Stewart: Drivers take ‘liberties’ they couldn’t have in my era

Hamilton Stewart

Three-time Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart believes drivers today are less crash-averse than their predecessors, thanks to the substantial advancements in safety that Stewart himself was largely responsible for.

An outspoken advocate for driver safety after his heavy crash at the 1966 Belgian Grand Prix, Stewart suggested that modern F1 drivers don’t share the same sense of self-preservation.

“There are more first corner accidents today than there were in our day,” he said on the F1 Nation podcast. “People take liberties today that we could never have afforded and never have done. The risks they take are because they know it’s safer today.

“People do take liberties in a fashion we couldn’t have seen before. The cars were more fragile, the cockpits weren’t so robust.”

Expanding further, Stewart used the first-lap incident between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix as an example.

“I think the worst example was probably with Lewis and Nico Rosberg in Spain when at the start of the race they collided with each other, and part of it on the grass still trying to drive it.

“That liberty could not exist in [the old] days,” said Stewart, explaining that any driver who ran such risks would be subject to a firm rebuke in front of their peers.

“If someone behaved badly, the GPDA at the very next race had the person come in in front of everybody and gave them such a bollocking and threat that they should never do anything of that nature again.

“It was a much more severe penalty for everyone!”

Additionally, Stewart revealed that the late Ayrton Senna — who had once famously argued with the Scot over taking such risks — had approached him before his death for advice on increasing driver safety.

“I think it was the year he died, he phoned me up in the hotel and asked if I would be prepared to come around to his hotel to have a conversation about what he could do to try and get the safety up to another higher level. And I of course went.

“From that point on I think we spoke every week at one time or another, mostly when he at that time was in Portugal. When he saw what I had done to safety in Formula 1 particularly, he thought ‘What should I be doing, how should I do it Jackie?’

“That’s why he got so close to Sid Watkins. I said you’ve got to have somebody outside yourself because like me, you’ll be abused by what you’re about to start doing. You’ll be called chicken and you’ll be called a whole lot of other things.

“I was given two [death] threats at the time when I closed all the race tracks and it would have been even [bigger] if Senna had done it.”