Sir John Young “Jackie” Stewart, OBE (born 11 June 1939) is a British former Formula One racing driver from Scotland. Nicknamed the “Flying Scot”, he competed in Formula One between 1965 and 1973, winning three World Drivers’ Championships, and twice finishing as runner-up over those nine seasons. He is regarded by many as one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport.
Outside of Formula One, he narrowly missed out on a win at his first attempt at the Indianapolis 500 in 1966 and competed in the Can-Am series in 1970 and 1971. Between 1997 and 1999, in partnership with his son, Paul, he was team principal of the Stewart Grand Prix Formula One racing team.
Stewart was also instrumental in improving the safety of motor racing, campaigning for better medical facilities and track improvements at motor racing circuits.
After John Surtees’ death in 2017, he is the last surviving Formula One World Champion from the 1960s.
Stewart was born in Milton, Dunbartonshire, Scotland, a village fifteen miles west of Glasgow. Stewart’s family were Austin, and later Jaguar, car dealers and had built up a successful business. His father had been an amateur motorcycle racer, and his brother Jimmy was a racing driver with a local reputation who drove for Ecurie Ecosse and competed in the 1953 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
Jackie attended Hartfield primary school in the nearby town of Dumbarton and moved to Dumbarton Academy at the age of 12. He experienced learning difficulties owing to undiagnosed dyslexia, and due to the condition not being understood or even widely known at the time, he was regularly berated and humiliated by teachers and peers alike for being “dumb” and “thick”. Stewart was unable to continue his secondary education past the age of 16 and began working in his father’s garage as an apprentice mechanic. He was not actually diagnosed with dyslexia until 1980 when his oldest son Mark was diagnosed with the condition. On learning that dyslexia can be genetically passed on, and seeing very similar symptoms with his son that he had experienced himself as a child, Stewart asked if he could be tested, and was diagnosed with the disorder, by which time he was 41 years old. He has said: “When you’ve got dyslexia and you find something you’re good at, you put more into it than anyone else; you can’t think the way of the clever folk, so you’re always thinking out of the box.”
At the age of 13, he had won a clay pigeon shooting competition and then went on to become a prize-winning member of the Scottish shooting team, competing in the United Kingdom and abroad. He won the British, Irish, Welsh and Scottish skeet shooting championships and twice won the “Coupe de Nations” European championship. He competed for a place in the British trap shooting team for the 1960 Summer Olympics but finished third behind Joseph Wheater and Brett Huthart.
Stewart’s first car was a light green Austin A30 with “real leather [covered] seats” which he purchased shortly before his seventeenth birthday for £375, a detail he was able to recall for an interviewer sixty years later. He had saved up the purchase price from tips received from his job at the family garage.
He took up an offer from Barry Filer, a customer of the family business, to test in a number of his cars at Oulton Park. For 1961, Filer provided a Marcos, in which Stewart scored four wins, and competed once in Filer’s Aston DB4GT. In 1962, to help decide if he was ready to become a professional driver, he tested a Jaguar E-type at Oulton Park, matching Roy Salvadori’s times in a similar car the year before. He won two races, his first in England, in the E-type, and David Murray of Ecurie Ecosse offered him a ride in the Tojeiro EE Mk2, and their Cooper T49, in which he won at Goodwood. For 1963, he earned fourteen wins, a second, and two-thirds, with six retirements.
In 1964, he again signed with Ecurie Ecosse. Ken Tyrrell, then running the Formula Junior team for the Cooper Car Company, heard of the young Scotsman from Goodwood’s track manager and called up Jimmy Stewart to see if his younger brother was interested in a tryout. Jackie came down for the test at Goodwood, taking over a new, and very competitive, Formula Three T72-BMC which Bruce McLaren was testing. Soon Stewart was bettering McLaren’s times, causing McLaren to return to the track for some quicker laps. Again, Stewart was quicker, and Tyrrell offered Stewart a spot on the team.
Stewart at the 1969 Dutch Grand Prix.
In 1964 he drove in Formula Three for Tyrrell. His debut, in the wet at Snetterton on 15 March, was dominant; he took a 25-second lead in just two laps before coasting home to a win by 44 seconds. Within days, he was offered a Formula One ride with Cooper, but declined, preferring to gain experience under Tyrrell; he failed to win just two races (one to clutch failure, one to a spin) in becoming F3 champion.
After running John Coombs’ E-type and practising in a Ferrari at Le Mans, he took a trial in an F1 Lotus 33-Climax, in which he impressed Colin Chapman and Jim Clark. Stewart again refused a ride in F1, but went instead to the Lotus Formula Two team. In his F2 debut, he was second at the difficult Circuit Clermont-Ferrand in a Lotus 32-Cosworth.
