Jackie Stewart: the man who transformed motorsport

He is considered to be the First Man of the racing track, not just a true sportsman but a figurehead in the world of motor sport.

Sir Jackie Stewart OBE counts 27 Grand Prix victories and three years as Formula 1 World Champion among his wins but, while revered as the standard setting driver of his day, his impact on the sport goes much further than the podium.

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The former mechanic from Dumbarton was to become the world’s first celebrity racing driver, his nights with rock stars and royalty in Europe’s most eclectic enclaves to bring the sport into the public gaze like never before.

But it was his campaign to improve “diabolical” safety record of the sport which forged his most valuable legacy.

Sir Jackie’s lobbying was met with stiff resistance from drivers and commentators afraid that the dangerous romance of the sport would be stripped away by a new focus on safety.

But he remained undeterred following his 150 mph crash into a telegraph pole on the treacherous Spa-Francorchamps circuit during the 1966 Belgium Grand Prix.

He was left trapped, covered in petrol, in his BRM P261 for 25 minutes before being finally rescued using a spectator’s spanner. After lying on a stretcher in a tent littered with cigarette ends, the ambulance then lost its way to the hospital.

Seatbelts, full-face helmets, safety barriers and greater run off areas were to follow.

Motorsport expert and author Douglas Nye said Sir Jackie’s celebrity status estranged “many of the old-school British motor racing blazerati” with the safety campaign to alienate many life long racing fans.

“But his driving exploits were so magnificent, his success so widespread, that it was impossible to dismiss his thoroughly well-expressed intentions, and ambition to save life and limb,” Nye said.

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“Almost single-handedly, Jackie Stewart saved world-class motor sport from becoming a barbaric hangover from less-civilised and more brutish times,” he added.

It was his driving record that was to leave his critics in no doubt as to the talent of Sir Jackie.

Nye said: “His detractors longed to accuse him of being lily-livered as he railed against dangerous circuits and dangerous cars, but since he had won the German Grand Prix at the daunting 14.2-mile Nurburgring mountain circuit, by a margin of four minutes over Graham Hill in 2nd place, in mist and fog and rain, driving with a broken wrist in a plaster cast...well, nobody could accuse him of being frit.”

Sir Jackie, an avid art collector, lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife Helen, whom he met aged 16 on a date in Helensburgh. The couple spent many years living in Switzerland.

He recently launched Race Against Dementia campaign to find a cure for the disease after his wife of 60 years was diagnosed with the degenerative condition.

Sir Jackie also became president of Dyslexia Scotland following his own diagnosis, aged 41.

While he admitted the learning difficulty had blighted his life, he said it had also forced him to “think outside the box”.

Nye said Sir Jackie’s charitable works were “tireless and always willing” and that he had privately and discreetly assisted many people from the motor racing world who found themselves in need.

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