“For me he was always more than a teammate. He was my little brother ”. With these words the Scotsman Jackie stewart recalled in his autobiography called "Winning is not enough" to the french pilot Francois cevert with whom did you share the team Tyrell de F1 between 1970 1973 y.
Francois was the son of a wealthy family that promised him a future as a pianist. However, for him the adrenaline of driving at full speed was more than the scores. At 16 he raced motorcycles with his mother's Vespa and at 19 he beat his friends with his own Norton. After doing his military service, he put both wheels aside and leaned for cars.
En 1966, with 22, Cevert scored in the Le Mans and Magny-Cours pilot schools and in a Shell-sponsored contest that awarded the winner an Alpine to run in the F3. He was among those selected and got the jackpot.
The lack of budget complicated his participation in Formula 3 in 1967, but that changed in the following season. He sold the Alpine, bought a Tecno, achieved several victories and became champion of the French Formula 3 in front of Jean-Pierre Jobouille. In 1969 he jumped to the F2 as a Tecno team driver and finished third in the tournament. At that time in the category, Grand Prix drivers used to race to keep up.
CEVERT REACHES FORMULA 1
In a competition at Crystal Palace, Cevert fought inch by inch with Stewart, who at the end of that year achieved the first of his three titles in Formula 1. Stewart was amazed by his driving and told Ken tyrrell, his employer in F.1, to follow him carefully and give him a chance. That chance came to him in the mid-1970s when Tyrrell summoned him to replace Johnny Servoz-Gavin, who had surprisingly decided to withdraw.
At 26, Francois Cevert became a Maxima driver. This very tall boy, with incredible blue eyes, kinky hair and deep voice, quickly made his mark in the paddock. Not only because of his charisma, but also because of his talent behind the wheel.
“He had an impressive presence, he was one of those special people that everyone wanted to meet. To his natural charm he added an iron determination to work very hard, to learn and become the best pilot he could be ”, Stewart acknowledged in his autobiography. “Some people considered him a play boy because he liked to dress in style. Once he came to the pits in a knee-length fur coat and a fish collar. But he was much more than that… ”.
Cevert made his F.1 debut on June 21 at the 1970 Dutch GP with a retirement. He ran nine races in that tournament and his best result was sixth place at the Italian GP. The experience gained in these competitions, added to the wise advice of Stewart, were noted in 1971. He was second in the French and German GPs, third in Italy and won in the United States. He finished third in the championship, although very far from his partner who achieved his second crown.
In 1972 Cevert had an irregular campaign, only visited the podium twice thanks to the second places of the Belgian GP and the United States GP. He finished sixth in the contest, while Stewart was runner-up to Emerson Fittipaldi.
In 1973, finally, the Frenchman shone like never before and that was noticeable in the results. Seeing him on the podium was normal and also helped Stewart to his third title. It was clear that he had a promising future in the category. Stewart already knew that it was going to be his last year in Formula 1 and had convinced Ken Tyrrell that his young partner was the new spearhead of the team.
THE TALKS WITH ENZO FERRARI AND THE TRAGEDY
But Francois, who did not know of the intentions of his partner, already imagined in 1974 running to Ferrari. Assuming that in Tyrrell he would be Stewart's squire again, he had started talks with the Scuderia and everything was already well advanced.
Thus the last date on the calendar was reached at Watkins Glen, the scene of the United States Grand Prix, the one that Cevert had won two years earlier. The atmosphere at Tyrrell was extremely relaxed. Stewart had already won his third title in Italy and was now focused on his farewell, something that even his teammate did not know.
In the week leading up to the race, Cevert confessed to Stewart that he was seriously considering the offer of Enzo Ferrari. Stewart heard him, but asked him to wait a little longer to reply to the Commendatore. The Scotsman's intention was only one: to make his retirement effective so that Ken Tyrrell would name him as his successor.
The old lumberjack was so excited about having Cevert as the first driver that he asked Stewart to let himself win, in case the two were fighting for victory. The Scotsman doubted it a bit, since his intention was to retire with a triumph, although he left the doors open for that to happen.
But before the race there was qualifying, in which the two Tyrrell drivers battled for pole position. The most critical place on the circuit for the Tyrrells was the S's; Stewart took them in third, Cevert in fourth and thoroughly ...
The following is Stewart's testimony: “I saw the stewards with a double yellow flag, a sign that we had to stop, I started to look, and there were debris all over the track, it looked like a plane crash, but the pieces were large enough to see that they were blue. I arrived at the crash site and was paralyzed with horror, I realized there was nothing I could do… The Tyrrell was trapped between the wreckage of the guard-rails, the nose down and the cabin facing me. There was smoke and steam everywhere, a trail of oil… And there, still trapped by the seat belt, was my teammate, my protégé, my friend, my little brother… Francois was dead ”.
The team decided not to compete the next day and Stewart ended his sports campaign. The October 6, 1973 Francois Cevert's star faded forever. Stewart lost a friend and Formula 1 a driver who could have been a great champion.