Jody Scheckter (South Africa)

Written by Jay Walker. Posted in P34 Drivers

If ever a driver seemed to envisage the saying . . . .

“… Every driver starts out racing at 11/10ths and crashes their way down to 10/10th …”

…then surely it was Scheckter.

Regarded by many as something of a prodigy he began his career early in his native South Africa. Go karting from the age of twelve gave him a grounding for his move to motorbikes and saloons at eighteen. Campaigning a home built Renault gave him numerous victories until his racing had to take a back seat as he was called up for national service.

At the end 1970 however he was given a Team Lawson Mazda which he drove in the Springbok series. He also acquitted himself with a fine fifth in the Bulawayo 3 Hours and a class win in the Goldfields 9 Hours. Jody’s eyes however were on the more lucrative prize on offer for young drivers in the Formula Ford Sunshine series. In a Lola T200 he won the “Driver to Europe” prize and soon in 1971 found himself in England.

In a short Formula Ford career he would spin race wins away and gain a reputation as a crasher. But Scheckter, true to form, found that he needed the greater challenge offered by Formula 3. An elderly and uncompetitive EMC served its purpose until a works Merlyn came his way. By the end of 1971 he was winning regularly in Formula 3 and performing spectacularly in a Ford Escort Mexico. All these adventures brought him to the notice of McLaren and he was soon signed for a Formula 2 season in 1972.

The only Formula 2 win of his career came in the Greater London Trophy at the old Crystal Palace circuit. However McLaren did offer him his Grand Prix debut at the season’s final race at Watkins Glen in America. He stayed out of trouble and brought the car home to a safe ninth place.

For 1973 McLaren really did not have enough resources to run three drivers but did so in a limited fashion. However it turned out to be a bad decision as Jody proved to be expensive on his and other people’s machinery. His five race Grand Prix season was a trail of expensive accidents of which the most memorable was the spin on second lap of the British race that led to the field being reduced to almost half its participants. The remarkable thing about this accident was that it resulted in no serious or fatal injuries which, on reflection, were about ten less than it could have been! However in complete contrast to his Grand Prix season he drove and won the championship in the L&M F5000 series in America at the wheel of one of Sid Taylor’s Trojan’s. He was also a regular in Can-Am series where he drove a mighty Porsche 917.

For 1974 McLaren could not offer him a contract but he was picked up by Ken Tyrrell to head a despondent team that had lost not only it’s greatest ever driver in Jackie Stewart but also his protégé Francois Cevert. Once again this was to prove an inspired by Tyrrell who once again had proved to be a gifted talent spotter. It proved to be the kind of first full season that many drivers would dream of. A fine run of results saw him score his first two Grand Prix victories at Sweden and Britain to take a well deserved third in championship to Emerson Fittipaldi in, ironically, a McLaren M23.

1975 would turn out to be a reality check with only the compensation of a home win at Kyalami to ease what turned out to be a difficult season.

Ken Tyrrell’s team gave both Jody and team mate Patrick Depailler the unusual P34 six-wheeler for the 1976 season though Depailler got to drive it first in Spain and Jody only from Belgium onwards. It was never a concept that Scheckter was keen on indeed he would often pronounce on the subject particularly after he left the team. With supreme irony Jody was to score the P34’s only victory at the Swedish Grand Prix of 1976 at Anderstorp. He racked up consistent points scores all season and again finished a fine third in the championship behind the intense battle between Hunt and Lauda. Still able to drive in saloons it was also this season that saw Scheckter achieve an ambition to win the Kyalami Wynn’s 1000km in a BMW with co-drivers Grohs and Nilsson.

With Tyrrell intent on running the P34 for the coming 1977 season Jody decided to take his services to the new Wolf team. Purchased from the Williams debris the small team with its neat and tidy car sprang an immediate surprise by winning first time out in Argentina and though it proved somewhat inconsistent the car, in various types, gave Jody another two victories that year. A second in the championship to Lauda was no less than he deserved given the well proven package he was up against in the Ferrari.

The Wolf car of 1978 was a pale shadow of the previous package and would give the team a difficult year with a difficult car. But Scheckter again wrung the neck of the car and managed to get some fine results but no consistency. Instances of the cars problems can be seen in statistics like third in Monaco and retirement from the next race in Belgium then fourth in Spain and retirement in Sweden.

With an offer from Ferrari for 1979 Jody could put his career back on track. The 312T3 F12 was a car at the very peak of its development and Scheckter used it perfectly. In between a non-start in the first race at Argentina and tyre trouble at Watkins Glen he completed thirteen races and never finished below seventh. Three wins, three seconds, four fourths, one fifth, one sixth and one seventh place and to win the championship with a win at Monza in a Ferrari were the stuff of dreams. It was a consistent season that was only beaten by the McLaren’s in 1988.

And so with his ambition realized Jody had come of age and ditched his wild man image of earlier years. In 1980 the Ferrari seemed remarkably fragile and Scheckter out of love with it even the mercurial Villeneuve seemed incapable of wresting any speed from the car. Eventually Jody announced his retirement and left to start a new life in America where he was hardly known and rarely recognized which seemed to suit him fine. He reappeared in the last few years as his sons became in racing and Ferrari moved in on their first drivers title since his own in 1979.

Jody Scheckter was first and foremost his own man who seemed to know exactly where he was going and the path he should take to get there. Maybe he could of gone to another team after Ferrari but he probably saw no point as he had achieved his goal and it was time to move on.

F1 Statistics – Jody Scheckter


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