Teams Albert François Cevert Goldenberg
89Francois Cevert: The Man Who Made a Name for HimselfBy Jeremy McMullen
Francois Cevert was about to emerge from the shadow of a champion. He was about to make a name for himself. Unfortunately, on a beautiful fall day amidst the pastoral surroundings of New York State's Finger Lakes region, the name Albert Francois Cevert would be added to a lengthening list of grand prix drivers to have died while at the wheel of their cars.
At a time of intense of revolution, during the long dark days of Russia's early 20th century history, one's name would become very important. It had the potential to mean either life or death. Albert Francois Cevert wasn't even a passing thought to Charles Goldenberg, a young Russian-Jew. The Jewish people were facing increasing persecution and many families would brave the unknown and leave their native land to find hope somewhere else. Charles Goldenberg would accompany his parents to Paris, France.
But the persecution would follow them. Goldenberg and his family had enjoyed a couple of decades of relative peace. However, with the outbreak of World War II, the threat against the Jewish people would return. Nazi Germany was on the move through Europe and France had become occupied. Charles, now in his late thirties, had heard the stories of what life in Russian had been like, and he realized the same threat was coming his way from the Nazis. Charles had a decision to make. Avoiding deportation to Poland, Charles would join the French Resistance. But Charles had more than just himself to think about at the time.
By the 1930s, Goldenberg had become a successful Parisian jeweler and had married. He would marry Huguette Cevert. And while part of the French Resistance, the family would remain around Paris. This was dangerous for a Jew given the occupation of the Nazis. Therefore, to avoid trouble he, and the rest of the children he was to have, would be registered with Huguette's maiden-name. Therefore, the family would become known as Cevert.
In February of 1944, Huguette would give birth to Albert Francois Cevert. The libertation of Paris would be just a matter of months later. Still a little uneasy about the whole situation, Charles, and the family, would continue to go by Cevert for a period of time. After a while, the family had reason to feel secure once again. Therefore, Charles wanted to switch the registration of his children's names back to his own surname. However, by this time the children had grown up to a degree and become used to being known as Cevert. As a result, Cevert would remain.
Never really caring much for his first name, Francois would drop Albert and just go by his middle name. At the time he was in his middle-teens his sister would marry the racing driver Jean-Pierre Beltoise. As a result of the marriage, Francois would accompany his sister Jacqueline to many races. It would be at this time that motor racing entered the veins of young Francois, and, after his two year mandatory service in the military, he would enter the Volant Shell competition in 1966.
At the same time Cevert had entered the Volant Shell competition he had taken part in a training course at the Le Mans school and the racing school at Magny-Cours. However, the Volant Shell competition would still be his best option for getting into racing full-time. The winner of the Volant Shell competition would receive a prize of a fully-sponsored season in French Formula 3. And although the extent of his racing experience included just scooters against Parisian friends and some karting, Cevert would beat Patrick Depailler in the competition and claimed the prize. This would be one of the first examples of the young Frenchman's ability to adapt and be competitive in spite of a lack of experience.
1967 would see Cevert take advantage of his success in the Volant Shell competition. Driving an Alpine-Renault, Cevert would experience an uphill battle. Showing himself to be naturally talented, and yet, still lacking that little extra bit of guidance, Francois would struggle during that first year. He lacked experience setting up and tweaking cars to allow his true God-given talent to shine.
Proving his lack of experience was not an obstacle, Francois would receive an offer for a factory drive by the end of the season. Turning down the factory ride would prove his talent all the more when he would come to race a much more competitive Tecno to the championship the following year. In that season Cevert would just beat out Jean-Pierre Jabouille, a fellow Frenchman with whom Cevert would be on the same Matra-Simca team a couple of times at Le Mans.
Cevert's talent was undeniable and it would lead to Francois making his Formula 2 debut with the Tecno Formula 2 team in 1969. As with just about every other level of motor racing Cevert had taken part, his stay in Formula 2 would be brief, and mostly because of one occasion.
Cevert would finish his first season in Formula 2 with a 3rd in the driver standings. However, it would be at a Formula 2 race at Crystal Palace that would set the trajectory of his career straight toward Formula One.
Many of the best of Formula One would take part in Formula 2 races when they could. This meant that, in many ways, the competition in Formula 2 was just as tough as in Formula One. And it was during a Formula 2 race at Crystal Palace that Jackie Stewart found himself following along behind Cevert. 1969 was to be the first of Jackie Stewart's World Championships and everyone would have expected him to glide right on by the young Frenchman. This would not be the case. Stewart would struggle to pass Cevert and would take a mental note of it. Some time later, Stewart would mention his struggles to his team manager Ken Tyrrell and would tell him to keep an eye on him.
