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Author Topic: Cevert  (Read 10948 times)

Offline Dare

Cevert
« on: January 20, 2008, 07:10:51 AM »
  • Publish
  • Thought Steven may enjoy this excerpt from
    Ken Tyrell's auto bio


    The Death Of Francois Cevert
    (taken from 'Ken Tyrrell - The Authorised Biography' by Maurice Hamilton)

    The approaches from rival teams (Lotus for certain) added the final touches to Cevert's belief in his own ability.  If nothing else he would try to end the season on a high note.  Starting with pole position at Watkins Glen.

    The first day of practice, Friday, was held in cool conditions.  Peterson was fastest, with Stewart a couple of tenths behind the Lotus and Cevert third quickest.  There was a mood of calm assurance about the Frenchman. 'He was not over-confident,' Steward recalled, 'but he was quite cocky, like a young fighting c*ck, in fact; a good-looking one as well.  He was a perfect specimen, a really great character.  He was utterly charming, tall, and a wonderful classical pianist for good measure.  When it came to driving, he genuinely thought he would do well at the Glen.'

    There were to be two sessions on Saturday, the final day of practice.  It was warmer than the previous day and lap times began to tumble, Peterson remaining the quickest.  Cevert improved to fourth fastest.  With a couple of minutes of morning practice remaining, Cevert knew there was more to come.  It would not be a problem.

    Helen Stewart had arrived in the pits and taken up position on a makeshift seat on the pit counter.  As Cevert sat in the car, preparing to go out, Helen took a picture.  Cevert looked up and saw her. 'He gave me a wave,' said Helen. 'Then he shut his visor, blew me a kiss and off he went.  That was the last I ever saw of him.'

    Not long after, the pits and track adopted the eerie silence that comes whe cars unexpectedly stop running for no obvious reason,  In the days before on-car cameras and full coverage of each and every lap, there was no way of knowing what might have happened.  It could be a car broken down in a dangerous place; it could be an engine failure dumping oil on the track; it could be a minor accident; it could be much worse.  An uneasy feeling crept along the pit lane as, one by one,the cars returned.  A few were missing, including all three Tyrrells - Stewart, Amon and Cevert.

    'I was out on track at the time,' said Stewart. 'Just after the start of the lap, the track went downhill and then uphill to an esses where the road went left and right over a crest.  There was debris everywhere, and I could see blue bodywork.  Chris [Amon] was standing by the track and I thought he had the shunt.  I asked if he was okay and he signalled that is wasn't him.  He had obviously stopped and got out to see what had happened.  Then he pointed to the wreck of Francois's car.  I could see there were other drivers, including Jody Scheckter, going to see if they could help.  I got out and went over.

    'It had been a massive accident, just the worst kind you could imagine.  The car had hit the barrier on the right, ricosheted across, hit the barrier on the opposite side and then turned upside down along the top rail.  It was absolutely horrible.  Francois was still in the car, but I could see from the scale of the accident and his condition that there was absolutely no chance he had survived.  I left the scene and got back into my car to return to the pits.

    'I was angry, very angry, about the whole sport, the whole thing.  One fo my regrets is that I didn't stay with Francois.  I don't think anybody dies immediately.  Okay, that may seem a ridiculous thing when the ferocity of the accident is on such a scale, but I just felt as if I should have taken his helmet off, or done something.  Anything.  Just stayed there a bit longer.  To this day, I regret not doing that.'

    Word spread quickly.  There had been a bad accident at the esses.  One of the Tyrrells was involved.  A sponsor of the Lotus team was filming in the pits and caught an anxious Colin Chapman meeting his team manager, Peter Warr, hurrying back from race control.

    'Who is it?' asked Chapman.

    'Cevert,' said Warr.

    'Is it bad?'

    'Very bad.'

    Chapman turned, and then paused. 'Aw no!' he exclaimed to no one in particular. 'Bloody hell!  Cevert...'

    The rest went unsaid.  Here was a driver entering his prime, poised to go on to greater things.  Now it seemed he was yet another fatality in a seemingly endless roll call of wasted talent.  It was doubly hurtful since the season was close to an end, yet this pefect autumnal morning had produced more horror on a grand scale.  The F1 personnel were numbed, none more so than the members in the Elf Team Tyrrell uniforms.

