Passion

Jody's distinctive white and yellow helmet was often at the front in 1979

Meeting Jody Scheckter: 1979 F1 Champion

Forty years ago, Jody Scheckter clinched the F1 World Championship for Ferrari. Here, he remembers making history for us
Words

Richard Aucock

“It was a relief!” grins Jody Scheckter. He sealed his 1979 F1 World Championship win at Monza in Italy, leading his team-mate across the line and making history with an almost-perfect victory. But like many champions, Jody’s first thought was simply satisfaction at having finally realised his dream with Ferrari. A year later, Scheckter bought his title-winning Ferrari 312 T4 racer. Today, it is housed in his collection at Laverstoke Park Farm, Scheckter’s thriving organic farming business in Hampshire, England, the pride of his stable.

Life after F1 has been busy for Jody and he admits he’s now trying to make time to enjoy it. When we meet, he pauses for a few moments, gazes at his car, and the memories come flooding back. “I had a fantastic time at Ferrari. I’d been speaking to them for several years, but finally signed in 1978 for the following two years.

People told me, ‘Jody, you’ll never get on at Ferrari’, but I ignored them… and loved my time driving for the Scuderia”. Racing teams tested a lot in those days, Jody explained. “For years, I’d driven for British teams. In England, you tested, and at lunchtime had some white bread and a few pickles, then carried on. In Italy, you tested… then had pasta, great food, conversations and laughter… but the afternoon lap times were always slower until 4pm!”. Jody’s team-mate at Ferrari was the legendary Gilles Villeneuve.

“Gilles and I got on great. We were good friends, respectful of one another.The press were always trying to get drivers to fight, but we said to one another, ‘we’re not going to bother with any of that nonsense’, and had a super relationship”. Both drivers lived in Monaco, and regularly travelled to Fiorano, Italy, for testing. Tales abound of Gilles’ exuberant high-speed drives to Maranello and Jody was wise to it. “I only travelled with Gilles once, and I said to him, ‘don’t start doing any of that stuff’, and he listened.

Scheckter in action on his Ferrari 312 T4, during his 1979 title-winning year<em> Photo: Getty Images</em>
Scheckter in action on his Ferrari 312 T4, during his 1979 title-winning year Photo: Getty Images

Until we got about 10km from the factory, and then the slides and squeals started…” He pauses at the front of the car. “You know, my biggest success in racing was getting out alive. Ferrari built safe cars, but in those days it was bad. I was lucky. Winning the title made me very happy – that’s why I wanted to drive for Ferrari, as I knew the team was fast.” Jody’s first victory for Ferrari came at the Spa Francorchamps race in Belgium, followed up with a classic win in Monaco, and he continued to tactically gather points during the summer of 1979. The title-winning race at Monza was a celebration.

The grandstands were packed and the Ferraris thrilled from the off by blasting into the lead. Jody’s victory saw the circuit erupt with joy, and was even more fitting because it was Scuderia Ferrari’s 300th race.Jody raced on the next year, then retired to go into business. His beautiful Laverstoke Park Farm complex has grown into an organic specialist: “We make the best buffalo mozzarella!”. Our time is up. Jody stands, gazing fondly at his race-winning, title-winning Ferrari. “We still run it, for charity events and special shows.

Jody still owns and drives his title-winning Ferrari 312 T4    <em>Photo: CarFest</em>
Jody still owns and drives his title-winning Ferrari 312 T4 Photo: CarFest

The flat-12 engine revved to 12,000rpm and it sounds incredible – the best on the grid. By modern standards, it looks so simple, but it was quick, and a wonderful car to race. You could get it sideways – and I liked sliding cars”. We wave goodbye to Jody, who departs for his next meeting with a smile and a cheery wave.

Forty years on, he remains as ambitious and driven as ever. His relief in 1979 is today a fond memory he can savour, and he ensures he takes time to do so. “Driving for Ferrari was one thing, but winning for Ferrari was incredible. I’m an incredibly lucky guy”.

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