On the third lap of the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last week, just as the cars were approaching the wrenching curve known as La Parabolica, a rabbit darted out of the infield grass and ended its life under the wheels of Jackie Stewart's Matra. Sixty-five laps later, with the rabbit little more than a blur of fur on the line through that treacherous corner, Stewart swept under the flag to win both Monza and the world driving championship. The only casualty of the day, if you discount a few thousand pinched bottoms in victory lane, was the unfortunate rabbit. Nobody mourned him, but let's try to imagine his last impressions: the sudden approach of the pack—15 cars flat-out, black blots emerging from the Ascari curve and magnifying almost instantly into giant torpedoes of blue and red and marigold orange. The noise ripping upward from a moan through a snarl to a steady explosion. The drivers barely visible within their bonedomes. Stewart's close-set, sensitive, mud-colored eyes, with one drooping lid masked behind the smoky visor of his helmet, the eyes of a hunter flicking down and seeing the rabbit sprint and freeze on the track, widening, holding firm on the line ahead. The broad reach of the Dun-lop tire blurring into treadlessness, rising above the doomed animal. Thump.
"It was the right front tire that did for him, and I was turning about 190 miles an hour," Jackie recalled later. "Bad luck for Mr. Bunny, but it could have been worse for the rest of us had I lost control; we were packed that close together. At any rate the rabbit chose the wrong time to die. He missed a very close race."
That is the Scottish understatement of the year. At the finish Stewart literally nosed out Austria's Jochen Rindt, the bent-beaked young Lotus driver whom many Formula I watchers consider to be no less skillful than Jackie. The third-and fourth-place cars of France's Jean-Pierre Beltoise and New Zealand's Bruce McLaren were less than a second behind. Beltoise is Stewart's junior teammate and a man of long hair and stubborn faith in his vocation. When his left elbow was crushed in a 1964 accident he asked the doctors to lock it permanently in the driving position. McLaren, driving his own McLaren-Ford, won enough points (three) to edge Belgium's Jackie Ickx, a Brabham driver, for second place in the championship standings, 24-22. It was a ferocious race all the way around, with as many as seven cars in the first flight most of the 200 miles, and the exhilarating finish was unusual for a Formula I race, where a mere five-second lead looks long to the spectators. Stewart could have won the championship by finishing third, but it is not in his nature to back into victory, as Monza so clearly demonstrated.
September 21, 1969
John Young Stewart is many things, all of them tough. He is a hippie-haired Scotsman, an Olympic class wing shot, a 30-year-old Gemini with all the classic hang-ups of that sign. He is the owner of a $240,000 Swiss ch√¢teau, Clayton House, which serves as home, investment and refuge from British taxes. He is a connoisseur of mod fashions and beautiful women, a collector of elegant wrist-watches, a dedicated daddy to a brace of happy, towheaded sons. And now, with six Grands Prix won out of eight so far this year, and with three more races to run, Stewart stands a good chance of breaking the late Jimmy Clark's season record of seven victories. Jackie could coast through the Canadian, American and Mexican races and still be No. 1. But that is not the Stewart style.
Jackie reviewed the rabbit incident the morning after the race as he sipped iced orange juice on the veranda of the Villa d'Este, that magnificent monument to good taste and blocked lire on the western shore of Lake Como, just south of where they rubbed out Mussolini 25 years ago. Behind him rose the formal gardens, all flowers and rills and darting blue dragonflies. Before him lolled the lake, tracked with the wakes of hydrofoils, water skis and long, slim rowing shells. Jackie likes the Villa d'Este and the Villa d'Este likes him. The waiters call him "Meestair Stewairt" and approach him often with menus to be autographed. Jackie's boys, Paul, 3, and Mark, 1½, can run their countless Corgi models of Jags and Lotuses and BRMs and Brabhams through the sandbox, or chat with the creaky Englishwomen who drowse beneath the plane trees.
"My name is Paul Stewart. Vrrroarsharrooooom!"
"Oh, deah. That's a good boy, and why don't you run back to your nanny?"
Jackie's strawberry-blonde wife Helen can stroll beside "the only floating swimming pool in Europe" in her latest Pucci pants suit, or take the sun while reading the latest Jacqueline Susann ("It's not all porno," Jackie says in his high-pitched burr, "or at least she don't drive it into you at every page"). Anyway, the Villa d'Este spells holiday for Jackie, and he hasn't had one in five years—except for a few days in a hospital after he crashed, nearly drowned in a cockpit full of gasoline and broke a few small bones three years ago at Spa. So this year's Monza was a chance to cool it, and Jackie picked up the option with the same élan that he devotes to his driving.
