15m 24s with Sir Jackie Stewart. Formula 1, Abu Dhabi

crankandpiston.com grabs some time with Formula 1 legend Sir Jackie Stewart during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend to discuss his three world championships and record-breaking 27 career victories; life as a driver and a team principal with Stewart Grand Prix; the current F1 driver market; and why former teammate Francois Cevert could have been a world champion himself.


I hadn’t expected to be sitting here. In the Lotus F1 Team hospitality suite. On Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race day. Opposite three-time Formula 1 world champion Sir Jackie Stewart. It’s about this time I curse having neither a digital crew nor a camera at my disposal.

Having already spoken briefly with Sir Jackie about the upcoming race (as part of crankandpiston.com’s to-ing and fro-ing in the Yas Marina paddock), I’m a little poleaxed when the Flying Scot – complete with tartan trousers – asks me if I’d like to continue this conversation inside, since he may not have time later as he has to be on a flight back to London. Why yes, yes I would like that.

And so, with two waters on the table in front of us, Sir Jackie’s two boiled eggs safely ordered, and crankandpiston’s voice recorder set to ‘very record’, the only opening question I can think of is amongst the most inane I’ve ever asked. I just pray they improve as the interview progresses…


Sir Jackie, since we’re here in Abu Dhabi, why don’t you give me your thoughts on the Yas Marina Circuit…

“Oh the facilities are fantastic, possibly among the best if not the best in the world. Bahrain [International Circuit] is very good as well, with a little more air between the garages and the hospitality. This is just a little bit tight in my opinion: it might have been because of the marina and so forth, but nevertheless. But these new Grand Prix are wonderful. They’re well put together and just so impressive.”

Facilities such as these must really hammer home how far the sport has come, not just since your days as a driver but from the days of Stewart Grand Prix in the late-90s too…

“Oh yes. I mean, they now have more money involved. I remember being there in the old green BRM in ’65 with nothing on it, through to the arrival of Yardley [which sponsored British Racing Motors and McLaren among others during its Formula 1 sponsorship phase, 1970-74] and Philip Morris International [whose principal label, Marlboro, sponsored BRM, McLaren, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, the latter of whom it will support until at least 2015].

“Today F1 has got financial services, alcohol, and some of the finest multi-national corporations in the world. And properly used, it makes a big impact. In fact I was probably the first major player in the commercial side of motorsport, and I earned out of that rather than from driving.”


I was hoping you’d bring that up! Your record is three world championships – 1969, 1971 and 1973 – in under 100 Grand Prix, a feat that’s unlikely to ever happen again…

“Yes, and the other thing is I retired as world champion. I was only 34. I could have gone on at least another three, four, maybe five years. But I wanted to retire and it was the right thing. We had a good enough team that we could have won the world championship in 1974 too. But it was the right thing to do, health-wise for me and economically.”

Quite what it must take to win three titles is incredible, considering winning one is hard enough…

“I actually don’t think so. I think winning one is quite easy. If you’ve got the right car, with the right engine and the right team of people, winning a world championship isn’t the most difficult thing in the world. I worked very hard at it when I was with Ken Tyrrell – a wonderful man to work with – we had a lot of success together, especially because of Matra and Tyrrell.”


You never quite managed to pull off consecutive championships though, despite the effort involved…

“Well, it’s very difficult, no matter how good the team is, to continuously win. I mean with each world championship that I won, and I only” – only! – “won three, Team Tyrrell and I had little issues after we won it. Little mechanical issues. We didn’t go off and win another couple of Grand Prix back-to-back after that. We’d have our little glitches because eventually the team was so intense in their commitment that not just the drivers but the entire structure from within the factory – in my case it was all in Surrey in England – meant performance slides start to take place.

“But if you think back to those days, 1971 was the first full season of Tyrrell Racing Organisation, and we won the championship of drivers and constructors. It will never be done again by a brand new team and by somebody as thinly financed as Ken Tyrrell was. I mean, we built the car in a wooden hut! So it was a great achievement.”

Winner Jackie Stewart(GBR) Tyrrell 006 Monaco GP, 3 June 1973

So, nine Formula 1 seasons in the bag, 1965-1973; three world championships, 1969, 1971, 1973; 27 victories, including one in just your eighth official Grand Prix; 17 pole positions and 15 fastest laps; time with Tyrrell, Matra and BRM, and only one season – 1967 – did you fail to win an F1 race. Tell me, what made you stop?

“I’ll give you an example. In 1971 when I won the world championship for a second time, I crossed the Atlantic 86 times, 43 visits for Can-Am races, ABC’s wide world of sports, for Ford Motor Company, for Goodyear. I was worn out, and that doesn’t happen today. If all of that hadn’t happened, I would have lasted longer. But that was ‘71. In ’72, I had an ulcer that haemorrhaged, again because of the previous year’s pressure and fatigue. So, looking back, I should have managed that better myself. But in those days, you’re so ambitious to succeed, both commercially as well as on the track, and I was doing so much.”

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