10 Great Moments in Jody Scheckter's F1 Career
Today (January 29) marks the 65th birthday of Jody Scheckter, the 1979 Formula One world champion.
Scheckter, Africa's only F1 title winner, represented three of the most iconic teams in the sport's history—McLaren, Tyrrell and Ferrari—in a career spanning nine seasons between 1972 and 1980.
In that time, the East London-born driver made a total of 112 grand prix starts, winning 10 races and recording 33 podium finishes.
After a baptism of fire in F1, Scheckter soon emerged as one of the star performers of his era and cemented his place in Ferrari's history by sealing the crown at the Prancing Horse's home race in 1979.
That was just one of several high points in Scheckter's career, more of which you can read about here.
Making an Early Impression (1973 French Grand Prix)
A fortnight before his infamous clanger at the 1973 British Grand Prix, Scheckter offered the first glimpse of his talent in France.
In just his third grand prix appearance, the McLaren driver qualified second at Paul Ricard and claimed the lead from Jackie Stewart, who was on course for his third world title, at the start of the race.
Despite his inexperience, Scheckter held his own at the front until he collided with Emerson Fittipaldi with just 12 laps to go, putting both men out of the event.
That left another upstart, Sweden's Ronnie Peterson, free to take his maiden victory.
Meanwhile, Fittipaldi, the reigning world champion, was unimpressed with Scheckter, referring to the South African as a "madman," according to ESPN F1.
On the post-race slanging match, Scheckter told Motor Sport Magazine's Simon Taylor:
Fittipaldi came to find me in the pits and delivered a heated monologue at me about newcomers not holding up the World Champion. He went on and on, and when he got to the end I pointed out that he’d had 42 laps to get past me, and if we found ourselves in the same situation in the future I’d do exactly the same again.
He may have attracted the wrath of F1's established stars, but Scheckter had proven from an early stage that he would be a force to be reckoned with.
The Big One (1973 British Grand Prix)
Causing one of the most almighty accidents of all time can hardly be considered a great moment in any racing driver's career, yet the first lap shunt in the 1973 British Grand Prix encapsulated the difficulties of Scheckter's early years.
After starting sixth, the South African had made his way up to fourth on the opening lap when, exiting Woodcote corner, Scheckter ran wide and spun across the track before colliding with the pit wall.
Stranded on the main straight, the McLaren was collected by a host of other cars, creating a mass pile-up that resulted in the end of the career of Andrea de Adamich, who suffered a broken leg.
"Jody Scheckter's lost it!" declared the commentator in the above video and he wasn't far wrong.
As per Formula1.com's Gerald Donaldson, an "anti-Scheckter movement" had already been established prior to the Silverstone shunt, and the incident had only heightened levels hostility, with the Grand Prix Drivers' Association calling for his "immediate banishment."
McLaren made a compromise by resting the South African for the next four races.
The criticism that Scheckter received—to the point where his fellow competitors were intent on chasing him out of the sport—made his eventual rise to champion status all the more sensational and was testament to his strength of character.
First Win (1974 Swedish Grand Prix)
Scheckter's first victory was a breakthrough moment in his grand prix career.
Securing a full-time drive with Tyrrell for 1974, the South African failed to score a point in the opening three races of the year, but found his results gradually improving as the mid-season stage approached.
Fifth place in Spain was followed up with third in Belgium, his first podium finish. Third became second at Monaco, with Scheckter taking to the top step of the podium for the first time at the next round in Sweden.
The Scandinavian Raceway was the scene of a Tyrrell masterclass as Scheckter and team-mate Patrick Depailler qualified second and first respectively.
It was Scheckter who came out on top in the race, though, pipping the Frenchman to the chequered flag by just 0.380 seconds and becoming the first South African to win an F1 race.
Making Up for '73 (1974 British Grand Prix)
What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months and six days after sparking that pile-up at Silverstone, Scheckter claimed his second career win on British soil.
The South African inherited the win at Brands Hatch after the leader, Ferrari's Niki Lauda—who had set pole position and recorded the fastest lap of the race—suffered a late puncture, one of several drivers to encounter tyre problems after running over debris from Hans-Joachim Stuck's early crash.
Lauda's misfortune allowed Scheckter, who started third but nipped past Peterson at the first corner of the race, to ultimately claim a relatively comfortable and fitting victory.
Victory on Home Soil (1975 South African Grand Prix)
Scheckter became the first South African to win his home race in 1975, with the victory the high point of an unsatisfactory campaign.
The home hero was one of a number of competitors to suffer an accident in practice at Kyalami, as the drivers complained about safety standards at the track, but came out on top in the grand prix.
Starting in third behind the Brabhams of Carlos Pace and Carlos Reutemann, a strong beginning to the race saw him get past the Brazilian.
Despite being challenged by Reutemann until the chequered flag, Scheckter held on to first place to win by almost four seconds.
