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How François Cevert’s Crash in Watkins Glen changed Jody Scheckter’s Career.

How François Cevert’s Crash in Watkins Glen changed Jody Scheckter’s Career.
Jody Scheckter in his championship winning year of 1979.

In 1973, Jackie Stewart won the world championship for Tyrrell with the help of his teammate and protégé François Cevert. Stewart told Ken Tyrrell, the founder of Tyrrell that he was going to retire at the end of the season, whether he won the championship or not. A reason why the Scotsman was going to hang up the tartan helmet was that he knew Cevert would do a great job as the team leader, demonstrated by some great performances during the 1973 season. Cevert’s teammate for the 1974 season was a driver who was seen by then reigning champion Emerson Fittipaldi as a “madman” following a collision with him in France. This driver’s name was Jody Scheckter, a 24 year old from South Africa who had proven both his talent and his recklessness on several occasions in 1973. However the 1973 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen changed Scheckter.

Scheckter was competing in his sixth Grand Prix that weekend after a highly controversial incident in Britain a few rounds prior which took 9 cars out of the race and ended Andrea de Adamich’s F1 career. This made his employers, McLaren, suspend him until the Canadian Grand Prix just a race prior to Watkins Glen.

Heading into qualifying, Stewart wanted to enjoy his final race, but that didn’t happen. In the final minutes of qualifying, Cevert was trying to improve his fourth place grid position with Scheckter a few seconds behind the Frenchman. Heading into turns three & four, Cevert went too high on the kerbs and spun into the guardrail. The car then went sideways across the track and struck the Armco on the left hand side at 150 miles per hour. Scheckter stopped his McLaren to try and help Cevert but saw that the car had been split in half and unfortunately, Cevert had been as well. F1 lost one of its biggest stars in François Cevert aged 29. Scheckter witnessed the crash and Cevert’s death had a deep impact on him. This changed the way he drove, both in how sensible he was & how smart he was.

Tyrrell decided to withdraw from the rest of the weekend, costing them the Constructors’ Championship and Stewart a proper farewell from Formula 1.

Tyrrell then gave Scheckter the drive alongside Frenchman Patrick Depailler. Scheckter went on to win four races with Tyrrell, three with Wolf & three with Ferrari, winning the championship with the latter. Scheckter stated that Cevert’s crash made him realise how dangerous Grand Prix racing was and as a result made him a smarter driver, arguably the reason why he won the 1979 Formula One World Championship.

By Liam Plötner

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