While he signed with BRM alongside Graham Hill in 1965, a contract which netted him £4,000, his first race in an F1 car was for Lotus, as a stand-in for an injured Jim Clark, at the non-championship Rand Grand Prix in December 1964; after qualifying in pole position the Lotus broke in the first heat, but he won the second and claimed the fastest lap. On his World Championship F1 debut in South Africa, he finished sixth. His first major competition victory came in the BRDC International Trophy in the late spring, and before the end of the year, he won his first World Championship race at Monza, fighting wheel-to-wheel with teammate Hill’s P261. Stewart finished his rookie season with a win, three seconds, a third, a fifth, and a sixth, and third place in the World Drivers’ Championship. He also piloted Tyrrell’s unsuccessful F2 Cooper T75-BRM and drove the Rover Company’s revolutionary turbine car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside Graham Hill.
At the start of the 1966 season, Stewart won the Tasman Series from his BRM teammate Graham Hill in two-litre BRMs and also raced closely with his great rival and friend Jim Clark who was somewhat disadvantaged by an unreliable Lotus 39 which was let down by its old 2.5-litre Climax engine.
In F1, after his promising start the previous year, 1966 was a poor year for Stewart; the 3-litre H16 BRMs were unreliable, although Stewart did win the Monaco Grand Prix in a 2-litre engined car. The most significant event in that year was his accident at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, which sparked his campaign to improve safety in F1 and caused him to miss the French Grand Prix at Reims.
Stewart had some success in other forms of racing during the year, winning the 1966 Rothmans 12 Hour International Sports Car Race and almost winning the Indianapolis 500 on his first attempt, in John Mecom’s Lola T90-Ford, only to be denied by a broken scavenge pump while leading by over a lap with eight laps to go. However, Stewart’s performance, having had the race fully in hand, sidelined only by mechanical failure, won him, Rookie of the Year honours, despite the winner, Graham Hill, also being an Indianapolis rookie. Stewart appeared at 24 Hours of Le Mans test day on 3 April 1966 driving a Ford GT40 Mk II version of Holman & Moody and the Ford GT40 owned by Alan Mann Racing.
BRM’s fortunes did not improve in 1967, despite closely contesting the Tasman Series with Jim Clark who probably raced closer and harder with him than at any time in their careers. While Clark usually won, Stewart won a victory in the New Zealand Grand Prix with Clark attempting to run him down in the last laps with bodywork flying off his Lotus. In F1 the BRMs were still struggling with reliability problems and Stewart came no higher than second, at Spa, while having to drive one-handed while holding the car in gear with the other. In F2 he won events at Karlskoga, Enna, Oulton Park, and Albi in a Tyrrell-entered Matra MS5 or MS7. He also placed 2nd driving a works-entered Ferrari driving with Chris Amon at the BOAC 6 Hours at Brands Hatch, the 10th round of World Sportscar Championship at the time. Stewart also attempted to run the 1967 National 500 NASCAR race but did not qualify for the race.
For 1968 in Formula One, he switched to Tyrrell’s Matra International team, where he drove a Matra MS10-Cosworth. After a promising start in South Africa with the Matra MS9 development mule, he missed Jarama and Monaco due to an F2 injury at Jarama and his first win of the season was in heavy rain at Zandvoort. Another win in rain and fog at the Nürburgring followed, where he won by a margin of four minutes. He also won at Watkins Glen but his car failed at Mexico City, and so he lost the drivers’ title to Hill.
In 1969, driving the Matra MS80-Cosworth, Stewart had a number of races where he completely dominated the opposition, such as winning by over two laps at Montjuïc, a minute in front at Clemont-Ferrand and by more than a lap at Silverstone. With additional wins at Kyalami, Zandvoort, and Monza, Stewart became world champion. Until 2005 he was the only driver to have won the championship in a car built by a French constructor and remains the only driver to win the world championship in a car built in France as well as in a car entered by a privateer team. Also that year, Stewart led at least one lap of every World Championship Grand Prix, and remains the only driver to achieve this feat.
For 1970, Matra insisted on using their own V12 engines, while Tyrrell and Stewart wanted to continue with the Cosworth and maintain their connection to Ford, which conflicted with Matra’s recent connections to Chrysler. Tyrrell decided to build his own car and in the interim bought a chassis from March Engineering; Stewart took the March 701-Cosworth to wins at the Daily Mail Race of Champions and Jarama, but development on the car stalled and it was soon overcome by the Lotus team’s new 72. The new Tyrrell 001-Cosworth, appeared in August and suffered problems but showed promise. Tyrrell continued to be sponsored by French fuel company Elf, and Stewart raced in a car painted French Racing Blue for many years. Stewart also continued to race sporadically in Formula Two, winning at Crystal Palace and placing at Thruxton. A projected Le Mans appearance, to co-drive the 4.5 litre Porsche 917K with Steve McQueen, did not come off, due to McQueen’s inability to get insurance. He also had a one-off race in Can-Am, in the revolutionary Chaparral 2J. Stewart qualified third, in what was the car’s first outing, but brake failure ended his race.
