This interview with Sir Jackie Stewart was conducted by Junior Torque editor Richard back in 2010.
We all know you fought so hard to change the sport and make it safe but were you surprised just how hard some people pushed back against the changes?
Well the whole safety thing was for me a dilemma. A dilemma at why nobody had taken care of it at an earlier stage because it was so blatantly obvious. Naturally it received very little support from the track owners and ironically from the governing body, so it was a hard uphill effort to begin with until it became obvious that people were still dying.It was therefore more and more being recognised to be on the track owners shoulders, and the governing bodies responsibility which they were not playing any reasonable part of supporting what I was trying to do. The strength that we had was that at the time we had a very strong GPDA and I was the president of that for quite a while. Because I was either World Champion or runner up world champion I clearly had more profile than someone that may not have been winning races. They could easily have said ‘if the kitchen is to hot, why don’t you get out’ but it was more difficult to say it to me whilst I was still winning grand prix and world championships.
So it was a disappointment, but nevertheless something categorically had to be done to change the batting order because the statistics at that time were that if you raced for 5 years then there was a 2 out of 3 chance you would die if you a Formula 1 driver, and that’s ridiculous. So we were all going to more memorial services than we would ever want to so it was an obvious thing that had to be done, somebody had to do it and I happened to be the person.
Was anyone trying to do anything about safety before you?
No. The answer is no. I mean then the race tracks were the most obvious thing that had to be first fixed because there were no barriers and there were no run off areas, so when you hit something it would be a tree or a telegraph pole or a solid grass bank with rail sleepers in front of it. The cars themselves were a point of interest later because clearly we were having too many fires and for along time we were just using metal or aluminium fuel tanks which we were just sitting in the car surrounded by. These metal fuel tanks were sometimes the contours of your seat! So they were obviously changes that had to be made and there were also changes to the equipment that we were wearing, you know like the overalls and thermal underwear were things that improved ones chances. Seat belts became part of the course, crash helmets became full face of a higher quality and of better materials so it was a kind of domino effect.
The tracks were an area where there were little or no improvements for example. If you took the Nurburgring or Spa for example, from before World War 2 they had not been changed in any way. The cars had of course got faster in lap times which was clearly obvious because lap records were being broken all of the time, but then the 3 litre formula came in, and cars were so much faster. I mean when the 3 litre formula came in it was doubling the size of the engine and its power output and therefore speed, so the tracks were obsolete really and thats why change had to occur.
Do you think there are any downsides to circuits becoming more clinical? Do you in some ways miss the old crazy tracks like the nurburgring despite the risks involved?
Well I think there are observations to be made, that the run off areas now are fair game for anyone to use if they make a mistake and go beyond the perimeter of the track. I strongly believe there should be a penalty for doing that, in other words going onto the surface beyond the raced track should give you less grip or they should make you go around obstacles (obviously not life threatening obstacles or dangerous obstacles) but ones that would penalise you for having used the extra bit of road. For example when Mark Webber lost the world championship in the last race of the 2010 season, when he was behind Alonso and Alonso and couldn’t get past Petrov and Alonso went off the road 4 times with Mark Webber right up his backside. He couldn’t get past him because Alonso had gone wide in the corners but kept his foot down because there was no penalty for doing that.
So therefore that’s not correct. If you make errors of judgement then you need to pay in the form of time, by not being able to rejoin the track without a penalty. So somehow or another we need to create this because its happening all the time now, you see it at all the new circuits whether it be Abu Dhabi or Bahrain or Malaysia or India or any of those race tracks. You don’t see it so much at singapore for example because its a street circuit, but you still should not be able leave the track and rejoin it without some sort of disadvantage having made the mistake.
Author: Clerk of the Course
The Clerk of Junior Torque. Administrator, Editor and Dictator!