Exclusive: Sir Jackie Stewart interview
Three-times champion on the 2012 season, Vettel, Hamilton and more
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 11/12/12 11:43am
We've just come off the back of a terrific season, Jackie. What are your thoughts on the year and that title showdown at Interlagos?
Jackie Stewart: "It was a great season, as they have been for the last two or three because we've had really top racing drivers - the best the world's ever seen.
"I don't think there's been a better collection on the grid than there were maybe in the late 1960s, early 70s when there was Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Niki Lauda, Jack Brabham, Denny Hulme and myself for example. There was a real battery in those days and for whatever reason that kind of disappeared for a while. For example, McLaren had Senna and Prost together but there was a little bit of a draft until Schumacher came along, and then there was a real draft of other competitive talent.
"There was a while where it just wasn't there. This period, you've got Vettel and Alonso, but you've also got Webber, Hamilton and Button and a few other really top guys. The teams are getting closer too.
"So this year is as good as a year as we could have had. To go to the last race and for the last race to be as complicated as it turned out to be was a fantastic finale."
There has been a lot of debate recently about whether or not the most deserving driver ended up as World Champion. What's your take on that?
JYS: "The right man? It would have been either Alonso or Vettel. I think, no doubt, the car of the year ended up by being the Red Bull - but actually the car of the year for a long time was the Lotus, which only won one race but should have won three races.
"The McLaren came on, as did the Ferrari, but the Ferrari never came on as well as the McLaren and never came on as much as the Red Bull did. The Red Bull at the beginning of the season was not in good shape.
"So I think for that reason it was a more exciting season because everybody thought Vettel for once hasn't got the best car. It turned out pretty damn good in the end, but he drove the last race with a car that I don't think many people would have been able to take round the track because of the damage, which was not so obvious, but was there.
"In fact the drier the track became the worse that car would have become in comparison to the other cars. He could compensate for the wet a little better perhaps because of his skill but I think if either Alonso or Vettel had won either of them would I think have been celebrated as being terrific for this season."
You said prior to Brazil that you didn't think Sebastian could yet be considered a great of the sport even if he won his third straight title....
JYS: "No, because I don't think anyone can while they're still racing. I don't think you can be considered that way until time has passed. It's like I don't think there should be a Hall of Fame [place] for somebody because they did well last year.
"He's won three World Championships now but he has unquestionably had the very best car for three consecutive years if you like. So it's not that I'm in any way diminishing his achievement - I think he's the most mature 25-year-old Formula 1 driver I've ever experienced or seen or witnessed, so my respect for his qualities are fantastic.
"But just because he's won three World Championships doesn't necessarily mean he's up to Fangio or he's up to Prost or Clark or Lauda or Piquet. You've got to do it with the less good cars and you've got to see where the real opposition's coming from in order for that to happen.
"But having said that, because of his age he should eventually without doubt be one of the greatest drivers in the world."
What did you make of the two McLaren drivers' campaigns and where they're placed career-wise right now heading into 2013?
JYS: "Jenson's win in Brazil was beautifully handled. He won the first grand prix of the year and he won the last grand prix of the year - and the last one was by far the most treacherous conditions. Probably not quite as treacherous as when he won in Canada coming right through the field from last position the year before, which was another example of a man keeping his head together and he's very good at that.
"Lewis is very fast. Faster than probably any grand prix driver on the track today, but not consistently at that level and he drives in a fashion that you can't do it consistently. It's same as anything in business; if you get to be super-entrepreneurial you will fall and make a mistake if you go over the top. He often goes over the top.
"He's now moved to Mercedes. Whether they're going to be as good as McLaren I'm not at all sure. McLaren's got more experience, not a multinational corporation. There is no board on the racing team at McLaren. There will be a board at Mercedes-Benz, as there was a board at Jaguar after I sold it to Ford. Boards don't work in Formula 1."
You mentioned the Motor Sport magazine Hall of Fame, you were one of the first inductees in 2010. It's a great initiative to honour the legends of motorsport isn't it?
JYS: "There were Fangio, Enzo Ferrari, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark and myself I think as the founder inductees. I think it takes a little time [to reach that status].
"Lots of people win one World Championship - it's not that difficult to do it if you've got the right car. To repeat it and have the consistency, that's what it takes, and I think Vettel raised himself in the eyes of many people by the Brazilian GP this year. The same way as when he won his first ever grand prix at Monza in the rain. I was there; it was a remarkable performance."
Your charity, The Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust, will benefit directly from next year's awards ceremony via a special memorabilia auction. Can you tell us a little about that and the difference the proceeds raised will make?
JYS: "It's going to make a huge difference because the items we have to auction are unbelievable. The cylinder head from Alonso's Ferrari - it's like a piece of jewellery. Vettel's actual steering wheel from last year's World Championship, certificated. Jenson Button's seat from the Australian Grand Prix of this year...I don't know how many we've got in total, but they're terrific.
"For the Trust, there are a lot of guys that time has found not to have the good fortune as they might have had. When they get into times of hardship or troubles - it can be children's education, it can be health of course, it can be financial, sometimes it could be as bad as paying for a funeral - there's nowhere else for them to go and the Trust is there for that reason.
"We've got now more than 300 people registered but there's a lot more out there because we haven't made a big song and dance about it until now and it's now beginning more recognisable. But it's there for when those times of trouble arrive and it's been ongoing 25 years."
You can find out more about the Hall of Fame auction, and details of when and how to bid, via the Motor Sport website.