One off Grand Prix winners: Francois Cevert, Watkins Glen 1971
Surely there was never a more handsome GP driver than Francois Cevert? The tall Frenchman had been called into the Tyrrell March team in 1970 to replace the disillusioned Johnny Servoz-Gavin. This may have been at the request of Tyrrell’s sponsors, Elf Petroleum, but the relationship between Francois and his team leader Jackie Stewart blossomed into one of the ultimate teacher and pupil.
With a driver of Stewart’s undoubted brilliance as his team mate, Cevert could never hope be anything other than a number two driver, but he knew that one day his time would come and Jackie was always there to guide him through his apprenticeship. And Francois proved to be a very good pupil. Already, in his first full season as a GP driver, he had followed Jackie across the line to score Tyrrell one – two’s in both the French and German GP.
By the time the GP circus arrived at Watkins Glen for the final race of the 71 season, Stewart had already wrapped up his second world title. As the race settled down, the Tyrrell twins held their customary one and two positions, only Denis Hulme’s McLaren seeming able to mount any kind of challenge. But then both Stewart and Hulme started to experience handling problems and Jackie waved Francois through into the lead. At first it looked like a walk in the park for the young pupil to score his first victory, but soon he came under pressure from a hard charging Jacky Ickx in the Ferrari. Cevert held on to the lead while Ickx’s car broke under the strain and crossed the line 40 seconds in front of Siffert’s BRM at the chequered flag.
For two more seasons Cevert continued to learn from Stewart, the unbelievable thing being that never again would the opportunity arise for him to profit from his teacher’s misfortune to take another GP win, even when Jackie’s 72 season was compromised by a duodenal ulcer. However, that was all to change from the end of the 73 season. Having secured his third World Championship, Stewart confided to Ken Tyrrell that he would retire after his 100th GP at Watkins Glen. Ken knew that he didn’t need to look for a new team leader, the time had come for Cevert to lead the Tyrrell team to many more title victories. Tragically, it was not the be.
In practice for the US GP, the scene of his greatest triumph two years earlier, Francois was killed instantly when his car smashed into a barrier. The Tyrrell team withdrew from the race, Stewart ended his career with 99 GP starts and a broken heart and the world lost, not only a future champion, but THE best looking young man who ever sat in a GP racing car.