Retirement was such a relief after tragic days of F1 - Sir Jackie Stewart
F1 Legend Mourns Former Colleagues and Admits Discovering ‘A Bigger Future’ After Retirement
Three-time world champion racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart has confessed his decision to retire was the best thing he ever did.
In a moving fireside discussion with fellow F1 driver David Coulthard, Sir Jackie has confessed the emotional toll driving had on him, leaving him in tears both before and after races.
Discussing their individual decisions to leave the sport they love, Sir Jackie recalled the brutal nature of the early days of the sport which sometimes saw him attending more funerals than Grand Prix.
Sir Jackie, the 78-year-old Scotsman, now says: “It’s a terrible thing to say but you got used to death. You got used to getting people killed. I mean, we had one year once a month for four consecutive months we lost a driver.”
“You even got used to going to funerals. Getting used to seeing the father, the mother, the brothers and sisters, sometimes the children. It was a bad time. I mean it’s probably worse for my wife, Helen, than it was for me because she sometimes had to go and pack the cases of the person that had just been killed because his wife couldn’t face going back to the same room.
“It was a very emotional time and we had to get used to it. The camaraderie was much closer amongst the drivers because we travelled together, we holidayed together, we stayed together.
“It was a tight group of people so the losses were very deep, but somehow or other…I mean, I think it’s the same as what the fighter pilots must have been going through in World War II.”
Asked if he thought about dying himself at the time, Sir Jackie said he often managed to put it out of his mind while racing.
“It’s a funny thing. I didn’t think about it. I had my house in order. I had made enough money that Helen and the children would have been OK. But it’s a strange thing, you know, when the visor went down the lights went out.
The fastest time I ever did at Monza for example was 40 minutes after (the German driver) Jochen Rindt was killed. Jochen was a very good friend and I was in tears actually before I got into the car because I was with him when he was dying and… I was… when I finished I just burst into tears again, but in the meantime I had done three laps and my second lap was the fastest lap I’d ever done at Monza and everybody said ‘you have a death wish’ and a whole load of nonsense like that. It had nothing to do with it, but when I put the visor down and I got out and around the Curva Parabolica where he had died and I got on it, it was a good, clean, smooth lap.”
Sir Jackie’s retirement came in 1973 came after his 99th Grand Prix, when his 29-year-old team mate François Cevert, was killed during qualifying and Sir Jackie was one of the last on the scene of the accident.
His team, Tyrrell withdrew its entry for the Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, New York and Sir Jackie, who had planned to step down after his 100th Grand Prix, confirmed he had run his last race.
“When I retired it was ‘ahhhhhh‘ it was a relief in a sort of a way, but with no regrets. I’ve never had a regret in my life since I retired. That was the best decision I ever made.
“I was worried that there would be a period of time where I would still be seen as a Grand Prix driver but that time would run out and I reckoned I had five years max and then it’s going to get tough. As it’s turned out, commercially it’s been more exciting in a way than even my motor racing career because of the people you meet, the contract relationships you have. The quality of people that you’re mixing with and I just didn’t see that when I made my decision to retire.”
In the filming for ‘The Decision’, a series recorded for UBS, fellow driver David Coulthard, who spent 10 years driving in F1 between 1994 and 2004, admitted: “My opportunity to race in Formula 1 came through sadly the death of Ayrton Senna, so in many ways that’s the only tragedy that links my era of racing with the period when you were competing. At the time, I was 24 years old. At no point did I think that just because the greatest driver at that period had been killed that I could be killed in a racing car. Of course we know, we grow up, but I just thought ‘I have to get on and take the opportunity’.”