Vastly improved track safety is just one of the enduring legacies of Sir Jackie Stewart's glorious F1 career.
Vastly improved track safety is just one of the enduring legacies of Sir Jackie Stewart's glorious F1 career, as Neil Vorano discovers Sir Jackie Stewart is sitting in front of me on a simple yet modern leather seat. He's wearing a crisp white shirt and a pair of loud, blue tartan trousers that would make one question the fashion taste of any other man. Perhaps it's the twinkle in his eye and the genuine good nature of him that makes me accept the clothing choice. More likely, it's the fact that the racing legend has earned the right to wear whatever he chooses. The man with the most famous accent in motorsport is talking with me at the Dubai Autodrome and, as always, he has so much to say in that lyrical and enthusiastic Scottish brogue. He's relaxed and jovial, and he has a way of making you feel like you're chatting with an old friend; albeit, an old friend with a much more interesting life than you ever had. It's hard to believe how someone so busy could be so relaxed. At 70 years old, the former Formula One champion is now splitting duties between acting as an ambassador for the Royal Bank of Scotland, performing a similar role for Rolex watches and having a place on the board of Möet and Chandon, the champagne brand. And while he talks enthusiastically about any subject, he instantly sparks up when you mention another of his interests: educating people on dyslexia. It's a topic that is close to his heart. "I'm a dyslexic," says Stewart. "You never cure dyslexia, you get around it." Incredibly, Stewart was diagnosed with the learning disability when he was 41 years old. "In my early days, you were accused of being stupid, dumb or thick, and I was certainly all three of those, in relation to the educational standards. Nowadays, there's a good opportunity if you can get assessed as a young person of finding ways around it. It doesn't stop you, if you know how to go about things, you'll find other ways of doing business. Which, sometimes, can be better business than the clever folk, because they all go down the same road." He is the president of Dyslexia Scotland, and his patronage has paid off in his home country. "Ironically, we now lead the world. Every new teacher leaving college in Scotland, every one, has early recognition skills for children with disabilities. It's something that doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. So, it's been nice to work with the Scottish parliament to do that. "In a place like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, they really could take some advice on it. Kuwait are working quite hard on it. Jordan has some experience on it. But it's very difficult to change a culture in education." Of course, the Scot, winner of three world titles in a career that spanned from 1965 to 1973, will be attending the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix just down the road. He's excited about the future of motorsport in the area, and thinks the race brings something new to both the Middle East and to Formula One. "I think Bahrain bringing F1 to the region was a fantastic new dimension, and they did it very well. Abu Dhabi now has a grand prix, and it's a whole new scale that we've never seen before. And I don't think we ever will again. "I think the Middle East is going to be the most powerful in liquidity in the next 15 or 20 years. So I think the sport is in good hands in this region of the world." But Stewart knows that the sport can't just spread out to those with money. Already, next year will have 19 races, two more than this season, with Korea appearing on the calendar for the first time. He counts his fingers in the air as he describes what the core of F1 should be: the British, French, Italian, German and Belgian Grands Prix, all a nod to the sport's heritage. Stewart says that F1 needs to be careful as to who it doles out other races to. "The culture in a country like Korea, for example, the reason they want to have a grand prix is to bring focus on the country; they're using motorsport as a marketing tool. You just have to be careful that that period doesn't run out after they've achieved the impetus of getting a grand prix. China, for example - it may be too early for them, and the Chinese may not want to have a grand prix every year over the next 10 years. India would like to have a grand prix, but you've got to rob Peter to pay Paul." The US has not been on the calendar since 2007, a fact lamented by Stewart. "It's the largest marketing nation in the world. For RBS or Mercedes-Benz or Toyota, or any of the big brands that have an association with motorsport, they all have to see America as one of their major targets. Ferrari: if they didn't have an American market, they would probably die. "So we have to service the nations that are economically correct for the sport. So I think that's where the wisdom lies of where grands prix are allowed to be given or who has to be robbed of a date." Stewart is