In the penultimate grand prix at Mosport, Francois had a huge accident, following a controversial tangle with Jody Scheckter. The front of the chassis folded up, but somehow he escaped with badly bruised ankles…and a technicolor opinion of the South African. There followed a two-week gap before the Watkins Glen finale. Cevert hobbled around as he joined the Stewarts on trips to Niagara Falls and Bermuda, discussing what was on the cards for 1974.
“He had an offer from Ferrari,” says Stewart. “He had no idea I was retiring. I didn't tell him, but Ken and I agreed that I'd be the one who told him that he was going to be number one. In Bermuda he was always asking, ‘What should I do, should I go?' and I said, 'I think you should stay with Ken, have another year of learning, I'm not going to be here forever.'”
At Watkins Glen, Tyrrell signed Scheckter for 1974. Although Stewart denies it, the late Ken Tyrrell told this writer that Francois did know that Jackie was about to stop. Did Tyrrell tell Cevert that weekend that he was to inherit JYS's seat, with Jody as his teammate? Certainly if Francois had heard about the Scheckter deal, he would have been very disconcerted unless it had been made clear that Jackie was quitting. But whatever the reason, he was on inspired form.
“He was very confident,” recalls Ramirez, “His first win had been there [at the Glen] and he wanted to do it again. I think he'd really made the decision to get pole and win the race. The number sixes were probably another thing which contributed to his determination, the feeling that everything was going to be alright.”
Cevert was fourth and had just set his two fastest laps of the session when he went missing; witnesses said that he appeared to just overdo it. The first driver on the scene was, in a further twist, Scheckter. What he saw forever colored his attitude to motor racing. Francois was beyond help.
“I was waiting for my second baby,” says Jacqueline, “which is why I wasn't in the USA. I was not very well, and I didn't want to travel. We were out, and my brother Charles heard the news from somebody who phoned and just said, ‘Francois is dead.' We came home, and he was terribly shocked. We never knew who called – we thought it was someone completely crazy. It seemed impossible. I tried to get hold Jean-Pierre in Watkins Glen, and half an hour later, he called.
“My father was in a very bad way, and for a few weeks afterward, his heart was broken. He died in 1985. He was more secretive than my mother; I could speak with my mother, but I never could speak with my father about Francois. For my mother especially, it was like Francois died just yesterday.”
The year after the accident, Nanou Van Malderen first told the story of Cevert's visit to the medium in an introduction to the biography, A Contract With Death. It set the family thinking.
“There was one strange thing,” says Jacqueline. “In the last year of his life, 1973, he was always second. He had good success. One day I was with my mother and we met him in the street at Neuilly, at home. He was sad and nervous, and my mother said, ‘No problem, everything is going well for you. You're always second, it's fantastic.' Francois was a little bit upset. He said, ‘Yes, I am second, but I won't be World Champion this year.' My mother and me were very surprised at this. She said, ‘Ah, but it will be next year.' After he was dead we thought about that. It was so strange – why did he say this at this time? Did he believe what the medium said?
“My mother wanted to see this woman. She took a photograph of Francois when he was 12 years old – you could not recognize him – and she gave this photograph to the woman, and said, ‘Speak to me about him.' The woman put her hand on the photo, she shut her eyes, and said, ‘I see many successes, many great things, it will be fantastic, he is recognized by the whole country.' She didn't say he was a racing driver, but that he would have a great career. Then she stopped speaking. She opened her eyes. She looked so surprised and so afraid. She looked at my mother and said, “He is dead...'''