    'I remember the feeling,' said [Jo] Ramirez, 'that dreadful feeling when the noise level drops and the cars that were running come into the pits very slowly.  And your car is not among them.  There was a truck leaving the pit lane to go to the scene of the accident.  I went to jump into the back of the truck and Jody [Scheckter], who had just returned to the pits, shouted at me. 'Don't go!' he said. 'Don't go!'.  I knew then.  My heart sank completely.

    As Stewart drove into the pit lane in the sister car of the one he had just seen torn apart, his mind was numb, but bitter experience told him there was work to do. 'By the time I got back, everyone had already been told that it was a horrendous accident.  I'm sure Chris had already said that Francois could not possibly have lived.  Ken asked me the same question, and I said I couldn't believe he was still alive.  Then Ken said, 'But you can't say that for sure, can you?'.  I said that I couldn't, and that was when I got more concerned about it and thought maybe I should have still been there.  And it was made worse beacuse nobody came and told us officially.

    'We had a little caravan out the back. Edsel Ford [great-grandson of Henry Ford] and his wife-to-be, Cynthia, were there and we were just hanging around, not really knowing what to say.  When we went out to start practice again, it was announced on the PA that Francois had died.  We had a minute's silence

    'Nodody wanted me to go out, but I did.  They all thought something had broken and it wasn't a good idea to expose ourselves to another potential breakage.  I was very clear on that one; I went out and went quite quick- and had exactly the same thing happed at the same place at the esses.  The difference was, I was in a higher gear, than Francois,  It was like approaching a second-gear roundabout in a road car.  If you use third, the car feels slow and lazy, but in second, the car is all excited and the deceleration is aggressive.  That was the difference between our two cars. He was in fourth, I was in fifth.  Added to which, Francois would have been at the top of the rev range in fourth, where it was better for me to use fifth even though it was slower on the exit.  That allowed me to execute the corner more smoothly - as long as I was right.  If I got it wrong, it would be slow as hell.  But I had enough confidence to do it.  It wasn't that we were using different ratios; we had already been through one day of practice, so the car was set up.  In my mind, fifth gear was the one to use even though it was a slight compromise. You would go into a right-hander, then a left and over the top into another right which led on to a straight.  You were accelerating very fast, all the way through. So, by the time you went over the top, the car was on tiptoes, very light.  Then it would dig in.  There was a bump just over the hill, and when the Tyrrell hit it, because it had a very short wheelbase, it would torque [flick] to the right.  So when it happened to me, my car was less nervous and more docile.  I was able to deal with the problem.'

    Whether out of respect, shock or for technical reasons, no one went faster in the afternoon session.  Ken decided to withdraw his cars from the race, leaving empty places in fifth and 12th spots where Stewart and Amon would have been.

    'Francois had gone off as usual, full of life and smiles,' Roger Hill remembered. 'When he didn't come round again there was that strange feeling that something was seriously wrong.  You didn't need telling. We just knew there was a problem.  It is very difficult to deal with the aftermath of something like that, but Ken gathered us all together and we just got on and did it.  But having said that, we knew it could be dangerous - and it still is.  One has to recognize and understand  that side of the problem.  You realize before you start that this sort of thing could happen, so you are mentally prepared - but only more or less.  Francois had been such a lovely guy.  It really shook us badly.'

    Tyrrell had come to grips with the worst accident ever to affect his team.  The wrecked car had been taken to a garage in the village of Watkins Glen.  Someone would need to check it over.  'Ken asked Roger, Roland and me if we would go over and take a look,' said Ramirez.  'We needed to know if anything had failed on the car and caused the accident.  I have never seen anything like it.  The mess...it was just awful.  Parts of Francois were still there.  It was just so horrendous.  I was physically sick.  Also, the other very difficult thing was to then go to Francois's room and collect his things.  That was heartbreaking.  Just terrible.'

