I'm proof there's life post-racing cars: Jackie Stewart
Formula One racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart, a veteran of 27 Grand Prix wins, will be chief guest and speaker at the Northern Ireland motorsport charity SPARKS' annual fundraiser in the Culloden Hotel, Cultra, on Friday.
Ahead of his visit the former world champion, now aged 76, gave the Belfast Telegraph a flavour of what guests can expect in conversation with Bangor-born F1 journalist, commentator and author, Maurice Hamilton, a staunch SPARKS supporter.
Maurice Hamilton: Do you think F1 is still guilty of not connecting properly with the fans; the people paying the money?
Sir Jackie: Yes, there's much more to be done. Frankly, a lot of drivers will go a long way to avoid the autograph bit. The only opportunity the fans get is when the drivers come in the morning and go out at night. I think it's very important for fans to have the opportunity to meet everybody. A huge number of them have autograph books. I've still got the autograph book I had as a wee boy.
MH: Me too.
JS: I still do my signature in a way that you can read it. It takes longer, but I remember when I went home at night from Silverstone when my big brother raced, I was awfully disappointed if the signature wasn't clear and I couldn't read it. The drivers now are just doing that (imitates a squiggle) and I think it's a mistake.
MH: Are we talking long-term here? Because you are still in demand more than 40 years since you last raced.
JS: That's the point. The drivers are too short-sighted. If I go to Goodwood or a Grand Prix in Italy or Spain or wherever, there's still a huge number of people who want autographs. It's easy when you're at the top to think autographs are unnecessary, but it's part and parcel of your duty as a World Champion or a top line F1 driver. You never know where tomorrow is going to take you.
MH: Is this also part of your insistence about a smart appearance? I remember when you started your F1 team, Stewart Grand Prix, you had Rubens Barrichello walking about in hand-made shoes!
JS: Drivers don't think it's important to present themselves well. When you're earning good money, you think you're never going to need any more, but it's wrong. There's got to be life after driving cars and I think there's a missing factor in nearly all F1 drivers at the present time.
You've got to look clean, look tidy; present yourself so that you are appealing to everybody. I don't care whether you're talking about the top people at Microsoft or Apple or wherever. Mr Microsoft is now wearing a collar and tie because he's now bigger than just being the genius that he was. He's stepped up a level. He's dealing with governments and monarchs and world leaders. This is not being pedantic; this is a realistic observation. David Beckham is bigger than he has ever been and he's better presented than he's ever been. Jean-Claude Killy was on the board of Coca-Cola - USA, not just France. And he's on the board of Rolex. He was a skier in a very casual world and yet he's at the top level 40 years later. F1 drivers need to think of that.
MH: You have to be living proof of how this works at the age of 76.
JS: I've been lucky enough to establish long-term relationships. I've been with Rolex now for 47 years; with Moet since I first sprayed it at the French Grand Prix in '69 - I'm now on the board of Moet Hennessy. I was with Ford for 40 years. I'm earning considerably more today than I ever made as a racing driver, but still from being, if you like, the racing driver. My business interests are because of that. It's no good to me saying it's because I'm a really good business man. It's because I saw the need to deliver back then.
MH: Can we blame poor driver management here?
JS: I think one of the really important missing links in F1 - and motor racing generally - is that we are the only major sport in the world where we are so clever, we don't need coaches. How can that be? It's absolutely nonsensical. The best skiers, cricketers, rugby players, boxers, golfers, tennis players, rowers; they've all got coaches. Grand Prix drivers don't need them. That's rubbish.
MH: You've always talked about mind management - it comes up when, say, we've talked about Lewis Hamilton in the past.
JS: It's the single most important thing that a top sportsperson of any kind has to have. Once you start allowing your emotions to get out of the box, you're in trouble. Particularly when at the wheel of a racing car.
MH: Again, you're touching on an interesting point. How much can you tell just by looking at the pictures from the on-board cameras?
JS: Look at the hands on the steering wheel. Some drivers are all over the place; everything's an adventure. What you don't need is a challenge; what you really want is an invitation. It's sometimes difficult to have a young driver understand that because he thinks he's just got to drive it.
When you get into F1, it's a whole new package. Suddenly there's not as much space between the exit of one corner and the entry of the next. You're up through the gearbox and you're working the steering wheel and the buttons. You get to the next corner and you're not prepared. It's about being able to find time and create very subtle improvements which suddenly make the lap times more consistent.
Most of the present F1 drivers turn in much too fast; you can see it on television. Sebastian Vettel turns in microseconds slower, and so does Fernando Alonso. Microseconds slower, but that little bit is taking all of the tensions within the car. It's really very simple, but there's no coaches out there to tell them.
MH: You say that, but I can't imagine a current F1 driver wanted to listen to anyone, particularly a coach who hasn't won a Grand Prix.
JS: Again, that's missing the point. David Leadbetter didn't win any Majors and yet he was the best golf coach ever. Same for Butch Harmon, who didn't win a lot yet he was dealing with Tiger Woods at his peak. Why are drivers so clever that they don't need help?
MH: But is it not true that drivers, in the 1960s particularly, had to deal with totally different emotions?
JS: Very true. I think emotion is less today than it was before and, frankly, that's partly because of the danger. The grid walk that Martin Brundle does for Sky Sports: you wouldn't get anything like the same responses in my day because somebody was likely to be killed. I don't care who you are; when you've been to that many funerals and memorial services and you've seen the father and the mother at home after the burial and the whole family just in shock through suffering such a huge loss, it's very difficult to switch that off.
MH: Nonetheless, it's evident from our conversation that you're still as much a fan of the sport as you ever were.
JS: Very much. I still love the sport. But I'm proud of F1. I bring CEOs, company chairmen, very important people into the paddock and they are hugely impressed by what they see. They cannot duplicate it in their industries. We tend to lose sight of that and take it for granted because we see it every two weeks.
Just look inside the garages; absolutely immaculate given the enormous technical work that's going on in there. Where else in the world do you have that? I still get a buzz going onto the grid. I don't care who the CEO is, or how successful he's been or how much money he's got; if he's not impressed by the F1 paddock and grid, there's something wrong with him. F1 is such a good example of teamwork, of motivation, of the desire to keep that performance at such a high level. I still enjoy it immensely.