Jody Scheckter might be best remembered today as the 1979 Formula One world drivers’ championship, but it wasn’t always like that for the South African driver who turns 67 today.
After moving to Britain in 1970, Scheckter raced for McLaren in F2 before being given the chance to make his F1 début with the team at the end of the 1972 season.
“Lotus came and wanted me to drive for them,” Scheckter recalled “I told McLaren and they said, ‘OK, we’ll give you a drive in the last Grand Prix, at Watkins Glen.’
“I don’t think they’d thought about it, but when other teams start making offers, they knew they had to do something!” he told the McLaren F1 website.
“Watkins Glen was good because nobody recognised me, and I could walk around and not be bothered. I thought the M19 was fantastic. It was my first F1 car, and it just seemed to grip more and more, you could go faster and faster
“It was nothing compared to the downforce of today’s cars, but in comparison to my F2 car the M19 had much more downforce, and bigger tyres as well.
“I think I was behind the other two, Denny and Peter Revson, in practice and qualifying. In the race I was running fourth, and I did the second or third quickest lap, but then I hit a patch of water and spun at the end of the pit straight, which cost me a lot of time.”
Scheckter had five more outings the following season but became increasingly known for his accidents, including a memorable incident at Silverstone involving team mate Denny Hulme.
“I was right behind Denny going into Woodcote. He pulled to one side to let me through, and I went through, and it just twitched on me. I was just sliding sideways, and I just thought if I turn the wheel and let the brakes go I’ll be OK, but it just turned around and went into the wall.
“People were just hitting me, so I kept my head down, and when I looked up they were still coming at me. I was very lucky,” Scheckter admitted. “I wrote off three of John Surtees’ cars, so he wasn’t very happy! He didn’t like me for a while.”
Scheckter also recalled the tragic death of Francois Cevert at Watkins Glen just weeks later.
“Francois crashed in qualifying, and I was the first one on the scene. I jumped out and grabbed the safety belts to get him out, because there was a risk of fire, and the battery was sparking.
“I still do not remember what I saw, but I knew it was over. I just turned around and told everybody it was bad news. Thank goodness I don’t remember what I saw.”
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