Racing legend: Sir Jackie Stewart

Brummell caught up with the racing legend at the British Grand Prix, a race 'The Flying Scot' won twice, to talk F1, Rolex and… tartans

Motoring 30 Jul 2019

Racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart in the UK, 6 March 1970 ©Norman Quicke/Daily Express/Getty Images
Jackie Stewart, Matra-Ford MS80, Grand Prix of Italy, Autodromo Nazionale Monza, September 7, 1969 ©Bernard Cahier/Getty Images
Rolex testimonee, Sir Jackie Stewart before the Goodwood Revival 1957 British Grand Prix celebration ©Rolex/Guillaume Mégevand

Brummell: We like your trousers.

Jackie Stewart: Oh good! That’s the Racing Stewart. There are a lot of Stewart tartans, but that’s the Racing Stewart.

B: Is the Racing Stewart something you created?

JS: Yes, at Kinloch Anderson up in Edinburgh – what I would call the real capital of tartan, really the capital of all the tartans in the world. Kinloch Anderson, which is by Royal Appointment to Her Majesty as well; the whole Royal family go to Kinloch Anderson for kilts and all the tartans. I’ve been a customer for quite a long time. I’ve got the green Hunting Stewart tartan too – which is more Rolex – and then we’ve got this one as well.

B: And you used to have one on your helmet as well, didn’t you? When you were racing?

JS: Yes, on my helmet was the Royal Stewart.

Jackie Stewart wearing his own Hunting Stewart tartan
Jackie Stewart wearing his own Hunting Stewart tartan

B: Is that an official tartan?

JS: Yes. The Scottish clans were pretty hostile to each other in the old days when they were fighting each other – or worse still, when they were fighting the English. The chieftain of the clans always wore the Royal Stewart, which is red. Well, it’s basically red, though there’s a lot of colour in it. And the reason he would wear it was that if he went into battle and a sword got him, the blood would not be seen; so he’d be on his horse and his people wouldn’t know that the main man had been injured.

B: And the Hunting Stewart?

JS: The Hunting Stewart came after that, which was green for hunting.

B: Camouflage?

JS: Exactly. They’d be going through the countryside to get to the deer – the hinds and the stags. And then there’s the Dress Stewart, which is a white Stewart for eveningwear. Now there’s even a Stealth Stewart, which is even smarter for eveningwear. 

B: We like the one you’re wearing, the Racing Stewart.

JS: They call this colour the Scottish blue. Because blue and white are our national flag.

B: Talking of national matters, we’re here at Silverstone for the 2019 Formula 1 Rolex British Grand Prix. All the Grands Prix have their own characters, so what’s it like to race at Silverstone? What’s special about it?

JS: I think it’s special because it’s our national circuit, because Silverstone was our first ever World Championship Grand Prix event. It all started here. Giuseppe Farina won it in 1950, driving an Alfa Romeo. Fangio, I think, was third. Silverstone was a disused airfield for the Second World War and I’m not sure that it was much else before that; it was agricultural. But because of the War, lots of airfields had to be built, and Silverstone was one of them. The Bentley Boys, who were pre-war, were a great British group – they were the ones who went over to Le Mans in France in the 1920s as there was nowhere to race over here. So somebody thought it would be a good idea to have our own race track. It was the British Racing Drivers’ Club along with the Royal Automobile Club – who chose Silverstone. It’s not the ideal location, because there’s no bus or rail routes here, and for years you got here along country lanes, so the traffic jams to begin with were hideous. But nevertheless, it was a very fast circuit, right from the very beginning, and it’s still one of the classic circuits. To my mind, there has to be a British Grand Prix, there has to be an Italian Grand Prix, and there has to be a Monaco. And we were right there at the very beginning with Silverstone. Sure, Monaco started earlier – that was before the War in 1929 – but it was just a road circuit, and still is. But this was a purpose-built racing track.

Rolex testimonee, Sir Jackie Stewart ©Rolex/Thomas Laisné
Rolex testimonee, Sir Jackie Stewart ©Rolex/Thomas Laisné

B: So this was one of the first purpose-built racing tracks?

JS: Yep. And I think it is now the most well-equipped facility that we go to as drivers. Because of its size, because of its parking areas and because of the British enthusiasts. I mean, Bahrain is a beautiful racetrack, but it’s a new sport in the Middle East. Here, the sport has been going since the first British Grand Prix in 1948, and before that there were the old Bentley Boys winning at Le Mans; the history is all here. So Silverstone and the British Racing Drivers’ Club, which is the oldest of all of the racing clubs, have just done a great job. They’ve built this – the facilities are amazing. There’s accommodation for all of the people who want to come here. I mean, we’ll have probably 360,000 to 370,000 people here this weekend. And all the facilities are there. You go outside and there are Ferris wheels, there’s entertainment, there’s hospitality, there’s all sorts of things going on.

B: And when you’re driving, are you aware of the atmosphere of a particular track? Does the British Grand Prix feel like the British Grand Prix?

JS: Yes. I would say Monaco, Italy and Silverstone are the ones that have real heritage. And the Silverstone crowd knows exactly when to applaud or when to boo; it’s like Wimbledon. Nobody claps when they shouldn’t clap. At the Open Championship in St Andrews, for example, if somebody makes a bad shot, they don’t say ‘Ohhhh,’ they just won’t speak. But if somebody makes a good job, they applaud. It’s the same at Silverstone. The British crowd are probably the most focused and knowledgeable. The Italians are the most passionate – that’s obvious. But at the end of the race here you aren’t able to see the drivers. There’s thousands and thousands of people all over the place. The same is true in Italy at Monza. It doesn’t happen in Monaco, because there’s no space. So Silverstone has got a special place in the hearts of those who drive here.

B: You won this one a couple of times, didn’t you? In 1969 and 1971 racing for Matra International and Elf Team Tyrrell, and were you a Rolex testimonee even then?

JS: I’ve been with Rolex 51 years, under contract, and I won the British Grand Prix in 1969, which was the year after I joined Rolex. I won the British Grand Prix that year at Silverstone and I also won the World Championship that year. But it’s interesting: Rolex didn’t buy a World Champion in me. I hadn’t won when they signed me up. Normally their testimonees were already winners: Olympians, or people like Sir Edmund Hillary, who climbed Everest, or Sir Malcolm Campbell, who did the land speed record. I hadn’t won the World Championship when Andre Heiniger, who was then the chairman and CEO, chose to have me on board for some curious reason. And then of course I started to win after that.

B: Why did he choose you, do you think?

JS: No idea. He must have had a good nose.

B: Is there a Rolex connection with the British?

JS: Well Rolex started in London. Hans Wilsdorf, the founder, changed his nationality to be British, and then started the Rolex Watch Company in London. He then found there weren’t the same technologists for watches in London as there were in Geneva. So he went there. So there’s a bond, I think, for Rolex with us. Today, I don’t go to every Grand Prix for Rolex, but I’ll never not be at the British Grand Prix.