Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1971: Cevert wins his first and only Grand Prix
I was asked recently by a friend if I could transfer his VHS copy of Imola 1994 on to a DVD. In 19 years I hadn’t wanted to watch the race again, but I did to make sure it had recorded successfully. In 1994, I had recently lost my father and the wound was sufficiently raw that Senna’s death compounded the pain. The years since have been therapeutic on so many levels, and what was once a period of mourning has become a gratefulness to have experienced both these diverse people in my life.
Today is the anniversary of Cevert’s only Grand Prix win, and in 3 days time is the anniversary of his fatal accident. Do we mourn the loss of a charismatic driver, or celebrate a life lived to the full? I think Jean Eric Vergne provided the answer in Monaco.
Francois Goldenberg was born on the 25th February 1944 to a successful Parisian jeweller. Due to his father being a Russian-Jewish immigrant, to avoid deportation to Poland, he became a member of the French resistance.
Francois and his three siblings were registered with his mothers surname Cevert.
In 1966, he won a Volant Shell scholarship with the top prize an Alpine Formula 3 car. His first season did not go well, lacking funds and experience to set the car up properly but he found sponsorship for the 1968 season and traded his car in for a Tecno. By the end of 1968, he was the French F3 champion and in 1969, Cevert joined the Tecno Formula 2 works team, finishing 3rd overall. But it was a race at Crystal Palace that was to change his future forever.
Jackie Stewart, who was to win his first F1 championship that year had a hard time getting past Cevert in the British round. Stewart advised his boss Ken Tyrrell to keep an eye on the young Frenchman.
In 1970, Tyrrell’s number two driver – Johnny Servoz-Gavin – had suffered an eye injury over the winter months. At Monaco he called time on his career after hitting a barrier and failing to qualify. Tyrrell made the call to Cevert.
Tyrrell: “everybody said it was Elf, but it was really what Jackie had said about him.”
Over the next three and a half seasons, Cevert would be the dutiful number 2 and protege of Stewart. In fact Stewart referred to him as his little brother and would advise him without reservations.
In 1971, he would finish on the podium on three occasions before finally taking the chequered flag in the U.S.
The track at Watkins Glen had undergone some significant improvements from the previous year.
The lower section of track had been replaced with a new “boot” section which added more than a mile to the new layout. A new pit complex, pit straight and subsequent first corner completed the significant work for the 1971 race. The other new addition saw the introduction of a new timing system to Formula One which recorded laps to 1000th of a second, a system which is still used 42 years later.
Hulme took the lead when the lights changed to green, but by the completion of lap one Stewart had resumed control of the race, Cevert followed in third.
On the seventh lap, Cevert passed Hulme and on lap 14, as Stewarts tyres began to fail (where have we heard this before?), Cevert was waved through into the lead. Around half distance, Cevert began struggling with his tyres, and Ickx began to close in as his Firestones were performing better in the heat.
Ickx set the fastest lap of the race on lap 43, but then his alternator fell off! This punched a hole in the gearbox and spilled oil all over the track. Hulme would spin off into retirement and Cevert almost suffered the same fate, hitting the barrier but still able to continue.
Cevert: “I followed Stewart in the beginning and was flagged on ahead. Jackie Stewart is a very sensible driver and good teacher. He let me go through.”
How do we define a legend? Would it be fair to say that it would be based on achievements rather than promise?
I was five years old when he was killed and only read about him in historical articles and what was written in the Jackie Stewart and Ken Tyrrell autobiographies. Yet to this day, he is revered in F1 circles.
Whilst Kimi wearing a James Hunt helmet, or entering snow mobile races dressed as a gorilla called James Hunt is understandable, in the sense that he drove for McLaren and James Hunt was a party animal, I do not see the connection that Vergne has other than nationality.
There have been many drivers killed in F1 over the years. in fact, exactly a year later, an Austrian called Helmut Koinigg was decapitated when he too crashed against the poorly installed armco at Watkins Glen, but he remains a footnote in history.
Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain were all influential but had also produced work that defined their legacies. In motor-sport, the only comparable drivers that have substantial success behind them and yet hadn’t fully reached their ultimate potential was Clark, Villeneuve and Senna.
I have no desire to explain the horrific details of his accident, or pictures. This should be about a human being that touched his own heaven on earth. His is a life to be celebrated, thank you Francois.