The Formula One world descended upon Melbourne over the weekend for the third official race of the 2022 championship year, the Australian Grand Prix. With record-breaking crowds, glamourous marquee setups and a hunger to reclaim the lost years due to COVID-19 lockdowns, Melbourne hosted one of the greatest Grand Prix events to date.
Peroni, in partnership with Aston Martin Aramco Cognizant, was the premium off-track destination for racegoers and VIPs, with international supermodel Shanina Shaik and Australian acting legend David Wenham making an in-person appearance over the weekend. Elsewhere, the paddock club was back and buzzing, with premium brands hosting their own activations for the few lucky ones in attendance.
Melbourne is officially back!
But away from the madness that was unfolding in and around the Albert Park Lake racetrack, ICON had the privilege of sitting down with Sir Jackie Stewart within the confines of a dedicated Rolex suite overlooking pit lane during qualifiers.
It was 1968 when Sir Jackie Stewart first joined the Rolex brand as an official ambassador. But it was, in fact, 1966 that he acquired his first Rolex timepiece; a beautiful yellow gold ‘President’ Day-Date, which was gifted to him to commemorate his first major success in motor racing.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Born in Scotland in 1939, Sir Jackie Stewart’s achievements make him arguably one of the most celebrated Formula One drivers of the last 70 years. A three-time Formula One champion, Stewart was aptly named The Flying Scot for his high-flying, daring nature on the racetrack. His efforts off the race track were equally as impressive, personally influencing the way Formula One racing has developed through the years.
A one-man safety crusader that has tirelessly rallied for the safety of Formula One drivers, the sport can boast an excellent safety record in the last decade thanks to his ongoing efforts.
Stewart is also a dream ambassador for any brand. You see, he puts his heart and soul into any of the brand signings he’s acquired over the years (he recounts a 53-year partnership with Moet & Chandon, for example).
“The secret to long-term relationships [with brands] is you got to over-deliver,” says the 82-year old. “If you overdeliver, you never get the sack. I like to think that I’ve done more than I’ve been asked to.”
ICON: Sir Jackie, thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Are you happy to see the Australian Grand Prix back in action here in Melbourne, Australia?
Jackie Stewart: For sure. I mean this is one of the best organized Grand Prix in the world. The enthusiasm is enormous, the following is terrific. And Melbourne really make it work.
ICON: Do you mind the travel through to Melbourne?
JS: It’s a long way to travel. But you know, we’ve been doing it for years. I first came first here [Australia] in 1964. And I was here in ’66 for the Tasman Championship Series; one month in New Zealand and one month in Australia. I was driving for BRM at that time alongside Graham Hill.
ICON: You’ve been a part of Rolex’s family since 1968. That’s an incredibly long time for an individual to be aligned with one brand and an incredible feat at that. Can you tell us how that time has been with Rolex and what the partnership means to you?
JS: Well, I’ve always liked long-term relationships. I mean, to create long-term relationships you’ve got to deliver. In fact, you have to over-deliver. If you over-deliver, you never get the sack. I like to think that I’ve done more than I’ve been asked to.
But Rolex is a very special company. I signed with Rolex in 1968, the same day as Arnold Palmer [golf champion] and Jean-Claude Killy [champion alpine ski racer]. The relationship has also remained strong partially because I live in Switzerland, halfway between Geneva and Lausanne. The Rolex headquarters are the most impressive world headquarters of any company. More impressive than Nike, Microsoft… it’s immaculate. And the actual watches; well, they’re just beautiful aren’t they?
ICON: What’s your earliest experience with Rolex? Were you familiar with the brand before your partnership?
JS: Yes, I owned a Rolex before I was an ambassador. I did quite well at the Indianapolis 500, and the American owner of the team gifted me a present to celebrate. It was a yellow-gold Day-Date. He put diamonds on it which I took off. That was in 1966. So then, of course, my collection of watches grew from there.
ICON: Is there a watch in your collection that is the most sentimental to you?
JS: I think it would have to be the Day-Date. I’ve got them in different colours now, too. But the one I use the most for every day is my stainless steel GMT Master. No colours, just plain black and white.
