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|Location||Watkins Glen Circuit, USA|
|Prints issue||VERY LIMITED EDITION : 8 prints ONLY|
|Shooting date||6 octobre 1973|
Note : This picture is the VEY LAST of François Cevert without his helmet, prior to run on track...
Francois Cevert was a cultured, polished and musically gifted Parisian who became incredibly quick and smooth in a Formula 1 car. He won his first Grand Prix in 1971, but his 1972 F1 season was disappointing. Nonetheless, Ken Tyrrell’s small team supported him like one of the family. By 1973, he was in ascendency; he had learned race craft from teammate and great friend, Jackie Stewart and discovered the rewards of a Formula 1 driver’s life, courtesy of Brigitte Bardot. There wasn’t another driver of that era who better embraced the combination of a flat-out life style with intelligence and sure-to-be next World Champion talent.
Thus, François Cevert was on the cusp of greatness on October 6, 1973 at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. He was about to inherit Jackie Stewart’s leadership at Tyrrell-Ford, and he told Ken Tyrrell he would put his car on the pole. I had made some really expressive shots of him in 1972, and I thought I would try to capture some more at the Glen. I knew they would be needed in 1974. I remember standing near him that morning in the garages; he seemed extremely happy…he picked up Helen, Jackie’s wife and gave her bear hug. He seemed bigger than life.
At the beginning of practice, I hung around the Tyrrell pit, and I noticed François suddenly become pensive and much more quiet. Something was on his mind. I made a series of frames, each one with him alone and thinking, fingers to his chin. I then walked 90-degrees to the left, to stand in the rear of the Tyrrell pit stall, with Helen Stewart to my left. I put on a longer lens to better isolate the three men and waited to see if things would change. First, Ken Tyrrell and later, Jackie Stewart and Derek Gardner bent over him, all in deep conversation concerning his set-up.
As the men spoke, I raised my camera and made a frame of François listening intently as Jackie went through his ideas. I made another frame just as François looked directly into my eyes for a long moment and then, I made the final frame as his eyes seemed to look through me into the distance. Three frames in all and then I lowered my camera. I couldn’t make another frame. I will never forget how I felt at that moment, enveloped in total silence, as I looked into his solemn face.
In a moment he buttoned up to leave the pits, and as he looked up at Helen, blew her a kiss; then visor down as he slowly slipped out on to the track. I wanted to make shots of him going through the Esses on the back of the circuit and started walking to the access point. Halfway there I noticed that the engines had gone silent. It had only been two minutes. When I arrived at the Esses, I saw his car inverted atop the twisted Armco. Heinz Klutmeier from Sports Illustrated ran up, blocking my path and whispered, “...don’t go over. He's gone."
I stood there and cried uncontrollably. I can’t remember how long. With absolute horror in front of me, I couldn’t stop thinking about his turmoil those few moments before he left the pits and the real significance of what I had seen in his eyes. I had experienced it alone, not realising the portend of what was to happen moments later. I felt unspeakable sadness.
His last frame has haunted me for 41 years. Had he lived, François would be 70 years old as I write this. I believe he would have won multiple World Championships, and how many more Grands Prix? Present-day Grand Prix history would be different, and he would be reflecting on it with his children and grandchildren. He would have been into his music, wine, and life.
Today, he would be one of the giants of French motorsport and revelling in the stories that could finally be told. I can accept that being a Grand Prix driver was his dream and he left this world doing what he loved, but I am forced to recall a John Greenleaf Whittier verse I learned as a child.
"For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been'."
I made this image with a Nikon FTN, and a Nikon 180mm f/2.8 lens, using Kodak Tri-X film rated at 400 ASA, 1/250 second at f/2.8, the morning of October 6, 1973, at the Grand Prix Circuit at Watkins Glen, NY, USA.