His brother, Ian Scheckter, didn't have such a clean run, however, retiring after 55 laps due to an accident.
Winning on Six Wheels (1976 Swedish Grand Prix)
The six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 is one of the most recognisable cars in the history of Formula One, but its success was limited.
The P34 won just one of the 30 races it entered, and it was Sheckter who hauled it to title-winning status in the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix, the car's third race.
The South African set the P34's only pole position at Anderstorp and converted it into his second win in three years at the Scandinavian Raceway.
Depailler completed a Tyrrell one-two, but Scheckter knew the car was not destined for great things.
He referred to the P34 as a "piece of junk," according to ESPN F1's Chris Medland, as he fled the team to join Wolf at the end of '76.
Battling with James Hunt (1976 United States Grand Prix)
Despite his contempt for the six-wheeled Tyrrell, it was in the P34 that Scheckter enjoyed one of the finest on-track battles of his career.
It took place at Watkins Glen, where the South African and James Hunt, his good friend, locked horns for the entire weekend.
After missing out on pole by two tenths, Scheckter took the lead from the Briton at the start, and the pair soon pulled away from the rest of the field.
In a head-to-head duel, the Tyrrell stayed ahead of the McLaren until Lap 37, when Hunt passed on the back straight.
Four laps later, Hunt missed a gear while negotiating his way through the lapped traffic and Scheckter reclaimed first place, although the British driver would get by yet again on Lap 46 and remained unchallenged for the final 13 laps.
It was the last victory of Hunt's title-winning campaign and the final podium of Scheckter's Tyrrell career, a superb performance when you bear in mind his dislike of the P34.
Resisting Niki Lauda's Charge (1977 Monaco Grand Prix)
Niki Lauda was the maestro of Monaco in the mid-1970s, setting pole position and leading every lap en route to victories in the '75 and '76 events.
His stranglehold on the principality was well and truly broken in 1977, however, when Scheckter took to the top step of the podium to take his first triumph in Formula One's most famous race.
Scheckter, behind the wheel of a Wolf-Ford, took the lead from Brabham's John Watson at the start, and his rivals dropped from contention one-by-one until, in the latter stages, there was a two-man duel for the win.
Lauda, who had started sixth, drove like a man possessed and eradicated the leader's handsome lead in his bid to keep alive his strong record at Monaco.
With the advantage of track position, however, Scheckter made no mistakes and simply absorbed the pressure, crossing the line less than a second in front of the Austrian's Ferrari.
Clinching the Title at Monza (1979 Italian Grand Prix)
Winning at Monza for Ferrari is a special achievement for any racing driver, but triumphing at the legendary Italian track and clinching the Formula One world title in the process is a Ferrari star's idea of heaven.
And that is exactly what Scheckter did in 1979 to claim his one and only drivers' championship.
The South African's afternoon got off to the perfect start when he overtook the Renaults of Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Rene Arnoux—who were slow off the line—for the lead, but relinquished first place to the latter on the second lap.
It remained that way until Lap 13, when Arnoux suffered engine problems and was forced into retirement, promoting Scheckter back into a lead that he was never going to let slip again.
The two Ferraris of Scheckter and Gilles Villeneuve crossed the finish line almost in tandem—separated by just 0.46 seconds—as the South African was crowned world champion in front the delighted tifosi.
"I remember the sea of people at the end, but what I really felt after a year of being up and down was the relief. It was just a relief to get it over. I didn’t get too emotional or excited when the crowd were going mad," Scheckter told Motor Sport Magazine's Simon Taylor of his feelings in 2008.
He remained the last Ferrari world champion until Michael Schumacher began his spell of dominance in 2000.
An Early Retirement (1980)
The difficulty facing all great racing drivers is knowing when to call it quits.
Throughout Formula One history, there have been tales of legendary drivers—Graham Hill and Michael Schumacher are the obvious examples—whose passion for the sport is so strong that they compete beyond their own usefulness and sometimes taint their own legacies.
That was never a problem for Scheckter, who decided to leave the sport less than a year after his title success.
Francois Cevert's fatal crash at Watkins Glen in 1974 had a huge impact on the South African's attitude to racing—"From then on all I was trying to do in Formula One was save my life," he is quoted as saying by Formula1.com's Gerald Donaldson—and it meant Scheckter was always ready to walk away.
And so after his championship triumph in 1979 it became a very real possibility, with a lacklustre title defence—which saw him score just two points and fail to qualify for his penultimate grand prix—pushing the South African over the edge.
As Scheckter told Motor Sport Magazine's Simon Taylor, he told Enzo Ferrari of his decision to retire in July 1980 and "didn't even consider" a "serious offer" from Renault to remain on the grid.
At the age of just 30, Scheckter had walked away prematurely but had already achieved all he'd wanted in Formula One.