Sir Jackie’s era is one of the most credible, where racing was racing, and not as political as the sport is today. You made one slight error, and it could cost you your life – which was something Jackie had to deal with on a regular basis. It’s not just his racing achievements that have impressed, but his presence and impact on driver safety too. In the years that he raced in Formula 1, he won 3 world championships making him the most successful Brit in the history of the sport.
He was a smart man, declining a couple of opportunities to drive in Formula 1 to gain experience in Formula 3 and Formula 2; which drivers of today wouldn’t choose or couldn’t afford to do. He knew he was good enough, and he knew that when he was ready to move up to Formula 1, he would have a car to drive in. When he did move in 1965, he finished 3rd in the world drivers championship and after a near win in the 1966 Indianapolis 500 was named Rookie of the Year, despite Graham Hill also being involved in the same category.
After a very dramatic, and unfortunate crash during the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix, Jackie made an important decision to improve driver safety. Jackie was trapped in his overturned BRM, with fuel leaking all over him. He was left in his car for 25 minutes with marshals unable to remove him even though there was a big fear of his car bursting into flames. Because the marshals didn’t have the right tools, Jackie was in his hazardous inverted car for much longer than he needed, and with the help of a spectators tool kit, Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant were able to take action. Things didn’t get better, once he was pulled to safety, an ambulance took Jackie to the nearest first aid point and was left on a stretcher on the ground surrounded by cigarette ends. Despite not receiving any major injuries an outraged Jackie fought back and said “I realised that if this was the best we had there was something sadly wrong: things wrong with the race track, the cars, the medical side, the fire-fighting, and the emergency crews. There were also grass banks that were launch pads, things you went straight into, trees that were unprotected and so on”.
Unreliability cost Jackie titles, his BRM could never be trusted and in 1968 his new Matra car failed on him as well, thus handing the championship to Graham Hill. That year however, Jackie showed great bravery and skill performing under difficult conditions in Zandvoort and the Nurburgring. Finally though, things begun to fall into place for the Brit, and his Matra MS80-Cosworth was raking in points. He won by over 2 laps at the Spanish Grand Prix, by a whole minute at Clemont-Ferrand and by over a lap at Silverstone. His abilities were starting to show with strong performances and wins at Kyalami, Zandvoort and Monza and was crowned the 1969 Formula 1 World Champion.
In 1970 Jackie lost his close friend, and neighbour Jochen Rindt (who is the only posthumous champion). Jackie’s year however, only left him joint 5th in the standings, but after modifications, the new Tyrrell 003 looked to be a lot more promising and reliable than it’s closest rivals, and Jackie won 6 of the 11 races; making him a double world champion. Another unsuccessful year for Tyrrell after the mighty Lotus of Emerson Fittipaldi drove to take the championship. Jackie was leading the championship in 1973 but after the tragic death of his team-mate Francois Cervert, Jackie vowed to never race again – just before his 100th race. Nevertheless, Jackie did become the triple world champion.
Active years – 1965-1973
Races – 100 (99 starts)
Championships – 3 (1969, 1971, 1973)
Pole positions – 17
Wins – 27
Podiums – 43
Fastest laps – 17
His accomplishments speak for themselves, but this is not the main reason as to why I respect him. Though he is an excellent racer who excelled in tough conditions, Jackie continued to be involved in the sport. He had a brief spell commentating for NASCAR and the Indianapolis 500 on American TV. In partnership with his son, Jackie brought Stewart Grand Prix to Formula 1 with drivers like Rubens Barrichello and Johnny Herbert driving for the team, and though the team wasn’t the most successful, it did power Barrichello to a 2nd place in Monaco as well as three other 3rd places. The teams first and only win was thanks to Herbert at the 1999 European Grand Prix. The team was later bought by Ford, which then became Jaguar Racing in 2000, which is now known as the more recognisable Red Bull Racing (from 2005).
2001 was when Jackie received his well deserved knighthood, as well as previously acquiring the title of sports personality of the year, athlete of the year, sportsman of the year, as well as being awarded the honorary Doctor of Science. Jackie is responsible for making it mandatory to wear seat-belts, as well as bringing in full-face helmets for drivers. He also encouraged race tracks to install run off areas and barriers, as well as improving medical services by having doctors, ambulances and fire crews on site.
My respect levels for Jackie are very high, and I think if it wasn’t for him, Formula 1 would not be where it is today. The flying Scotsman will forever be in Formula 1 history, not just for his achievements, but for the impact on, and diligence towards safety.