ICON: You’ve witnessed a great evolution in motorsports since your days of racing. Can you tell us where you see the sport going in the next decade, perhaps?
JS: When I first started in Formula One, it was a very different time. In 1965, we used a 1.5-litre engine, which changed to three litres in 1966 – that’s a huge difference. So the speeds were much higher, but that also meant the danger level was much higher, also. Because of the extra power and the extra speed, most of my friends in racing have been killed.. My wife Helen had counted 57 friends who had lost their lives because of racing. It’s awful.
So, I started a big campaign to make motor racing safe. And that was the biggest thing I suppose I’ve ever done, but the least popular, particularly by track owners. Because they didn’t want to change anything. We closed the Nürburgring track in Germany which was the most difficult and demanding race track in the world, and I had won on it many times but they wouldn’t do anything to make it safe because it was 14.7 miles an hour, 187 km per lap, which meant they simply couldn’t have enough firefighters and first aid support ready for support. Niki Lauda’s accident was the perfect example.
That wasn’t a popular time for me. I received death threats for closing the Nürburgring because I was president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association that was leading the change. But it meant that there would be fewer deaths in Formula One; more people die falling off horses than they do in Formula One. Naturally, what happens in Formula One goes throughout the whole sport, too. So touring cars are safer, sports cars are safer, Le Mans is safer.
ICON: As a spectator sport, do you think the Formula One is a growing sport with the up and coming generations of sports fans? And are TV series like ‘Drive to Survive’ boosting its popularity?
JS: Well, it’s bigger than it’s ever been before. There’s something for everybody; people like the cars, they like the drivers, they like a bit of speed, and sometimes, they like the thrill of the danger involved. The volume of knowledge that’s going out at every Grand Prix instantly via the internet and TV is definitely helping as well, which is exciting.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very dangerous sport. You’ll see big accidents, but the drivers survive. The cockpit of the car, the hydro… back when I was racing, I was practically lying on the fuel tank which would be crammed against my back. Now, the cockpit is a survival cell. Much larger, it’s air-conditioned, you get fluids.
So the sport has rapidly moved forward ahead. I think more profusely than any other sport, too.
ICON: Melbourne. It’s a tough race. In your eyes, what’s the secret to winning here?
JS: Historically, it has been the first race of the year and everybody is looking forward to it for that reason. Having said that, it’s the third race of the season this year and the time change isn’t easy on the drivers; it’s a long flight.
“To finish first, first you must finish.”
But the guy who wins here is the guy who uses the most mind management. A lot of sportspeople can over-try, and when you do that, you make mistakes. You need to remove as many of the downside risks as possible. I tell everybody I never went fast enough but I won the Nürburgring by over four minutes and in the wet, because I wouldn’t overthink it, I would just drive.
ICON: Speaking about times, away from Formula One, how do you like to make the most of your time?
JS: Well, I have two sons. I have nine grandchildren, with a nice balance between boys and girls…eight boys, one girl [laughs]. I have a wife of 60 years, and sadly Helen has dementia. Motor racing safety was my biggest challenge, now this is my biggest challenge to get a cure.
The latest statistics show that one in three people are going to develop dementia, and nobody can find a cure. For over 50 years, there has been no cure or preventive medicine; it’s ridiculous. So that’s my biggest challenge and what keeps me busy these days.
ICON: Tell us what you have planned for your charity, Race Against Dementia?
JS: Well, we had a function last night where over 800 people stopped by for dinner. It was put on by the wonderful Craig Jones. All the Grand Prix names were there, all the drivers. We raised close to half a million dollars which is just fantastic.
Since 2013, Rolex has been a long-term Global Partner and the Official Timepiece of Formula One, supporting the sport’s development of innovative technology, as well as its rich history and esteemed drivers.
At the weekend, Charles Leclerc from Ferrari clinched his first victory at the Australian Grand Prix, followed by Sergio Perez from Red Bull Racing and George Russell from Mercedes-AMG Petronas.