The Wednesday of race week dawned dark and wet. Thunder rolled over the Alps and cascaded down Como like a flight of heavy bombers, drowning out the churchbells and rattling the chandeliers. It was hardly a day for lounging around the pool, so Jackie squirmed into a modish dark blue pinch-waisted suit, whistled up his borrowed silver Ferrari 365 and bellowed off into the rain toward Milan. Something in the weather was making him philosophical and, for a lad who dropped out of school at the age of 15, Jackie Stewart is a remarkably articulate philosopher. "Every athlete has to go through three stages, "he mused, "arriving, readjustment and consolidation. When you arrive in a sport, you get bigheaded. I defy any man to say he's never been bigheaded. Some just stay that way. I went through the bigheaded bit when I was a shooter, shooting traps for Scotland. To shoot with the lion rampant on your jacket and to be just 16 or 17, ah, that'll do it every time. Anyway, in 1959 and 1960 I won the British, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English championships and a third ranking in the Coupe des Nations. Then I got thrashed."
A Volkswagen flicked its lights impatiently behind us, and Jackie pulled the Ferrari over to let the angry little bug squirt past. "Eat 'em up, Otto," he said.
"There's nothing more valuable than having been beaten, soundly thrashed, after you've gotten good. It was in 1960, on my 21st birthday, the last day of trials for the British Olympic trap team. Three of us were shooting it out for two spots in the team. I'd beaten the other guns consistently, but on one run of 25 clays I missed seven or eight birds. Unheard of, but there it was. It was a terrible, terrible blow to my ego, but it was the first time I ever learned to control my disappointment. I've had two others since. One was losing Indy in '66 with nine laps to go. Scavenge pump failed, and I pushed the car the rest of the lap, thinking that Formula I rules prevailed and I'd get credit for the lap. The other was running out of petrol on the last lap of the Belgian Grand Prix last year. I wanted that one badly. Nah then, you get very philosophical about disappointments. Humble, maybe. But you can't get into the habit of losing nobly. If you start letting them beat you nobly, they'll always beat you nobly. And you don't get paid for nobly."
Jackie gave up trapshooting in 1962, having shifted his competitive affections to motor racing. Speed buffs know the legend: Stewart learning the rudiments at his father's garage in Dumbarton. An older brother, Jimmy, racked up in a couple of races. Mother forbidding young Jackie to drive competitively. His driving a plywood-bodied Marcos GT under the name of A. N. Other. His winning 23 of 53 Formula III races during his first pro year. Whipping Bruce McLaren in a test at Brands Hatch his first time ever in a single-seater. Becoming an instant star.
Now, heading into Milan, Jackie ponders the differences between shooting and driving. "Shooting always required far more dedication from me than driving," he says. "Driving was a lark, still is, for that matter. I built up a terrible distaste for shooting. I was a bundle of nerves, and that made it a terrible sport. What's more, it was expensive. After I quit I didn't lift a gun for two or three years. If it has to happen again, I'd like it to happen that way in driving. Just get fed up with it and drop it. I don't want to have to quit by getting old or broken up or something." He was quiet for a minute, thinking perhaps of Stirling Moss.
The rain had thrashed on ahead by the time he reached Milan. There, in the cool stone arcades off the Via S. Andrea, Jackie bought a quick $100 worth of Carrano shoes—square-toed boots and loafers—and kept a rendezvous with his good shooting friend, Carlo Del Ventisette, with whom he was to drive out to the Beretta factory at Brescia and test the over-and-unders. Though he is through with competitive shooting, Jackie is an enthusiastic game shot and wanted to add a brace of matched Berettas to his Boss and Merkel side-by-side shotguns.
Stewart collects friends with the same attention to quality that he gives to guns and watches, and Carlo is a prime specimen. A slim Milanese merchant, as quick of wit as he is of eye, generous and competitive, Carlo is the least known member of Jackie's set, which has included such disparate types as General Curtis LeMay, Dick and Liz and the murdered barber, Jay Sebring. Carlo's family sells chandeliers and antiques from a Milanese shop that would delight anyone with a taste for glinting crystal and warm old wood. He himself is 38, looks 28 and shot for the Italian trap team until last year. He gets Jackie discounts on nearly all his Italian purchases.
The Ferrari belonged to Carlo who drove out along the autostrada toward Brescia, dicing with a Maserati at 130 mph along the way. "A truck," Carlo snorted as he passed the Maser. "Nothing more than a lorry." Jackie dozed in the front seat as the radio bleated Italian rock. At the Beretta plant, a splendid stone castle cleaner than any of its American equivalents, the union jack flanked the Italian tricolor in welcome for Stewart. On a quick tour of the premises Jackie was most impressed with the man who tests the automatic shotguns. A burly gent with the wild eyes of one who has heard too many loud noises, he fires 2,500 rounds a day, shooting up into a wooded hillside. The trees and brush were mowed into odd patterns by his efforts. He varies the routine by shooting now and then from the hip—four rounds, just like that, blamblam-blamblam—or one-handed. "If he took off his shoes," said the Beretta director, "he could do it with his toes." As we left, a lone cabbage moth fluttered into range. The gun-tester's eyes gleamed and the moth became confetti.
