Forty-five years ago this morning, I decided to follow François Cevert as he qualified for the 1973 US Grand Prix. He would inherit Jackie Stewart’s leadership position and be the heart of the 1974 Tyrrell team.
That morning he seemed on top of the world as he picked up Helen, Jackie’s wife for a bear hug. At the beginning of practice, I was my usual “ fly on the wall” around the Tyrrell pit, when I noticed François suddenly become pensive and quiet – something was on his mind.
I selected a spot where I was alone in the rear of the Tyrrell pit stall, shooting him backlit with a longer lens, concentrating on isolating Jackie Stewart and Derek Gardner as they bent over François, deep in conversation concerning his setup.
This is my final frame of François, 26A. His eyes seemed to look through me into the distance – so deep it was chilling – I couldn’t make another frame of his face.
François buttoned up to leave the pits and blew Helen a kiss as he slowly slipped out onto the track. I headed toward the Esses on the back of the circuit but halfway there I noticed that the engines had gone silent. It had been less than two minutes.
When I arrived at the Esses, I saw François’ car inverted atop the twisted Armco; François was still in the car. Heinz Klutemeier from Sports Illustrated ran up, blocking my path and whispered “…don’t go over. He’s gone.”
My mind instantly locked up – I lost my bearings. It took what felt like an hour to return to the Paddock where it was a sea of open grief.
Implausible horror had paid a visit and no one there that day, especially me, would ever be the same. Salut François.