Jackie Stewart: F1 and Austin ‘a very, very good fit’
Former Formula One driver Jackie Stewart doesn’t need to talk about racing. His record speaks for itself: 27 Formula One victories, three world championships, success in other racing series and numerous accolades, including a knighthood in 2001.
But because of his success, not to mention his still-infectious Scottish accent, people still listen to the 73-year-old when he speaks about Formula One.
Stewart is scheduled to speak in Austin next week at an event hosted by the British Consulate-General Houston that will highlight the contributions Great Britain has made to motorsports. The invitation-only event is among the festivities surrounding the inaugural Formula One race at Circuit of the Americas in southeastern Travis County.
Stewart told the American-Statesman last week that he’s never been to Austin but is looking forward to seeing the race, the circuit and the city.
“For some years now we have been missing, and in my opinion sadly, the United States of America. … It’s well overdue,” Stewart said by phone. “We’re coming to a part of America and particularly a city in America that’s great for young people because of the university and the high technology that exists there. I think it’s a very, very good fit.”
Stewart said he will be speaking about Formula One’s global reach, “the commercial muscle that it has, the multinational corporations that are part of it. It’s by far the biggest commercial sport in the world and also the largest capital-investment sport in the world, so it has a lot to talk about.”
The United States has not been home to a grand prix since Indianapolis Motor Speedway held races from 2000 to 2007. And although the sport has had a checkered past in America, the teams, advertisers and sponsors know the importance of the market.
“I think it’s enormous because the American marketplace is very mature, and the car industry, the tire industry, the fuel and oil producers see North America as an important part of the world,” Stewart said. “Of course there’s China, of course there’s India with bigger populations of road users nowadays, but they’re not mature. The industry is still developing, whereas in America it’s fully developed.”
Stewart said he believes an American driver would help boost the sport’s popularity here, but young drivers’ training must come outside of the U.S.
“A young American, or more than one, have got to get out of America and come to Europe after they’ve passed a certain level of the sport, in order to be racing against the toughest field in the world,” Stewart said. “Leaving all of the comforts of America is sometimes not as attractive for an American if he can go to NASCAR or IndyCar racing.”
Stewart, who was made an honorary Texan by Gov. Bill Clements on Nov. 15, 1982, acknowledged that there will be some growing pains for the Circuit of the Americas in this first year.
“We’ve got to give everybody a chance to get their feet under the table, and to do things for the first time is not always the easiest thing to do,” Stewart said. “There’s enough European sports cars bought in America for people to come and want to see the best drivers in the world racing the most sophisticated race cars in the world, because Formula One certainly is that.” The Statesman