Sir Jackie Stewart- my start in Motorsport


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In 1999 I was blessed to begin my journey in Motorsport under the guidance of the legendary Sir Jackie Young Stewart- 3 time World Champion and a Formula One Team owner with Stewart Grand Prix at the time. This was a man whose presence and life experiences provided  invaluable lessons for me in how to thrive and succeed in the shark pool of Formula 1.

To be my mentor was not obviously SJYS’s role in our working relationship. I was hired to be his Personal Trainer when he was 60 years old. However, not to be influenced by this legend of a man was impossible.

I spent 3 years travelling with him to business meetings and shooting events in London and Scotland as well as race tracks for F1 races and tests. His attention to detail was laser sharp. He suffered childhood torments in the classroom as he had Dyslexia when it was not the accepted and recognised condition that it is today. This only served for him to carve his own path and create the success he ultimately achieved both on and off track. He often harked back to those memories in our chats in and interviews that I read and saw him give personally. He did so not with resentment, but with the belief that it was an experience that forged the steel inside him to achieve greatness.

I had little knowledge of Motorsport with all its politics and skullduggery before I worked for SJYS. I personally experienced the sometimes very unpleasant taste of it myself when I worked in F1 from 2002-2008 with McLaren-Mercedes and during my second stint in 2102-2013 with Sahara Force India. Previously, I came from a world where disagreements were settled on the mat or round the corner ‘mano et mano’- last man standing. In my world you could punch, kick, armbar or choke someone (or receive them) and still shake hands at the end. Though it was not a way I am still totally comfortable with, I learned how to swim the murky waters of the political lake of Motorsport and survive. You have to think differently to do this. Even today I still need the less complex and more direct approach of combat sports to shake the sometimes uncomfortable residue that remains with the frustrating way things are sometimes dealt with (or not dealt) in Motorsport.  Only then can I re-enter the madness of Motorsport and know that not everyone has an agenda in life. It helps give me a healthy and (for me personally ) necessary perspective in life and keeps me in a sport that I fundamentally enjoy being involved with.

Anyway to get back to Sir JYS…

He was ahead of his time in many ways. Like all successful people he knew the value of relationships. Both short and long term. He was a close friend of the UK and Jordanian Royal Family, movie and music stars amongst others. He had long term business relationships and Ambassadorial with Rolex, Highland Spring and the Royal Bank of Scotland amongst others. However, for me the most valuable and admirable quality he processed was to be willing to talk to people whether you were sweeping the floor or ruling a country. I really respected that. I would later see some people of similar status (and lower)  do the complete opposite. That’s the ugly side of money, fame and power that there is morally no excuse for in my view no matter who you are and how much possessions who have.

During his ownership of Stewart Racing, SJYS started a ground breaking project called the ‘Staircase of Talent’. This kind of thing is quite common know but back then it was something else. Future Motorsports Champions such as David Coulthard, Dario Franchitti, Allan McNish…(to name a few) began their careers until the tutelage of Sir JYS.

These young drivers learnt how to train, dress, speak in public, handle sponsors and the press and generally conduct themselves professionally as racing drivers both on and off the race track. That’s a pretty successful line up right there if you study the names above. They will always rightly credit SJYS will setting them on the path to the success they all achieved. This set the benchmark for what we see with the various Young Driver programs around the world today. Something we take for granted now.

We had some cool times. For example, I remember talking with him after training when the premier of a Robbie Williams video came on the TV. They cleverly used footage from SJYS’s glory days to merge with Williams as a fictional rival driver to create a visual around the song. It was very clever and funny and it was a quirky feeling watching this on TV when I was with the man himself. He loved the video. Its worth a peep on You Tube…

Another aspect I liked was that SJYS openly admitted he liked being famous. So many people really do like it but publicly admit they don’t. He thought this was nonsense.

He also thrived on being with young people. He probably still does. He said it gave him energy. This something now that I am 52 myself that I totally relate to. Some of the happiest and fulfilling times for me have been while working with young and up and coming drivers. SJYS gave me the opportunity to work with my first young driver in F3 with Narain Karthikeyan and set me on the path I still walk today.

SJYS is 80 years old next year. Legend is a much over-used word at times in todays society. In the case of SJYS case he really is one of Motorsports legends.

I have much to be grateful to him for!