart had on circuit safety - it was nothing less than revolutionary. When Stewart started racing, drivers had to adopt much the same attitude to danger as wartime fighter pilots, such was the scale of losses. Circuits were often lined with telegraph poles and trees, not to mention buildings. Stewart became an unpopular figure as he banged on continually about safety. When criticising the Nürburgring for having fir trees instead of guardrails, he even received death threats.
He was the champion for Armco barriers at circuits, something we are all familiar with now. Under his leadership, the Grand Prix Drivers Association demanded that all F1 drivers should wear flameproof overalls, underwear, socks and gloves, officially tested helmets and six-point safety harnesses. Most circuits had no doctors or emergency vehicles, all things we take for granted now. Drivers died unnecessarily on a regular basis.
I had the pleasure of meeting Stewart when he set up his own F1 team, Stewart Grand Prix. I worked for a company that owned the software that was being used to design and manufacture his new F1 car. I brokered a series of meetings between him and my company to negotiate a major sponsorship deal.
As a young lad, Stewart was led to believe he was stupid until he was diagnosed as dyslexic, yet observing him in action during those meetings was truly inspirational and gave me a unique insight into his approach and business principles, something I later adopted in my own business. Unfortunately for both parties, our president resigned his position at a critical point and the deal fell apart.
Some years later, my son was to write a thesis on sponsorship in motorsport for his university degree. He asked me to help find three relevant people to interview. He spoke with Peter Clifford, who signed one of the early deals with Red Bull for his 500cc Yamaha world championship motorcycle team, followed by one of David Richards's sponsorship seekers at BAR Honda F1. For the third interview, I rather cheekily asked Stewart's office if he would consider giving a telephone interview to a young lad studying for his degree.
We were stunned to be granted a 20-minute telephone appointment, which was scheduled with military precision three weeks hence. Sure enough, the call was made and the lad got what he wanted. It was a perfect example of Stewart's generosity.
As it happens, he continues to be an inspiration for us. He supported his son's racing ambitions by setting up Paul Stewart Racing, which then became an incubator for so many young drivers, including David Coulthard, Dario Franchitti and Alan McNish. Their "Staircase of Talent" concept is the basis of our Formula Gulf 1000 initiative, by which we hope to support and nurture the ambitions of a number of young drivers in this region. We hope that one of these racers may go on to be the next Jackie Stewart.
Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is seeking the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com