Out on the Beretta trap range, Jackie put on his little black corduroy Beatle cap and supple leather shooting vest. "This vest once belonged to Carlo," he explained. "Whenever we shoot together, we have a friendly little competition. What'll it be this time, Carlo?"
"Shoes," said Carlo.
"Poor fellow," said Jackie. "We've come all this way with Carlo. We've used his Ferrari, we've used his tires, we've used his petrol. And now he's going to lose his shoes." And he did. Jackie powdered 24 out of 25 birds, missing only the last, while Carlo—psyched out by Stewart's aplomb—missed seven. But Carlo's 17-year-old son, Renzo, shot a perfect 25, and Jackie turned the shoes over to him with relief. On the way back home, with a promise from Beretta to deliver two top-quality game guns and a "simple" trap model by the end of the racing season, Jackie was exultant at the wheel of the Ferrari. The speedometer showed 150 mph through traffic—just a shade more than Jackie would average four days later at Monza.
The interval between guns and engines was filled with business. Stewart's managers lined up an endorsement deal with Rob Roy scotch, and between qualifying runs Jackie oversaw the application of the decal on the bonnet of his blue Matra. Rob's upraised claymore went well with the band of Royal Stewart tartan that adorns Jackie's helmet, but the old warrior might have been pained to learn that Jackie rarely drinks. Though not as pained as Jackie, who sipped a Pimm's Cup No. 1 at the Villa d'Este one night and promptly developed a sore left shoulder. "Must be a nerve I bruised somewhere," he said.
While Helen drifted through the blue night of Como, a Nicean bark among the rowboats, Jackie dined with Juan Manuel Fangio, a longtime hero of his, discussing a possible appearance in the Argentine at a race Fangio is organizing. Jackie also turned up at the Sporting Club of Monza to receive a driver of the year award. While he chatted in his super-cool way with the assembled guests, Rindt played game after savage game of Ping-Pong on the Club's sunken table, smashing his rivals as he hoped to smash Jackie on the following afternoon.
Race day at Monza once again brought rain, this time a steady, depressing drizzle that ended only an hour before starting time. The crowd—some 120,000—was as usual a Ferrari crowd, though the single red machine driven by Mexico's Pedro Rodriguez was barely competitive. Young men in gold-buttoned Renaissance shirts clustered around the pits, tape recording the engine noises and then rhapsodizing over the instant replay. Tough little Milanese kids circulated through the crowd, puffing on regular cigarettes with the same self-important smirk American kids devote to grass. Police in at least five kinds of uniforms strutted around Monza Park, ogling the birds and busting anyone who looked at them cross-eyed. From the pits came the glint of gold teeth and the flash of mineral-water bottles. The race itself was a whirligig of sound and color, with Stewart leading the pack for 59 of the 68 laps, and anyone who says he knows exactly what happened on any of those laps simply wasn't there. Monza isn't built that way, as Jackie would be the first to acknowledge.
"The lead changed fewer times than I thought it would," he said. "I think I lost it and got it back about seven times. I always made it a point to be in the lead when I could passing the grandstand. But I'd expected the lead to change more often. It's very difficult to break away at Monza—almost impossible on such a fast course. About a third of the way along, when Surtees went into the pits and came back out again just as we were passing the finish line, I thought I could get enough of a tow from him to break away, but John wasn't moving fast enough. All the way along, whenever I looked back, there were Jochen and Bruce sitting on my shoulders like vultures. But the real surprise was Jean-Pierre. At the end there he behaved like any normal, healthy young man who wants to win a motor race. He bloody near did, too."
One of these weeks Beltoise is bound to do it, if only because the day of the Matra seems to be dawning. Matra is a French missile company largely subsidized by the government, and automobiles—both Formula I and II chassis, plus sports prototypes and road cars—amount to only a tiny fraction of its total business. Like most Grand Prix cars today the Matras are powered by Cosworth-Ford engines made in England with the enthusiastic consent of the controlling American Ford Motor Co. (At Monza, only the sixth-place Ferrari and the Brabhams mounted their own power plants.) While France would prefer an all-French car, the Matra chassis is reason enough for jubilation. Not since the legendary Bugatti has that nation had a first-class Grand Prix contender.
In the moments after the race, Jochen Rindt was the saddest young Austrian in the world. He had finished in the points in only one of the season's seven previous races—a fourth at Silverstone—and now his machine had finally been ready. It wasn't ready enough. While Jackie and Helen were braving the mob with the victor's wreath around both their necks, Jochen was weaving his Lotus back to the garage, a filter-tipped cigarette pasted in the middle of his face, his right foot giving off mean, loud jabs on the accelerator.
"Well," said Jackie, "I've been unhappy, too. We do it to each other all the time in this business."