“Better”. That’s how the oldest living Formula 1 world champion describes grand prix racing today compared with his own colourful but deadly era. 

“It’s safer, more global, more people are watching it,” says Sir Jackie Stewart. “I still love going to the grands prix. Just look at the quality of the major sponsors…”

Stewart always did have an eye on the money, didn’t he? This year, he plans to attend “18 or 19” of the 23 grands prix scheduled in his sponsor roles for Rolex and Heineken. He’s 82, by the way.

But surely he wouldn’t swap his glorious time, when he raced against his friends Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt, for today’s circus? “Well, I might have quite liked driving that Mercedes!” he quips. “I might have won the odd race. You never know…

“Listen, I had a lovely time. The only regrets I have are the people who are sadly no longer with us.” He means the dreadful headcount of those who perished while racing in his time. “My wife Helen counted 57 of our friends who drove racing cars,” he says. “Not all in F1, but 57. That doesn’t happen today.”

His latest race

Stewart is talking to me to tell us all about a new event this summer that will celebrate his career. It’s called the Sir Jackie Stewart Classic (presented by Rolex, naturally) and will be held at Thirlestane Castle in Berwickshire on 18-19 June. It will incorporate a concours d’élégance, run by the Borders Vintage Automobile Club, with Stewart working to collate as the centrepoint a display of every car he raced. 

But while the three-time champion’s remarkable life and career will be in focus, it isn’t really about him at all. In reality, it’s about Lady Helen, who in recent years has been struck by the cruelty of dementia.

Typically, Stewart has responded to the devastation wrought by the illness by trying to do something about it, and all proceeds from the event will go to the charity that he has set up to find a cure for a cursed condition that affects so many. 

“It’s the biggest thing in my life,” he says. “Bigger than anything else I’ve had to deal with.”