The Monaco Grand Prix is the most glamorous fixture on the Formula 1 calendar and also the inspiration for September’s night race in Singapore. Invited to the Mediterranean principality by official F1 timekeeper, Rolex, to attend this year’s event, Prestige chatted with three-time World Champion and race-winner SIR JACKIE STEWART
WITH 27 FORMULA 1 WINS between 1965 and 1973, and three World Drivers’ Championships to his name, Scottish-born Sir John Young “Jackie” Stewart is regarded as one of the greatest and most successful competitors at the highest levels of motorsport. Although he retired from racing more than 40 years ago, he remains a popular and – invariably turned out in bespoken shirts, shoes, tartan cap and trews – conspicuous figure on the grand prix circuit, having since worked as a team boss, commentator and spokesman for brands that include Ford, Moët & Chandon and notably, in a 46-year relationship, Rolex.
A tireless safety campaigner during his racing years, during which time the sport exacted a terrible death toll of drivers, many of whom were close personal friends, Stewart can claim considerable credit for the fact that Formula 1 has claimed no competitors’ lives during the last 20 years. Known to be a shrewd and outspoken analyst, he’s now much sought-after for his views on the current Formula 1 scene.
Ensconced in the expansive Rolex grand prix hospitality area at the new Foster + Partners-designed Yacht Club de Monaco, Stewart talked about the appeal of the world’s most glamorous motor race, his childhood heroes, the current crop of Formula 1 drivers and his long association with the Swiss watch brand, which in 2013 entered into a long-term partnership with the sport as its Official Timekeeper and Timepiece.
The Monaco Grand Prix is special … first, because there’s a great deal of history about it, and second, because of the Riviera. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace made the Riviera and Monte Carlo come alive, and when they married [in 1956] it brought a new glamour: she was the Serene Highness – indeed she was serene – and Rainier himself was very charismatic.
The Grand Prix started way back in 1929. It’s always been a street race and it hasn’t really changed since then. It’s always had charisma. Churchill came a lot, and then when Princess Grace arrived we were seeing Frank Sinatra and all the big movie stars coming over, people who she’d acted with and who’d known her in Hollywood. That added another dimension. I remember I had Elizabeth Taylor here as my guest for the race weekend. The Beatles came here in the ’60s, and the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart. [Star Wars producer/writer] George Lucas is here today. Everybody comes here and, of course, the Cannes Film Festival is just finishing. So you get that side of it.
And then all the great drivers have won it: Juan-Manuel Fangio, Graham Hill, myself, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher. It’s the race you’ve got to win – if you haven’t won this one then there’s something missing from your CV as a grand prix driver.
And then look at harbour. I mean you’d have to go a boat show to see more expensive yachts and more of them. It’s quite extraordinary.
As a circuit … it’s not the most difficult to drive. I think I was on pole position eight times here. And if you don’t make a mess of the start and you don’t make mistakes it’s very difficult for another driver to pass you. We made more mistakes in our day because we were using manual gearshifts, and it was 100 laps; now there are 76 or 78. So that meant I made 2,800 gearshifts in a grand prix – and out of 2,800 the chances are that I would miss a gearshift. Today with paddle shifters you don’t miss gears, so there’s less chance of a mistake being made, and therefore fewer opportunities to overtake.
What you cannot do is make mistakes, because on a normal racetrack you can run off the road – you might get into a bit of grass or a gravel trap – but here there’s a barrier or it’s the Hotel de Paris, or it’s the casino or the swimming pool. You know there’s a lot of damage going to be done, so you can’t make mistakes.
The geography of the track … has only changed down there where there was a very bad chicane, but in all these years of motor racing I’m pretty sure I’m right in saying there were only two people who died here. One was Lorenzo Bandini [in 1967], whose car crashed heavily and caught fire – and in those days they didn’t have the right fire-fighting equipment. And one other Formula 3 driver died. Aside from that it’s had a very good record.
The average speed is quite low in comparison with the Silverstones or the Monzas. The fastest you’d be doing is probably 190mph [305km/h], out of the tunnel or going up the hill towards Massenet and the Hotel de Paris. And the tunnel – you leave that very fast and then brake heavily for the little chicane, which they put in to slow the cars down.
Of your three wins at Monaco … the one that satisfied me most was the last one, because I knew I’d never race here again. I’d made the decision [to retire at the end of 1973] in April, and every track that I went to I knew it would be the last time I was going to race there. I only told two people I was going to retire – even [my wife] Helen didn’t know. And because I knew it was the last time I think I got the most satisfaction.
If there’d never been a Monaco Grand Prix and someone today said, “Let’s run a Formula 1 race through the streets of Monaco” … they’d say, “Don’t be silly!” That’s what they’d say. But it has been the model, because other people have gone and done it too. The Singapore Grand Prix exists because of this place.
When you were young … Fangio was my hero. He would be my ultimate hero because he was the most complete racing driver. His business life was successful after he was a racing driver. He had great style, great dignity, great presence. Jim Clark was the best driver I ever raced against and we shared an apartment in London. So I was very close to him and I learned a lot from him. He was very smooth and clean, and that’s the way to drive.
Of today’s drivers, you rate … Fernando Alonso, who’s probably the most experienced, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. [Sebastian] Vettel for 26 years of age is incredibly mature – I’ve never seen a more mature racing driver for his age. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Rosberg’s not only a very nice young man, he’s also very clever. He had a place to study at the London School of Economics, and he speaks five languages. He was brought up in Monte Carlo. I’d say any of those four.
The most satisfying Formula 1 car you drove … was the 1969 Matra-Ford, but it had a mechanical failure here at Monaco. We had a bad run of rear-end things. It was a drive coupling that broke on both the team’s cars that day. We were leading the race. But it was the best car. Nice long wheelbase, easy to drive. I won here twice with Tyrrells, which were short-wheelbase, very nervous and more difficult to drive, but very quick. Racing cars have a personality just as people have, and the designer’s personality goes into the car. It’s quite a human thing.
In the days when you raced … Formula 1 drivers weren’t paid that much. So we did Indianapolis. We did Can-Am, touring cars, sports cars, Formula 2. There was one year I did 53 races in 26 different racing cars.
Your association with Rolex … is a great relationship. I bought a Rolex in 1966 after I’d gone to the Indianapolis 500, where I’d earned a bit of money. I’d always wanted a Rolex and my team owner, who was a Texan, said, “I’ve got a dealer who’ll give you a great deal.” So I went and bought it in Houston, Texas. And I’ve worn a Rolex ever since. In ’68 the company approached me through Mark McCormack, a great entrepreneur of sport, who signed me in April 1968, I think. At the same time he also signed [skier] Jean-Claude Killy, who’d just won three Olympic golds, and [golfer] Arnold Palmer, who was the most fantastic sportsman. So the three of us are still here and we’re still under contract with Rolex – 46 years later.