Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
. . . was born in 1944 in Paris, France, to an aristocratic Russian-Jewish emigre fleeing persecution, who avoided further discrimination during the War by joining the French Resistance, while his three children took his French wife’s name. At the age of 16 Cevert raced his mother’s Vespa and, at 19, moved up to a Norton, before adopting four wheels, studying at two racing schools, and in 1966 winning the Volant Shell scholarship: an Alpine F3 car, beating Patrick Depailler.
His first season wasn’t a success but moving up to a Tecno in 1968 gave him the French F3 Championship, ahead of Jean-Pierre Jabouille, which gained him a F2 works Tecno drive for 1969, where he finished third in the Championship.
Jackie Stewart had difficulty passing Cevert at Crystal Palace and told his team manager Ken Tyrrell to keep an eye on the young Frenchman and, the following year, when Tyrrell needed a new driver at short notice, Cevert was suddenly promoted to F1 – at the age of 26 – alongside Stewart… slowly closing on his mentor during the year, and gaining his first point to place him 22nd in the championship…
In 1971 Cevert twice finished second to Stewart and, in America, he took over when Stewart slowed, and won his first GP, taking third place in the championship. He also helped Tyrrell win the Constructor’s Championship in their first season, with double the points score of BRM, Ferrari and March.
It seems odd now to realise Cevert was only the second Frenchman to win a GP (Trintignant won Monaco in 1955 and 1958).
1972 was not a success, apart from finishing second at Le Mans. Lotus had their 72 John Player Special, and although Stewart won four races, Emerson Fittipaldi took his first Championship. The best Cevert managed was two second places to finish sixth.
In 1973 Cevert seemed to be always the bridesmaid, finishing second six times, to either Stewart or the two Lotus drivers, to take fourth in the championship. Afterwards Stewart claimed he had intended to retire at the end of the season to allow Cevert to take over as team leader but, during practice for the final race at Watkins Glen, and battling with Ronnie Peterson for Pole, Cevert ran wide in the ‘Esses’, clipped the barrier on the right, and spun head-first into those on the left, which were uprooted… and Cevert died instantly, at the age of 29.
Tyrrell withdrew from the race, virtually gifting the Constructors Championship to Lotus, and Stewart missed what would have been his last, and 100th GP. Later Ken spoke of Cevert: “He was one of those people you meet in life whom you just take to immediately. Everyone did. There was nothing not to like. He was a very charming young man. He was very handsome, so the girls all loved him. He only had to flutter his eyelashes and the girls fell about. . . He was obviously a great natural talent. There’s no question that in his last year, in at least two races where they finished first and second, Jackie said to me after the race that Francois could have passed him.”
Originally Francois Cevert was left out in the cold by my system of culling possible candidates for this list but, looked at less statistically, I feel Cevert deserves his place here. Some might think he showed potential but didn’t quite demonstrate true championship material. I would suggest that to go from F3 Champion in 1968, to 3rd in the F2 championship in 1969, to F1 in 1970, and 3rd place in the World Championship in 1971, 1 win, two fastest laps, 13 podium finishes, offered a seat by Ferrari in 1973, and about to lead the Tyrrell team in 1974, is proof this man had more than just potential…
to be continued, next week…