Thursday, December 19, 2013

Forgotten 'Frenchies...



Francois Cevert at the 1973 French Grand Prix. ( Image source: The Cahier Archive; grandprix.com)
Although this milestone has nagged at me for awhile, (for reasons unknown) nevertheless I missed posting upon the 40th Anniversary of his most unfortunate death, when sadly Francois Cevert was rudely taken from us upon his horrific shunt at Watkins Glen during practice for that year's Formula 1 race at the Glen...


Yet I must confess I know very little about this aspiring Formula 1 driver sadly cut short of his impending promise at the tender age of 29. As I was unaware that his father Charles Goldenberg (and parents) had fled Russia to escape persecution of the Jews (prior to the Holocaust) settling in Paris and then marrying Huguette Cevert. Yet with Hitler's unquenched penance for the extinction of Jews, naturally the couple gave their three children their mother's name to help escape persecution by the German's upon occupying France...

thus, Albert Fran├žois Cevert Goldenberg was born on February 25, 1944 and interestingly his elder sister Jacqueline became romantically involved with a man named Jean-Pierre Beltoise, an aspiring French racing driver of his own right who'd ultimately succeed to the very top level of motorsport, i.e.; Formula 1. As Francois's sister's husband Jean-Pierre ultimately was responsible for inspiring the younger Cevert to become intrigued in motor racing, while ironically Beltoise would precede the younger Francois as Jackie Stewart's teammate at Matra in 1969 before turning to Sports Cars, with Beltoise's crowning moment coming in 1972 upon winning the Monaco Grand Prix, ultimately BRM's final glory in Formula 1.

Cevert began racing Scooters on the streets and then racing karts in his teens before completing his mandatory military service. Francois got serious about his racing in '66 and entered the Volant Shel competition where he beat another future French F1 star named Patrick Depailler with the prize being a fully sponsored season in French Formula 3 in an Alpine-Renault.

Approached about a factory drive at the end of his first season in single seaters, Francois declined and took up refuge with rival manufacturer Tecno instead, winning the French F3 title in 1968.

Next the upcoming racer made his debut in Formula 2, also with Tecno, winning at Reims later that season before making the leap to the B-I-G CARZ in the summer of '69, making his F1 debut at Nurburgring in the F2 class of that year's German Grand Prix.

Cevert raced Matra Sports Cars with Tecno in 1970 before Johnny Servoz-Gavin's unexpected retirement from Tyrrell and "Uncle Chopper" (Ken Tyrrell) promptly inserted Francois into the deserted F1 seatt alongside de facto team leader Sir Jackie, also known as JYS or soon to be double world champion Jackie Stewart. And the rest as they say is history!

The promising Frenchman made his Formula 1 debut in that year's Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, retiring with engine failure while his brother-in-law Beltoise finished fifth for Matra.

He followed up his promising beginnings by following Stewart home to give Tyrrell a 1-2 in the French Grand Prix and then won his lone F1 race ironically at Watkins Glen in October, 1971 two years prior to his unexpected death, as Cevert was being groomed to replace Jackie as team leader in 1974 and in-turn, another future F1 world champion named Jody Scheckter would inherit the French driver's vacated seat the following year instead...

And why am I so intrigued by Cevert's death and perhaps, not Depailler's, who after all had a superior career statistically over Cevert, winning twice as many races, including the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix to Fran├žois's sole victory? Uhm? I'm guessing perhaps because I find Cevert more flamboyant? As Depailler''s claim to fame for Mwah is simply being the pilot of one of those striking Tyrrell P-34 Six-wheelers...


And it's also funny how much I'd surmise that one of Formula 1's cleverest, or diabolical? Racing drivers final world championship's anniversary is being overlooked this year, undoubtedly overshadowed by another nebulous character known here at No Fenders as "TWINKIEBOY!" As ironically exactly 20yrs after "the Professor" (Alain Prost) secured his fourth title for Williams-Renault, as le 'Reggie (Renault) desperately wanted a French world champion... Seb' Vettel was equaling Prost's tally for driver's crowns propelled by a Renault lump, albeit missing two cylinders and being of smaller displacement, while Vettel's teammate Mark Webber secured the record for most poles for Renault at Japan with a staggering tally of 209! (To which Vettel has since added onto...)

The Veyron's predecessor, the Bugatti EB110. (Image source: farm8.staticflickr.com)
Meanwhile two other long forgotten French racing drivers name remain a complete mystery to Mwah, having never heard of either until earlier this year when snooping around Zed Internetz in pursuit of more info upon where the Veyron Supercar name came from - after reading about the rarest of rare special edition models, the Wimille edition Veyron, of which just three examples were produced!


Jean-Pierre Wimille ultimately made his name by winning le 24 Heurs du Mans twice in the mid-1930's - appropriately winning aboard bugatti's with some chap named Veyron.

Yet Wimille, who was born in 1908 actually began his fame as a racing driver by winning various single seater Grand Prix races, before the modern Formula 1 championship was even envisioned...

Reportedly Wimille caught the motor racing bug from his Papa who was the Motoring correspondent for the French Newspaper Petit Parisien, as Jean-Pierre made his Grand Prix debut at the tender age of 22 in the 1930 French Grand Prix held  at Pau.

His first noteworthy victory came two years later in a Hillclimb, followed by wins in the Grand Prix de Loraine and Grand Prix Doran. In 1934 he won the Algerian Grand Prix and then a further two years on, he was victorious in his home race, the French Grand Prix along with the tragedy marred Deauville Grand Prix - all of his victories in Bugatti's naturally, before capturing France's most prestigious endurance race twice - winning le 24 Heurs du Mans in 1937 with co-driver Robert Benoist and 1939, the latter co-driving with Pierre Veyron.


Interestingly, Wimille joined England's Special Operations Executive (SOE) which aided the French resistance during World War II along with fellow Grand Prix aces Robert Benoist (the same driver he'd won his first Le Mans race with) and William Grover-Williams; all three being Grand Prix winners.

Sadly, Wimille would be the only one of this trio to survive, the other two being executed at the behest of the Gestapo in Concentration Camps towards the end of the war...

Hmm? Perhaps these Gran Primo Piloto's were the inspiration to Grizzled Journo' Joe Saward's masterful book titled; The Grand Prix Saboteurs - of which I haven't obtained my copy of yet, albeit perhaps after I finally finish labourisly reading my current tome of fascination: the Life of Senna...


After the war Wimille resumed motor racing as Alfa Romeo's No. 1 driver, winning multiple races between 1946-48, including his second French Grand Prix before dying behind the wheel of a Simca-Gordini during practice for the 1949 Buenos Aires GP, while prior to his death he built a small production run of his own automobiles appropriately named Wimille's...

And I suppose it makes sense that Monsir Pierre Veyron's last name was appropriately chosen for the world's fastest production Supercar, eh? After all Pierre was the handpicked test driver for the original Bugatti concern no less than by company founder Ettore's son Gene.


Veyron scored success by winning the 1930 Geneva GP before catching the eye  of the Bugatti's, becoming the marque's development engineer and winning many races for the firm including the Berlin AVUS races in1933-34, with his crowning glory being victorious in the 1939 Le Mans classic endurance race just prior to the invasion of Poland that September, the beginning of World War II.

and like his co-driver Wimille, Pierre also fought in the French Resistance and was subsequently awarded the Legion of Honour in 1945, before retiring from racing in 1953 to focus upon his family and oil drilling business before passing away in 1970...

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