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François Cevert Fast French Flair

Cevert Artwork by Dina Volskaya

Hollywood handsome François Cevert was a Formula 1 World Champion calibre racing driver. In a battle for pole position at Watkins Glen in 1973, he lost the war with fate.

François Cevert was born on February 25, 1944, under Paris skies. His family owned a jewellery store. Like his future brother-in-law, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Cevert embarked on his racing career on two wheels. Above artwork by Dina Volskaya.

In what became known as the golden era for French motorsports, he won the Volant Shell scholarship at the Winfield School at Magny-Cours over Patrick Depailler. Both would go on to have winning experiences with Uncle Ken.

The winning prize was an Alpine-Renault F3 car. This enabled him to compete in the 1967 French F3 Championship. His first season of single-seater racing was winless, though he secured three top-five positions.

François Cevert Finds His Groove

cevert matra

For the 1968 French F3 season, he switched from Alpine to Tecno chassis. His first victory came at Autodrome de Linas- Montlhéry. Three other wins at La Chatre, Nogaro and Albi allowed him to edge out the man who would go on to give Renault their first ever turbocharged victory in Grand Prix racing, Jean-Pierre Jabouille.

Cevert also captured a round of the European Formula 3 Championship at Jarama, near Madrid. Moving up and continuing with Tecno, Cevert was third in the 1969 European Formula 2 Championship, third place on the podium at Enna-Pergusa in Sicily was his best result. He also won the last ever Formula 2 race (a non-championship event) at Reims-Gueux street circuit.

The Green Hell, the 14.2-mile long Nürburgring, saw him make his Formula 1 debut driving a Formula 2 Tecno-Ford (yes, those were the days when such craziness was allowed at the ‘Ring). He retired on lap 9 of 14.

The highlight of the 1970 season was victory in the Paris 1,000 kms at Montlhéry, driving a Matra MS660 with the grand old master of grand prix racing at the time, Jack Brabham. He also won a non-championship Formula 2 race at Montorp Park in Sweden.

Arrivée in the big league

Francois Cevert-001

Team Tyrrell started the 1970 Formula 1 season with their new world champion Jackie Stewart and his French teammate Johnny Servoz-Gavin – courtesy of Elf Petroleum.

Following an eye injury the happy-go-lucky French driver decided to quit racing to enjoy living on a boat. On the advice of Stewart, Cevert was brought on board from the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort.

He raced in eight other grands prix, only point of the season coming from sixth place finish at Monza.

The 1971 season was his first full and most successful year in Formula 1 racing. After retiring in the first three of the four races, Cevert climbed on the podium for the first time after taking second place in his home grand prix at the new Paul Ricard circuit, near the Mediterranean coastal town Bandol.

In the final five races of the season, he was on the podium in three races, Germany, Italy and on his day of days in upstate New York.

Cevert 1971 United States Grand Prix Winner

Motorsport Images on X: "United States GP build up The 1971 United States GP at Watkins Glen was won by Francois Cevert for Tyrell His first & only F1 victory https://t.co/ZLpSl754kA" /

His first and only Formula 1 triumph came in the 1971 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. It made him the first French championship grand prix winner since Maurice Trintignant at Monaco in 1958.

Cevert was dabbling in diverse types of machinery during the 1972 season. In Formula 1, he was on the podium in two races, second both in the Belgian and United States Grands Prix. He was sixth. in the championship with fifteen points.

In Can-Am, he won the Donnybrooke round in Minnesota and was on the podium at Laguna Seca, Road America and Watkins Glen driving the McLaren M8F-Chevrolet.

At Le Mans, he and co-driver, Kiwi Howden Ganley started from pole position and finished second at the wheel of Matra MS670 behind the winning sister car of Henri Pescarolo and Graham Hill.

The Last Lap

9385-cevert-crash watkins glen f1 us gp 1973

The 1973 season started on a high note for Cevert. The season opener in Buenos Aires saw him finish second after a late race pass by Emerson Fittipaldi.

Though victory eluded him in the final year of his life, he took a further five second place finishes, and was on the third step of the podium in the inaugural Swedish Grand Prix at Anderstorp.

The penultimate round of the season was in the rain at Mosport Park, and the result is debated to this day. Peter Revson was declared the winner.

Cevert had hit the guardrail head on at a high rate of speed after colliding with young McLaren driver Jody Scheckter. Lady luck was smiling on both as they escaped serious injuries.

The Tyrrell team stopped at Niagara Falls on their way to the season finale at Watkins Glen, the 100th Grand Prix start for their recently crowned world champion Jackie Stewart.

Sadly, it was not to be. On Saturday, October 6, 1973, Cevert was pushing hard to take pole position from Ronnie Peterson. He lost control and in a vicious accident paid the ultimate price. Prince Charming of Formula 1 was 29 years old.

Jackie Stewart, in his forward to Jo Ramirez’s book Memoirs of a Racing Man: “Francois, although he never knew it, would have been the number one driver in the Tyrrell team in 1974.

“I have every confidence that, supported by a combination of the direction of Ken Tyrrell and the dedication of Jo Ramirez, Francois Cevert would have gone on to become a very proud French Formula 1 World Champion,” added Stewart. (Nasir Hameed is a Historical Correspondent of F1 Weekly