The Lost Legend of Formula 1 That Was Named François Cevert
Gone too soon...
It is always enjoyable to look back on Formula 1, motorsport, and automotive history, but most of the time we don't take time to read about the tragedies that have occurred as well. We all know the appalling stories of many legends, such as Ayrton Senna, Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt, or Gilles Villeneuve. However, many haven't learned about other legends who have come and conquered while no one even noticed, until their story was only portrayed as a tragedy. Every story has a good side. Many legends have left us early, but we should always look at why they were known as legends in the first place.
There is a Formula 1 legend that left the world too early. And he is called François Cevert. Albert François Cevert Goldenberg was a French racing driver in the Formula One World Championship. He raced with Tyrell achieving one victory, 13 podiums, and 89 career points overall. Cevert was a Paris born kid that dreamed of racing in Formula 1. He joined and finished a training course at the Le Mans school in 1966, after the course, he enrolled in the Magny-Cours racing school. He did struggle during his F3 season, especially in the beginning. Ironically, at the end of his first Formula 3 season, he took the title of F3 Champion.
He soon after joined F2, and a certain important someone in his life appeared. Usually, F2 races had many Formula 1 legends and drivers who also made appearances. Such as Sir Jackie Stewart or Jim Clark. Jackie Stewart was battling and was having a difficult time getting past the young François during that race. Shortly after the race, Jackie Stewart told his team manager "to keep an eye on the young Frenchman". In 1970, Tyrell needed a new driver for their team, Jackie's recommendation and François immense talent was definitely the reason why Cevert was chosen to race for Tyrell. Stewart saw something in him that no one else saw. That kicked off Cevert's and Stewart's mentorship, with the legendary Jackie being a big part and mentor in his life.
Stewart explained how honored he is that he worked with him, even though Cevert was much younger, he taught Jackie many lessons as well. Sir Jackie was confident that François would have been Frances's first World Champion in F1.
"I told him everything I knew" Sir Jackie added. He saw his skill, he saw his athleticism, and he knew he was going to be something big. When that second Tyrell seat was open, he knew the person that deserved it.
The Violent Tragedy
François and Jackie's student and teacher relationship continued in 1970 and ended abruptly in 1973. Jackie taught him everything, answering every question the Frenchman asked. Although, the days were numbering down. Cevert's only victory was at the 1971 United States Grand Prix, and François achieved 13 podiums in his years of Formula 1. Sir Jackie had already won his third World Championship that season. Yet, there was this eerie feeling coming up in the season finale at Watkins Glen in New York.
It was qualifying on Saturday morning and François was ready to get out and give it his all in the final race of the 73' season. Cevert was sweeping through the hills in his Tyrell. Abruptly, the Frenchman's car left the track and hit the right-hand side barrier brutally before coming back across the circuit at immense speeds and sitting upside-down on the left-hand side barrier. The horrendous scene was filled with dust and smoke. And under that dust and smoke was something even more extremely shocking. The drivers stopped immediately. Their shock and disbelief was absolutely indescribable at that moment, they could not believe what had just occurred. No one has ever seen such a violent and horrifying crash.
François Cevert died at 29 years old. Jackie Stewart decided not to race in New York. Jackie's decision to drive back to the pits rather than remain by his great friend's side haunted him and affected him for years. Besides Stewart being widely affected by it, many other drivers had been affected and have described it as one of the worst parts of their careers.
“To this day, I wish that I'd stayed longer with him. But he was dead. It was a horrendous accident, far beyond anything I think there's ever been in a Formula 1 race. I mean, it was just horrendous. And to this day, I'm still affected by it.” Sir Jackie made clear. After Cevert's frightful crash, Stewart fought hard for more safety in the sport.
Sir Jackie still keeps pictures of his Friend in his home, to remember and to recall his dear friend... their relationship and mutual respect for each other was too strong to be conveyed in words.
Formula One lost a legend that day, they lost a future World Champion as well. Alain Prost was the first French World Champion and still remains as the only French champion, but we all know that it would have been Cevert. François was full of life, skill, talent, and most importantly potential. He had so much to prove. The Frenchman left us too early. You don't have to be a champion to be a legend and Cevert proved that. François Cevert was a legend in the making, and he was a true champion.
Motorsport can be joyful, enjoyable, and thrilling... but there is always a horrific side to it. We look back and remember all the heroes lost and the ones who risked their lives every time they got into those cars. Rest in peace, legend.