Jackie Stewart’s 1969: Annus Mirabilis


Jackie Stewart shot to prominence when he won the 1969 world championship in a French-built Matra MS80 run by Ken Tyrrell.

Stewart, with his long hair, corduroy cap and shades, was more Beatle than racing driver and became an icon as the Swinging Sixties morphed into the seventies.

Stewart had lost a three-way final round ’68 title shoot-out in Mexico but there was no stopping him in ‘69. The championship was played out over just 11 rounds back then and Jackie started with a win at Kyalami in South Africa.

After a two month gap he was fortunate to win Spain, which was notable for spectacular accidents to Lotus drivers Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt when the high aerofoil rear wings that were starting to proliferate in F1, broke under load. They were banned from the next race on, in Monte Carlo. Stewart led Monaco from pole position and set fastest lap, but the Matra retired and Hill won.

Stewart made himself all but unbeatable when he scored a hat-trick of wins at the Dutch, French and British Grands Prix. He got a fright at Silverstone, however, when a bit of loose kerbing at Woodcote corner punctured a tyre and put him off at 150mph in practice. He took over team mate Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s car for the race, while the Frenchman was shunted across into the recalcitrant four-wheel-drive Matra MS84 spare car. Later that season in Canada, the car became the only 4WD to score an F1 championship point, albeit six laps down in Johnny Servoz-Gavin’s hands in Canada!

Stewart fought an epic Silverstone battle with friend and chief foe Rindt, until the Austrian was slowed by a car problem. At Monza in September, Stewart took his sixth win of the season and clinched his first world title in what is still the closest four-car blanket finish in F1 history.

Pre-chicane Monza was famous for its slipstreaming battles and Stewart deliberately took a long fourth gear ratio so that he did not have to change gear between the exit of Parabolica and the finish line on the last lap. He came out of Parabolica second to Rindt’s Lotus but was ahead by eight hundredths as they flashed across the line, with less than 0.2s covering Stewart, Rindt, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Bruce McLaren.

Shaky footage below of an incredible last few corners at Monza

Already, Stewart was active on the safety front which, as well as his then-record 27 victories and three world titles, would be one of the enduring legacies he left behind when he retired in ‘73. Trapped in a BRM leaking fuel at Spa in ’66, Stewart was appalled by the lack of marshalling professionalism and then the makeshift medical facilities with cigarette butts all over the floor.

That ’69 season saw Spa boycotted after a circuit inspection by Stewart. New Armco barriers would be installed before the race, one of the most dangerous on the calendar, returned in 1970. At the time, Jackie’s safety stand opened him to ridicule although, quietly, all his contemporaries were behind him. That first world title in ’69 increased his worldwide profile massively and gave him the platform from which he became one of the sport’s most influential figures.

Great home movie footage below of the British GP of that amazing season