Jackie Stewart’s list of track records might be impressive and ranks him among many other champions, but the changes he brought about in the way Formula One racing is conducted make him truly unique. His crusade to make the sport safer, more popular and more professional made permanent impacts on the way the sport was conducted. He was also one of the first drivers who exploited the commercial potential of Formula One racing, paving the way for many stars after him.
Born in Dumbartonshire, Scotland, Stewart’s father owned a garage business, and his elder brother Jimmy was the first to try his hand at racing. Though his mother disapproved of racing, fears about Jackie’s future grew as he failed at school and dropped out at the age of 15. It would be revealed much later that the Scot suffered from severe dyslexia, a fact which makes his achievements even more noteworthy. As teenager, Stewart began clay pigeon shooting and was immensely good at it. He later shifted to racing saloons and sports cars, displaying unquestionable talent, so much so that team entrant Ken Tyrrell hired him to content the 1963 British Formula Three series. The race was a huge success for Stewart who won seven races in a row.
In 1965, Stewart joined the BRM Formula One team and stayed on for three season, during which period he won two Grands Prix and soon became a force to reckon with. In 1968, when Ken Tyrrell decided to join Formula One racing, Stewart joined him and together they gave Formula One racing one of the most productive partnerships. They stayed a team for six seasons and Stewart had 27 race wins and three championship titles to his name making him the driver to beat throughout that period, and remained so till the end of 1973, when he retired at the age of 34.
Despite all these achievements, his efforts to make the worlds deadliest sport safer were immensely commendable. His crusade for improved and revised safety measures saved countless lives in a sport where the chances of a driver being killed, who had raced for five years, were two out of three. In the year 1970, the deaths of close friends Piers Courage and Jochen Rindt devastated Stewart, and in 1973, the death of Tyrrell team mate Francois Cevert marked Stewart’s last race. After the death, the team withdrew as a mark of respect, but Stewart’s efforts to improve safety only gained more strength.
In 1966, during the Belgian Grand Prix, Stewart had his own brush with death when his BRM spun into a ditch after a sudden rain shower made the already dangerous Spa circuit slippery. Stewart was trapped inside his car and there was fuel leaking all around him. There were no track marshals on the scene and two drivers who had crashed near him, pulled him out of the wreck. To make matters worse, the decrepit ambulance transporting him to the hospital got lost on the way. Stewart recalls that day, adding “I only had a broken collar bone, but it was simply ridiculous. Here was a sport with serious injury and death so closely associated with it, yet there was no infrastructure to support it, and very few safety measures to prevent it. So, I felt I had to do something”.