Sir Jackie Stewart has never been one to shrink from controversy - on-track or away from it - and as a vociferous critic of Formula 1, the Scot has spoken openly about the Lewis Hamilton Melbourne 'lies' scandal, the changes in safety in the sport from his era to the present one and his tense relationship with Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, and somewhat less openly about his ties with the Royal Bank of Scotland and friendship with Sir Fred Goodwin...

The revelation that defending world champion Hamilton - Britain's blue-eyed boy sporting hero - and his McLaren-Mercedes team tried to 'deliberately mislead' Albert Park race stewards following last month's Australian Grand Prix, ostensibly in an effort to unfairly steal away Jarno Trulli's podium position, has arguably been the major talking point so far in 2009.

The fall-out has been huge, with long-time team principal Ron Dennis cutting all of his ties with McLaren's F1 operation, highly respected sporting director Dave Ryan being dismissed and Hamilton himself fighting desperately to salvage his reputation after it was dragged and trampled so unceremoniously through the mud. It is a challenge, Stewart argues, that the 24-year-old must overcome - and will.

"It's a very unfortunate incident," he acknowledged in an interview on BBC's HARDtalk programme, "and one that I can't remember the like of actually. Oddly enough, although there's been much change, I really don't think the animal has changed at all to be honest. I really don't think Lewis Hamilton is any different to Jim Clark or [Juan-Manuel] Fangio.

"He's very young and he made a mistake; he probably knew there was a fib involved, but for whatever reason - under pressure or duress - he felt he should go ahead with it. I think he was wrong to do that, but it has happened and now he has to try and rebuild his credibility and he has to come back, and he will because he's very young and because he's very skilled and talented. It was a very unfortunate thing to have occurred.

"I think [Dennis] had made up his mind some time ago to resign as CEO. He was the man who had built McLaren. I think there was something going on clearly, that involved a compromise that he felt he had to resign in order for certain other things to be allowed to take place. I don't know the inside of it; all I know is it's not good for the sport itself, never mind Ron Dennis, McLaren or Lewis Hamilton."

The 69-year-old was similarly outspoken on the subject of Formula One Management commercial rights executive Ecclestone and FIA President Mosley - the two men who continue to rule the top flight with an iron grip. The latter has had numerous run-ins with Stewart in years gone-by, most famously describing him as a 'certified halfwit' in oblique reference to the three-time world champion's dyslexia, which he admits left him believing he was 'a failure educationally' and 'stupid, dumb and thick' for much of his earlier life.

"They've both been in it a very long time," the 1969, 1971 and 1973 title-winner contended. "They're no longer young - Bernie is 78 years of age and Max is about the same age as I am, close to 70. Bernie has made Formula 1 what it is today, there is no doubt of that, but there has been no money coming back into the sport, whereas other sports - tennis, cricket, golf, rugby, football - feed young potentials to be able to get into the big-time. That has been missing, because all the money has been going in one direction.

"Max is unpaid as President of the FIA, supposedly - although I'm sure he's got very healthy expenses, which is very topical at the moment - but he himself has been well-off for quite some time. He's not a poor man at all. I have criticised the manner in which the sport has been run now for some years; I think there does need to be a change, and I think they need to have some fresh air.

"I think there has to be somebody taken from not the paddock, not the pits, not the motor racing fraternity - from outside, a headhunted top executive to run the Formula 1 administration. The governing body I think needs to be run in that fashion, because at the present time I think it is very incestuous."

If Mosley and Ecclestone are admired if not universally liked, then a man Stewart refers to as a 'wise and trusted friend' is perhaps one of the most reviled people in Britain at the moment, and his association with disgraced former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin has been to the detriment of his own reputation at times. The pair's meeting led to the 27-time grand prix-winner becoming a global sporting ambassador for the embattled bank - a role that has come in for much questioning in the wake of RBS' dramatic collapse and unprecedented financial loss earlier this year.

Whilst Stewart ultimately agreed to waive his 2009 salary, however, Goodwin - touted in some quarters as a potential successor to Mosley as FIA President - continues to doggedly cling onto his ?700,000-a-year pension, despite the fact that RBS is now being for the most part funded by the British taxpayer. The latter topic was one on which Stewart steadfastly refused to comment.

"I count Fred as a friend - not a long-time friend or a close, close friendship, because I've only known him since 2003," he revealed. "He fully knows the troubles there are in the world and amongst the people he has been involved with - that's not for me to comment on. He approached me as a Scot, because he thought I would be helpful with the Royal Bank of Scotland when the bank was becoming more global. I left HSBC to go to the Royal Bank of Scotland.

"I think you'll find that many politicians get paid a great deal of money - which is paid for by the taxpayers - and they have to deliver beyond the amount of money that they're perceived to be paid. I don't think it (his role) is an embarrassment, because I hope to be over-delivering again. I hope to be helping them, and I hope in the first quarter of this year RBS may be profitable, and in the next quarter they might be more profitable.

"It's very important, I think, at a time like this, to build rather than destruct, and it's very important just not to be critical but to be able to go out and enhance opportunities for a business and enhance their chance to one day no longer be owned by the taxpayer. I'm a taxpayer and a shareholder, and lost a great deal of money on [RBS' collapse], but we have to take those knocks.

"I didn't say that I was holding onto my fees; I said that I had a contract that I would honour, and I was confident the Royal Bank of Scotland would also honour it because it was a firm contract. I was intending to work the period of my contract. I thought [waiving his 2009 salary] would be an interesting way for me to be able to help to rebuild RBS as their global ambassador.

"If I worked for nothing - as I am doing now; this year I'm working for no salary at all - I thought that would help, because I'm more interested in helping to build RBS back to where it can be. With the contacts I have around the world and business relationships I have around the world, part of my job is in fact to enhance more opportunities for doing business in market places. I'm very proud of my long-term relationship with major multinational companies."

Claiming that his business nous and acumen have compensated for the inferiority complex he suffered in his formative years due to his dyslexia, Stewart is also clearly proud of his career achievements, and particularly the manner in which he spearheaded F1's drive for a safer future back in the days when 'safety' was almost a dirty word. At the forefront of every boycott, campaign and protest that occurred, his determination may have flown in the face of the sport's 'purists' and put a number of noses out of joint, but it paid off like few could have feasibly imagined. It has now been nigh-on 15 years since a fatality in the top flight - what he describes as 'an amazing risk-management example of how it should be done'.

"I those days, if you were racing in a five-year window in Formula 1, there was a two-out-of-three chance you were going to die," he reflected ruefully. "It was a ridiculous batting average and it was there for no reason; it was just that people did not think that racing drivers needed to think of safety, like a so-called gladiator or a bull fighter. If you were killed in the ring or the Colosseum that was your full awareness before you ever went in, so why go in? I thought that was all wrong; I thought I was being paid for my skill, not for the risks that I was taking.

"There was a period in 1968 when four of us on the grid died in consecutive months, from Jim Clark in April to Mike Spence in May to Ludovico Scarfiotti in June to Jo Schlesser in July. When that happens to you and you're constantly going to funerals and memorial services and witnessing the grief of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, girlfriends or wives, and you see the devastation that causes within a family when it doesn't have to happen, because the race tracks or the cars or the medical services didn't match up to the technology that you were sitting in as a racing car...that was out of order for me.

"The aficionados would say 'well you knew what you were going into, if the kitchen's too hot why don't you leave?' I thought we should change that, and we won the battle - but it wasn't a popular one. It needed to be done - I just happened to be the man of the time."