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Sir Jackie Stewart gives sage advice on safety for GP drivers

Sir Jackie Stewart, the ''Flying Scot'' who won three formula one world championships, poses a trivia question: ''If you were out there racing today and had a choice of only one kind of doctor on standby, which would it be?'' He says that few people give him the correct answer. ''An anaesthetist,'' he says, ''because he jump-starts you. As long as you can be kept alive you can be taken by helicopter to the best medical unit.'' During Stewart's racing days from 1964 to 1973, 57 fellow drivers died - ''men I knew well enough to have been in their homes''. He was a prominent crusader for increased safety on the track in an era when, during a typical five-year span, drivers had a 60-70 per cent chance of being killed,

Now, as a neighbour of injured champ Michael Schumacher, Stewart is saddened by the irony - Schumacher retired unscathed with seven world championships but lies gravely ill after a skiing accident. ''I have no idea if he will fully recover … I hope with all my heart that he survives but I wouldn't like him surviving and not leading a full life.'' Schumacher, the action man, had always been a risk-taker, says Stewart. ''After he left formula one he took up motorbike racing, for god's sake. And he was a great skydiver.''

Stewart is ranked fifth in the list of all-time great F1 drivers and is a celebrity ''ambassador'' for principal sponsor, Rolex. Knighted in 2001, he was a TV commentator for 13 Australian grand prix events until he formed the Stewart formula one team. During his racing career Stewart won 27 of his 99 F1 races but his efforts to improve safety on the track did not always make him popular. ''Track owners didn't want to spend the money,'' he says.

His worst accident occurred during the Belgian Grand Prix of 1966 when he hit a pole and overturned. ''I was trapped in the car for 35 minutes with no marshals, no medical aid, no communication and soaked in fuel. My teammate Graham Hill had to borrow a spanner from a spectator to remove the steering wheel and get me out. I was taken on a canvas stretcher to the so-called medical centre where I was put on a concrete floor with a whole lot of cigarette ends.''

From then on, he taped a spanner to the shaft of his steering wheel - and employed his own doctor who travelled around the world with him to every race. ''He was an anaesthetist and had the addresses of all the best medical people - the brain guy, the bones guy, internal injuries.''