This 2022 documentary film is about the life of Sir Jackie Stewart, F1’s triple world champion and bastion of the sport’s safety standards.
But there’s much more to the Scotsman than his driving, as he’s had a tough life affected by tragedy, trauma, and a personal difficulty he hid for decades.
Stewart is a very good documentary about the trials of life, whilst also encapsulating the most dangerous era of F1’s history.
Battles With Dyslexia and Elite Sport in the Stewart F1 Documentary
You can look at Sir Jackie Stewart’s extraordinary achievements in F1. Three World Championships and 27 race wins from 99 race starts.
His success in business, too, and he even ran his own F1 team between 1997-1999 (famously winning at Nürburgring with Johnny Herbert in 1999).
However, this documentary film is about much more than that. It’s a look at personal struggles, the nature of fame, the danger of F1, family life, and neurodevelopmental conditions.
Sir Jackie Stewart is from Milton, Dunbartonshire in Scotland. Born in June 1939, he grew up during the 1940s in a much harsher educational system than we have these days.
During this period he was told by teachers he was an idiot.
This was down to his inability to read. As believe it or not, to this day (now 83) he can’t read or write. It was only when he was in his early 40s when he was diagnosed as suffering with severe dyslexia.
Stewart didn’t tell anyone about that (not even his wife), which meant he had to wing it in the world of F1—he was terrified someone would find out his secret.
But his ascendancy in motorsport was remarkable and meteoric. A mechanic with his father, a wealthy customer offered the young Scotsman a run in a local car race and Stewart finished second. He won the next one.
Moving into Formula Three and at his first race he was leading by 25 seconds after two laps in wet conditions. He won by over 44 seconds. Jaws dropped and he had F1 offers within days of the performance.
He raced in F1 from 1965-1973, becoming the lead driver of his generation. His titles followed in 1969, 1971, and 1973.
This was a very different era of F1 to now due to the safety standards—in Stewart’s time, one mistake could result in a horrendous death. We mean, look at this.
Asides from the dangers, the incredible pressure of the sport (and constant media attention) means his charismatic personality make his dyslexia diagnosis all the more remarkable.
Stewart acknowledges in the film his way of dealing with his condition led to him overanalysing situations and providing excessive feedback. “I was a pain in the arse”, as he admits.
You sometimes see him criticised in the press for taking a long time to answer a question (again, he acknowledges this in the film). But it is simply his coping mechanism for a pretty damn debilitating condition.
Add into this the personal trauma he’s had to go through and it shows the extent of his determination as an individual.
He championed F1 safety in the 1970s, was labelled a “wimp” in the process, and was generally despised for trying to “ruin” the sport.
It seems beyond absurd now (see the other F1 documentary 1: Life on the Limit), as the sport’s safety standards in the 1960s and 1970s were disgusting; non-existent.
The drivers were happy to face that risk for the rush of their lives, but the knock-on effect for their families seems inherently selfish now.
And the Stewart documentary is something of a love letter, and homage, to Stewart’s beloved wife Helen. They married in 1962 and the documentary marked their 60th anniversary.
Helen Stewart features throughout as the contemplative, stoic figurehead of the family. Her husband brought a life of money, glitz, and glamour, but she had to bring up two children and deal with the aftermath of many personal tragedies.
Here she is in this TV ad the pair did together in the mid-1970s.
The Stewarts were close friends with Austrian F1 ace Jochen Rindt and his wife Nina. When the former was abruptly killed at Monza in 1970, Nina Rindt relied on the Stewart’s support to help her through the grief.
And then there was the case of young French driver François Cevert, Stewart’s teammate at Tyrell and great friend to the family.
Cevert was a charming and lovable young bloke with movie star good looks, but was killed at the final qualifying session of the 1973 F1 season at Watkins Glen. The accident was so horrifying it causes Stewart to break down during this documentary. Whereas in previous interviews discussing it he’s provided composed overviews of the incident.
The Tyrell team pulled out of the race, what was supposed to be Stewart’s last.
It’s these continuous traumas that punctuate Stewart’s life and mark out the differences to modern F1. Which he deals with impressively well in public, but must have weighed on his mind since the early 1970s.
Since his retirement from F1, he’s remained omnipresent. It’s common to see him in and around the paddock to this day, whilst advocating for safety standards and other charities.
Unfortunately, Stewart has acknowledged his wife now has frontotemporal dementia. And in February this year has updated his wife can no longer walk.
He’s established a charity for this cause (Race Against Dementia).
Yes, then, this is an affecting and compassionate documentary, with a contemplative edge. It makes for an interesting counterpart to F1 films such as Villeneuve Pironi: Racing’s Untold Tragedy.
The human aspect away from the sport and the affect on individuals and families, which Stewart captures very well, with a huge amount of unique insights from the man himself.
You can watch Stewart on Sky Documentaries.