Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sir Jackie Stewart, campaigner

Jackie Stewart’s campaign for safety in motor racing was well acknowledged in last Friday’s TV documentary. There was no irony in the passing reference to Denis Jenkinson, Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent. Perhaps Stewart’s most trenchant critic Jenks, once described by Stirling Moss, no less, as a National Treasure is all but forgotten outside the business. Stewart, though not without fault, remains a motor sporting exemplar.

There was little doubt about the daring of Denis Sargent Jenkinson 1920-1997, pictured seated in front of me in the press tribune at Monza. A student of engineering and a conscientious objector in the Second World War, he worked as a civilian at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, where he met Bill Boddy, keeping Motor Sport magazine going in difficult circumstances. Janks took part, notably as a sidecar passenger for Eric Oliver, winning a world championship in 1949. His small stature and robust physique suited him well in this most hazardous occupation, and he wrote about the experience vividly.

From the 1950s he travelled Europe, not earning much from the parsimonious proprietors of Motor Sport, but with a decent car (Porsche 356, E-type Jaguar) and adequate expenses to fulfil many a boyhood dream. He was deeply respected by leading drivers, including Moss, for whom he “navigated” to win the 1955 Mille Miglia. The result was a notable report that became a classic.

I got on well with Jenks for most of the years I was in motor racing. It was a convivial business. He never concealed his contempt for colleagues, particularly those writing for national newspapers, yet often acknowledged that I took motor racing seriously and reported less sensationally than most.

I don’t think Jenks trusted me after about 1970 because of my historic association with Tyrrell and Stewart. “John Young Stewart – World Champion”, a certain beady-eyed little Scot, whose … pious whinings have brain-washed and undermined the natural instincts of some young and inexperienced newcomers to Grand Prix racing and removed the Belgian Grand Prix from Spa-Francorchamps.” Jackie had advanced principles that were changing motor racing in ways Jenks abhorred. Barriers, debris fences, safety structures in cars, seat harnesses fireproof overalls and improved medical and rescue facilities was transforming the business and Jenks hated it. He was convinced that without the dangers, motor racing was no longer heroic.

He was by no means alone. Tracks forced to re-make corners, provide run-off areas and re-write rules to making things safer applauded his angry outbursts. “Can you really ask me in all honesty to admire, or even tolerate, our current reigning World Champion Driver?” Jackie responded with dignity, but his real response was unequivocal. He was simply faster than everybody else and in terms of lives saved his legacy is secure.

One way of covering the Monaco Grand Prix was to walk round the circuit during the race, by way of the pavement. I took this picture of Lorenzo Bandini (Ferrari) leading the first lap in 1967. Unthinkable now but I was by no means alone. Bandini was overtaken and from lap 15 to lap 81 of the 100lap race lay second. The Ferrari overturned at the chicane, caught fire, trapping him underneath for several minutes, inflicting fatal burns.

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