Jacky Ickx Interview: Formula 1 Legend Says His Generation Were Amateurs Compared To Drivers Today

"Money was never the goal."

F1 driver Charles Leclerc is joined by Jacky Ickx on the track.

Image: Automobile Club de Monaco

Legendary Formula 1 driver Jacky Ickx has said that the drivers of today cannot be compared to some of the biggest names like Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart and Mario Andretti who dominated the 60s and 70s motorsport era.

With all the talk about adding more and more Grands Prix to the already exhaustive Formula 1 season, driver welfare is an ongoing issue at the forefront of the discussion, with more and more drivers such as three-time world champion Max Verstappen arguing against adding more race weekends to an already congested schedule.

Of course, the sport has come a long way since the early days of Formula 1. Drivers are signed exclusively to one team, navigating stakeholders and brand sponsors as much as tight corners in the world’s premier motorsport… but as legendary F1 driver Jacky Ickx has revealed, it wasn’t always this way.

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Jacky Ickx is a Chopard ambassador and a friend of the brand. Image: Chopard

Jacky Ickx, a Belgian motorsport legend, first made his Formula 1 debut in 1966. He competed in the sport until 1979 with several prominent teams, including Ferrari, Brabham and Lotus, and despite never winning the world championship, Ickx was a fierce competitor, twice finishing as runner-up in 1969 and 1970.

Away from the sport, Ickx is a friend and ambassador for Swiss Luxury watchmaker Chopard, so when we arrived at this year’s Watches & Wonders, we jumped at the opportunity to sit down with him. We spoke at length about the evolution of the sport and the growing appeal for the modern fan, revealing that the drivers of today are under intense scrutiny compared to when he was competing.

“It’s day and night,” Ickx said. “There is no possible comparison. It’s a mistake to compare the two eras – so different between yesterday and today. In a way, we were more amateur – more professional mercenaries.”

Jacky Ickx made his Formula 1 debut in just the 20th edition of the sport. The season consisted of 43 different drivers representing 25 teams and just nine Grands Prix. As Ickx confessed, the drivers on the grid were part-time in the competition, often driving in a number of disciplines and races throughout the year.

“Money was never the goal.”

Jacky Ickx

Australian icon Jack Brabham won the Formula 1 World Championship that year, becoming the first man to win the Championship driving his own car. He finished that year with 42 points at just nine races.

“Today, in motor racing, you have an exclusivity with a team and also an exclusivity with the sponsor,” Ickx continued. “That means you can only do one thing at a time – when we were doing four or five different things at a time in those days. That way it will never come back. People like us don’t exist anymore. One of the few last exemplars of the era.”

Jack Ickx has said his generation were amateurs compared to the drivers of today Image: Automobile Club de Monaco 

It’s a far cry from the meticulously structured approach to the sport that we all know today. Drivers like Ickx could be competing with Ferrari in Formula 1 one week and with Ford the next, trying his hand at saloon racing and, more notably, the world’s greatest endurance race Le Mans throughout the regular season.

Whilst Ickx never won the Formula 1 World Championship, he is a celebrated driver in endurance racing, winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1969, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981 and 1982, placing him among the most successful drivers in the history of this prestigious race.

Today’s drivers enjoy unprecedented levels of professionalism and support throughout the world, but they also face unparalleled pressures and constraints. As Formula 1 continues to expand and evolve for a modern audience, the enduring legacy of drivers such as Ickx, who raced out of pure passion for the sport, cannot be understated.