    'Ken was very upset - everyone was,' said Stewart. 'I can't remember anything specifically.  I remember Ken being there when I go out the car, and then I remember us talking before I left the track.  I remember Helen had already gone back to the Glen Motor Inn, and that's when I went to the room and told her I wasn't going to race again.  That was the first time she had known about it, but we agreed we should stay and go to the race out of respect for Francois.  But I don't remember Ken being in any way outwardly emotional about it.  I wasn't as emotional as I had been when Jochen died; that affected me more and I don't really know why,  Not just because of the circumstances,  There was a big vacuum over a period of time

    'I can't remember how we got home from Watkins Glen.  I do remember that the funeral was in Paris, and then we went to the family burial ground,  We were standing round the tomb with the coffin, which was a large American one, big because of the airline requirements,  Unfortunately, the coffin wouldn't go into the tomb.  Nobody had thought of that,  So we had to do what was left of the service right there, and then turn around and leave.  It was one of those terribly bizarre things that happen - and this was happening at the worst possible time.;

    The loss of Cevert affected everyone in the team and the entire Tyrrell family, from the oldest to the youngest.  'It was just awful,' said Kenneth Tyrrell. 'Sandy [Kenneth's wife] and I weren't at Watkins Glenm which somehow made us feel so helpless.  We had spent a lot of time with Francois that year.  He would come over to the factory for a seat fitting or something, flying his own private aircraft.  He used to land a Fairoaks, which is not far from Ockham.  He would say 'Let's go for a trip!' and he would fly Sandy and I and Claire [5] and Adam [3] to the Isle of Wight where he would land and then play with the kids on the beach.  Just wonderful moments'.  'You'd just melt when you saw him,' Sandy added.  'It was his eyes!  He was a real ladies man.  He was absolutely dishy.  A real charmer.'

    As the specialist magazines paid full tribute to Cevert, some carried mention of Stewarts rumoured retirement.  The following Sunday, Ford organized a press conference at the Carlton Tower Hotel in London, where Jackie confirmed the rumours.  There was a mix of emotions : relief that Stewart had finished his career without drawing a drop of blood; sadness among the mechanics that the wee man would no longer be around to take their workmanship to the limit on a race track.  'It was more than that,' said Keith Boshier.  'You'd do anything for Jackie, absolutely anything.  He was so good at motivating people and he always took and interest in everything that was going on around him.  I remember him at a race meeting going up the the bloke with athe saucer outside the loo and chatting to him.  What was in that for Jackie?  Nothing.  But he would do it, just as he would know all the tyre fitters, all the trade people, and remember their names.  If you were sick, he'd come and see how you were.  You wouldn't see any of the other drivers doing that.  But yes, it was also what he did in the car.  We got to the stage where we knew when we went to races that if you went in without a problem, you were pretty well going to win.  That's just how it was.'

    An era had ended.  Ken Tyrrell knew things would be different from now on, but he had no idea that in terms of superb endeavour his team had just scaled the final peak.  Slowly at first, but inexorably, it would be downhill from here on.


    "The
    democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those
    who are
    willing to work and give to those who would not."
    --
    Thomas
    Jefferson

    Offline Steven Roy

    Re: Cevert
    « Reply #1 on: January 20, 2008, 05:53:26 PM »
  • Publish
  • I haven't read Tyrrell's book so some of that is new to me.  I didn't know about the Lotus interest.  I have seen the Chapman/Warr conversation on film a few times but didn't realise Cervert was talking to the team.

    I have just finished JYS's book and he covers what he did when he went back out after Cevert's accident in great detail.  He had had a conversation with Francois just before that race where Cevert told him that he was talking to Ferrari.  Stewart had only told three people he was retiring so Francois didn't know.  Jackie told him not to sign for Ferrari as it would not be in his best interest and that he should wait a few weeks before making any decision.  According to JYS Cevert would have been Tyrrell's number 1 in 1974 and Scheckter would have been his number 2.

    Offline Dare

    Re: Cevert
    « Reply #2 on: January 20, 2008, 06:49:19 PM »
  • Publish
  • I found it interesting to see how the teams and
    drivers of that era cared for each other.I read
    that Ken Tyrell said he hated coming to Watkins
    Glen after Cevert's accident
    "The
    democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those
    who are
    willing to work and give to those who would not."
    --
    Thomas
    Jefferson