Unaware of Stewart's respect for his driving abilities, Cevert carried on through his 1969 season. Not only would he finish in the top five in the driver standings by the end of the year, he would also take part in his first Formula One race, albeit in the Formula 2 class, when he took part in the German Grand Prix held at the Nurburgring.
Cevert had made Stewart aware of his presence at Crystal Palace. One year later, Cevert would find himself in the shadow of the then World Champion. But more importantly, he would now have the tutor, the master, he needed to help him become what he truly could be, and thereby, make a name for himself.
The 1970 season would see Johnny Servoz-Gavin suddenly retire from Ken Tyrrell's Formula One team. Tyrrell was without a driver and Stewart without a teammate. This would bring about a very important moment in Cevert's and Formula One's history. While it was suggested the French oil company Elf had something to do without, Tyrrell would later admit that it was really because of what Stewart had said about Cevert at Crystal Palace that led Ken to hire Francois to be Stewart's teammate for the remainder of the 1970 season.
Almost immediately the two drivers formed a strong friendship. At the racetrack it was much more of a master/student relationship, which is exactly what Cevert needed and wanted. It would become clear he was taking what his World Champion friend and teammate had to say and balance that with his own senses as he would steadily began to draw closer and closer to Stewart in lap times over the course of the season.
Being a teammate of Jackie Stewart also made the French motor racing world quick to snatch him up in order to drive in the nation's most famous auto race. And in June of 1970, Cevert would drive in his first 24 Hours of Le Mans. To the French fans it was a beautiful match. The talented young French driver would drive for the French Equipe Matra-Simca team. However, his co-driver in the race would be Australia's Jack Brabham.
The Equipe Matra-Simca team was something of family to Cevert as one of the sister cars would have Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the driver he beat for the French Formula 3 title in 1968, at the wheel. The car would also have Patrick Depailler as one of the co-drivers. Depailler was the one Cevert beat out for the Volant Shell sponsorship. At the wheel of the other sister car would be his brother-in-law, Jean-Pierre Beltoise. And although the pairing of Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Henri Pescarolo would be considered the number one car, it would be Brabham and Cevert that would actually spend some time in the lead of the race before failed piston rings ended the race. This, of course, was the famed race in which the movie Le Mans was filmed.
Just like Le Mans, Cevert's first season in Formula One would certainly be a learning experience more than anything else. However, Francois would continually improve over the course of the season and would eventually earn a single championship point with his 6th place result at the Italian Grand Prix.
The following year, 1971, would see Cevert truly become one of the elite in Formula One. Although Stewart would dominate the season with the Tyrrell 003 and Cosworth engine, Francois would enjoy the benefits of the same package and would routinely run up toward the front of the field along with Jackie.
Ken Tyrrell's team would enjoy two one-two finishes at the French and German Grand Prix. Francois would also go on to earn a 3rd place result at the Italian Grand Prix, the same place he had scored his first World Championship point the season before.
And then came October and the United States Grand Prix. Cevert followed Stewart from the start and remained close to his teammate throughout. It was clear the student had been learning from his master as it was clear Jackie had to push a little harder being in the lead of the race. A surprisingly hot day for the fall, Stewart's tires would fade and Cevert would take over the lead of the race. And in spite of pressure mounted first by Jacky Ickx and, later, a spin in Ickx's oil, Cevert would continue on and would cross the line to take the victory by nearly thirty seconds! This was his first Formula One World Championship victory. And many believed it was just the first of many more to come. However, it would prove to be his first, and only.
The 1971 season seemed to promise even bigger and better things for the Tyrrell team, and, therefore by extension, Cevert. However, this was not to be. Jackie Stewart would be involved in an epic fight with Emerson Fittipaldi for the championship throughout the season, but Francois would only manage a couple of 2nd place finishes for a highlight.
In fact, the biggest highlight for Cevert in 1972 wouldn't actually come in Formula One. As he had back in 1970, he would take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1972. This time Cevert would find himself partnered with a New Zealander, Howden Ganley.
