Sir Jackie Stewart says that he and other top Scottish motorsport stars have been flying the flag for the country for decades but if the chances of more homegrown champions are to be enhanced, he insists there has to be a more co-ordinated plan and that the Government, as well as big business, has to give something back.
Sir Jackie, 76, was speaking at the launch of a “A New Chapter” in Scottish motorsport, in which the Motor Sports Association and the Scottish Auto Cycle Union revealed they have agreed to work together as Scottish Motor Sports and announced a new partnership with sportscotland, in a bid to provide more opportunities to develop all areas of motorsport and encourage people from all across the country to get involved at every level.
The four-year agreement, which includes a £360,000 investment, has enabled the creation of two new posts, national development manager and national development officer, and has set a target of increasing the number of qualified coaches, fostering stronger relationships between clubs and local authorities and introducing more youngsters to the various branches of a sport which has such a rich heritage.
One of only five countries to have produced world champions on two, three and four wheels, but with the leap from grassroots to the highest levels of the sport often a costly business, three-time F1 World Champion Sir Jackie, who will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first Monaco victory in a couple of weeks, says that Scotland could learn from other nations, who do not yet have the history but have invested heavily to ensure a bright future, building world-class facilities to lure major events and bolster the local economy at the same time as gifting the country the kudos of staging world renowned races.
He said that elite drivers and riders do not have to be personally wealthy, but they do have to find ways to fund their route to the top of the sport.
“If you are determined to do something, you need to get support and, sometimes it has to be financial support, so the fact the Scottish Government is coming in is a good thing. The amount of money they are bringing in is not a lot but if we were able to attract more people to Scotland then Tourism Scotland [Visit Scotland] should be more interested. Scotland has never used Jackie Stewart, they have never used Jim Clark, Dario Franchitti or David Coulthard. They haven’t used the champion rally drivers we have. Governments sometimes are slow to recognise what can be done outside the narrow life that they live.”
An instantly recognisable figure in the F1 paddock these days, in his tartan bunnet and trews, even during a hugely successful career he, like many of his compatriots, always donned reminders of his nationality.
“When I ran with my tartan helmet around the world and Jim Clark with his Scottish dark blue with a white peak around the world, and when Dario and David did it with his, we all did it with very Scottish helmets but nobody took advantage of that. That could have been a huge benefit.
“We have a small population, but I think more can be done. Government has to get together and not just think about sport, it has to be for tourism, sport and the economy. We only had Paul Stewart racing because I was able to get Scottish companies to give us money to develop young Scottish drivers. It went on from that to Stewart Grand Prix. With Stewart Grand Prix we won a Grand Prix, we had pole positions and a lot of podium finishes and that all came from that root. I believe there has to be more participation by the Scottish business sector because we have some very good businessmen in this country. People are our biggest export and some of them have made a great deal of money so it would be nice for them to give something back.”
While he cited the triumphs of Nikki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi, who he says did not have much money, as well as his own struggle to the apex, as proof positive that the sport is open to all, he acknowledged that it is more expensive than other activities.
“The budget for some of the cars is colossal. Unless it is a rich father or one rich man or woman who is prepared to support a young, up and coming driver, it is tough to do that. We have been very successful in motor sport, on two wheels, three wheels and four wheels. We Scots don’t let our money go easily but in my view that has to happen. The government will have to give more money, if the public give more money.
“I feel as if I have done my bit. I raised more than hundreds of thousands over a great number of years and we had those drivers win. They were good and they were competing against the whole world. The Government never gave us any money – that is not the current government, that is any government you could think of – whereas in Brazil, and other countries like Malaysia for example, where they try to get racing drivers and motor cyclists doing well, they built a huge race track. We need a better facility than Knockhill. It has to be world class!”