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.
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, 1�, 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 �lan 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."