Cevert and Ganley would start the French classic from the front row along with fellow Equipe Matra-Simca teammates Henri Pescarolo and Graham Hill. The race would see Cevert and Ganley lead a good majority of the early part of the race. Then, late in the morning, Ganley would get hit in the rear by a Corvette while leading the race. This would result in Ganley having to come into the pits for lengthy repairs. The time in the pits would eventually hand the lead of the race over the sister car driven by Hill and Pescarolo. In spite of the setback, Cevert and Ganley would recover and would drive their way to a 2nd place overall finish behind their teammates scoring a one-two finish for the French squad and providing Francois his biggest result of the season.
The 1973 Formula One World Championship season was to see the student finally equal the master. But it was also to see the humility and respect Cevert had for his teacher. The season had started out with Cevert finishing the first race of the season in 2nd while Stewart finished in 3rd. However, an unfortunate 10th and non-classification would cause Cevert to step back and give his tutor just one more moment in the sun while he waited patiently in his shadow.
It was clear, most of all to Stewart, that Cevert's time in Formula One had come. But it also wouldn't be lost on the Scot the humility and respect the Frenchman showed him when he could have taken victories and results for himself.
While Stewart would go on to earn five victories throughout the season, Cevert would earn six 2nd place results. And at many races, like the German Grand Prix, Cevert would actually be faster than Stewart, but he just wouldn't take advantage of his teacher and would just follow him home. This would best be demonstrated by the three races in which the Tyrrell team would finished one-two.
The protégé just kept getting faster and faster. Then, at the German Grand Prix, it would only be his humility and respect for his tutor that kept him behind Stewart; something Stewart would allude to later with Ken Tyrrell telling him that Cevert could have passed him any number of times but just didn't. Cevert, however, figured there was no need to be in a rush as he knew Stewart was to retire at the end of the season. Therefore, Cevert obediently followed his master throughout the season, that is, until the last race of the season.
The World Driver's Championship had already been decided with Stewart taking his third, and final, World Championship. Therefore, as the team arrived at Watkins Glen for the United States Grand Prix, the race would be a great opportunity for Cevert to step into his expected role of being Tyrrell's number one driver. However, in practice Cevert would lose control of his car and would end up upside down on top of the Armco barriers running along the Esses. Just like that, on the 6th of October in 1973, he was gone. Stewart would arrive at the scene and would see his friend still in the car but clearly dead. He would dejectedly get back in his car and head back to the pits where he would storm off obviously distraught by the loss of his friend and pupil. Cevert had stepped out of Stewart's shadow finally. He would lead the way to death and an eternal existence still awaiting the Scot.
While most notably remembered for his career in Formula One and his 2nd place scored at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Cevert would become a very talented racer in a couple of other racing disciplines. He would become a race winner in both Can-Am and Trans Am racing. Of course, Le Mans would be just one of a number of sportscar races in which Cevert competed. And in those races he would prove his performances at Le Mans were no fluke. He was just a naturally talented racing driver and could excel in any number of racing disciplines.
Despite being in the shadow of one of Formula One's greatest drivers, Cevert made a name for himself merely by his humility and respect for his teacher and good friend. In a world filled with incredibly competitive individuals, Cevert's ability on the race track spoke loud and clear that he was as fast, if not faster, than the best in the world. And yet, his willingness to follow Stewart made it clear it really had nothing he needed to prove. And having nothing to prove is proof Cevert had lived a fulfilled racing career despite all of the apparent promise that went unfulfilled. He would be truly one of the rare ones that would be mentioned amongst the greats without having fulfilled his potential. This speaks volumes as to the character Cevert displayed on and off the circuit.Sources:
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'Profiles: Francois Cevert', (http://en.espnf1.com/march/motorsport/driver/923.html#profile). ESPN F1. http://en.espnf1.com/march/motorsport/driver/923.html#profile. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
'Formula One-F1 DB: Francois Cevert', (http://www.f1db.com/forums/printthread.php?t=2035&page=97&pp=10). Formula 1 Database. http://www.f1db.com/forums/printthread.php?t=2035&page=97&pp=10. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
Diepraam, Mattijs. 'Ken's Team at the Height of its Power', (http://8w.forix.com/tyrrell73.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Facts and Fiction. http://8w.forix.com/tyrrell73.html. Retrieved 21 February, 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'François Cevert', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 February 2012, 01:39 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fran%C3%A7ois_Cevert&oldid=477464690 accessed 21 February 2012
Wikipedia contributors, '1972 24 Hours of Le Mans', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 September 2011, 18:05 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=1972_24_Hours_of_Le_Mans&oldid=450119228 accessed 21 February 2012