one of the most fabled drivers in Formula One history, renowned for his skill and courage, but he is just as well known for the way he changed the sport. Appalled by the deaths that occurred regularly during his driving days - and shaken by one of his own bad crashes - Stewart became a campaigner for change to improve safety. But as he talks about the dangers during his racing days, his voice goes noticeably quieter, and the twinkle in his eyes softens. "We did four consecutive months in 1968 when we lost a grand prix driver. April it was Jim Clark, May was Mike Spence, June was Ludovico Scarfiotti and July was Jo Schlesser. We were racing in the fifth month, and I won the race, and the first thing I did when I got out of the car was ask if everyone was OK. "All of that's changed now. We've now got the best risk management of any industry or any business or any sport in the world. It's been 15 years and seven months since we lost a racing driver in F1. Fantastic." So what a slap in the face it was to have the facts come out about last year's Singapore Grand Prix. Nelson Piquet Jr admitted to crashing intentionally to help his Renault teammate, Fernando Alonso, win the race. Team boss Flavio Briatore was banned from F1 for life and race engineer Pat Symmonds was banned for five years. Piquet was given amnesty for his honesty. "That really upset me. I still, to this day, don't understand that. I have never, in no time, heard of any team manager, or team owner, telling a racing driver 'you've got to crash the car', and I have never heard, ever, of a racing driver who would ever have accepted that order if he were given it. So, I'm confused. It's beyond my comprehension. "Pat Symmonds is a guy I've known for a long, long time, one of the finest engineers in the sport. I would have trusted Pat Symmonds with my life. I never drove for him, but I could have. Flavio, (and he sighs, searching for diplomacy), I don't know Flavio too well, but he is entrepreneurial. But, I'm sorry, there are too many elements to it that I can't work out. "If Nelson Piquet was told that, and did it, his penalty should be as large as Flavio Briatore's, because he should never in a million years have taken that command." No doubt, Stewart has had an illustrious career, with a CV spanning both sport and business, including owning his own F1 team at one point. But, as the interview wraps up and I ask him if he has any regrets, his energetic voice softens again. "The only regrets I have - when I was racing, it was hideously dangerous. If I raced for five years, there was a two out of three chance I was going to die. That's silly. I changed safety in motorsport; I wish I had been able to start it at a younger age." And then the twinkle in his eye is gone once more, replaced with a faraway look. "The tyre marks on the road are the ones that you would want to change."
Sir Jackie Stewart has no problems voicing his opinions on motorsport and other issues: On why he thinks the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone, F1's commercial rights holder, should make fiscal changes in a harsher economic climate to ensure holding a British Grand Prix next year: "I think you've got to cut your cloth to suit your pocket. It has to be properly economically viable [to promote]. Most recently, [an F1 race] has been sold to government and countries, rather than a promoter. "Don King would not be promoting a Formula One race in America, because he wouldn't be able to make enough money. If you're a promoter, or an entrepreneur, you've got to have an upside risk, as well as a downside. You're not going to keep losing money. "I think it's a change that has to be recognised by the governing body of the sport. "But in my view, I think there will be a British Grand Prix." On how he thinks Jean Todt will perform replacing Max Mosley as new president of the FIA: "I've been very critical in the past of Max Mosley's governance of motorsport, as I think the governance has been lacking, it's been too imperial. I think Jean Todt has a great opportunity to change that. My only observations during the campaign were that I think it is wrong for the president to be supporting either of the candidates, and I think it is wrong for Bernie Ecclestone to be supporting either of the two candidates. They both supported Jean Todt. "I believe there has to be change. And, if you were a skeptic, you would say if Max Mosley ad Bernie Ecclestone support Jean Todt, is it going to be 'Play It Again, Sam'? Is it going to be the same philosophy, the same culture? That I believe would be bad. But I believe Jean Todt has the ability to create the change that I believe is required. I think he sees that; I think he'll exercise that. So I think it's up to him, really, to prove that to be correct." More on his dealing with dyslexia: "I don't know the national anthem; I stand beside the Queen and I hum it, because I can't remember the words. But I can remember every gear change and every braking distance for every corner on every race track I've ever raced at."