Stewart went on to win the Formula One world championship in 1971 using the Tyrrell 003-Cosworth, winning Spain, Monaco, France, Britain, Germany, and Canada. He also did a full season in Can-Am, driving a Carl Haas sponsored Lola T260-Chevrolet. During the 1971 season, Stewart was the only driver able to challenge the McLarens driven by Denny Hulme and Peter Revson. Stewart won two races, at Mont Tremblant and Mid Ohio, and finished 3rd in the championship.
The stress of racing year-round and on several continents eventually caused medical problems for Stewart. He won the 1971 world championship despite suffering from mononucleosis and crossing the Atlantic Ocean 186 times due to media commitments in the United States. During the 1972 Grand Prix season, he missed the Belgian Grand Prix at Nivelles due to gastritis, and had to cancel plans to drive a Can-Am McLaren, but won the Argentine, French, U.S. and Canadian Grands Prix, to come second to Emerson Fittipaldi in the drivers’ standings. Stewart also competed in a Ford Capri RS2600 in the European Touring Car Championship, with F1 teammate François Cevert and other F1 pilots, at a time where the competition between Ford and BMW was at a height. Their best result was at the 6 Hours of Paul Ricard, finishing second. In 1972 Stewart also received the OBE.
Entering the 1973 season, Stewart had decided to retire. He nevertheless won at South Africa, Belgium, Monaco, the Netherlands, and Austria. His last and then record-setting 27th victory came at the Nürburgring with a 1–2 for Tyrrell. “Nothing gave me more satisfaction than to win at the Nürburgring and yet I was always afraid.” Stewart later said. “When I left home for the German Grand Prix I always used to pause at the end of the driveway and take a long look back. I was never sure I’d come home again.” After the fatal crash of his teammate François Cevert in practice for the 1973 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Stewart retired one race earlier than intended and missed what would have been his 100th Grand Prix. Stewart had already won the Drivers’ Championship at the Italian Grand Prix two races previously; this was a race where Stewart had to come into the pits to change a flat tyre and drove from 20th to finish 4th.
Stewart held the record for most wins by a Formula One driver (27) for 14 years until Alain Prost won the 1987 Portuguese Grand Prix, and the record for most wins by a British Formula One driver for 19 years until Nigel Mansell won the 1992 British Grand Prix. In his commentary work for race broadcaster, Channel 9 during qualifying for the 1988 Australian Grand Prix, Stewart said that he had been asked numerous times if he was unhappy about losing his record to Prost, going on to say that he was happy that his record had been taken by someone of the calibre of Prost, as he believed him to be the best driver in Formula One.
Racing safety advocate.
At Spa-Francorchamps in 1966, Stewart ran off the track while driving at 165 mph (266 km/h) in heavy rain, and crashed into a telephone pole and a shed before coming to rest in a farmer’s outbuilding. His steering column pinned his leg, while ruptured fuel tanks emptied their contents into the cockpit. There were no track crews to extricate him, nor were proper tools available. There were no doctors or medical facilities at the track, and Stewart was put in the bed of a pickup truck, remaining there until an ambulance arrived. He was first taken to the track’s first aid centre, where he waited on a stretcher, which was placed on a floor strewn with cigarette ends and other rubbish. Finally, another ambulance crew picked him up, but the ambulance driver got lost driving to a hospital in Liège. Ultimately, a private jet flew Stewart back to the UK for treatment.
After his crash at Spa, Stewart became an outspoken advocate for auto racing safety. Later, he explained, “If I have any legacy to leave the sport I hope it will be seen to be an area of safety because when I arrived in Grand Prix racing so-called precautions and safety measures were diabolical.” By Stewart’s reckoning, a driver who raced for five years had a two-thirds chance of being killed in a crash.
Stewart campaigned with Louis Stanley (BRM team boss) for improved emergency services and better safety barriers around race tracks. “We were racing at circuits where there were no crash barriers in front of the pits, and fuel was lying about in churns in the pit lane. A car could easily crash into the pits at any time. It was ridiculous.” As a stop-gap measure, Stewart hired a private doctor to be at all his races and taped a spanner to the steering shaft of his BRM in case it would be needed again. Stewart pressed for mandatory seat belt usage and full-face helmets for drivers, which have become unthinkable omissions for modern races. Likewise, he pressed track owners to modernize their tracks, including organizing driver boycotts of races at Spa-Francorchamps in 1969, the Nürburgring in 1970 is joined by his close friend Jochen Rindt, and Zandvoort in 1972 until barriers, run-off areas, fire crews, and medical facilities were improved.
Some drivers and press members believed the safety improvements for which Stewart advocated detracted from the sport, while track owners and race organizers baulked at the extra costs. “I would have been a much more popular World Champion if I had always said what people wanted to hear. I might have been dead, but definitely more popular.”, Stewart later said.