In his formative years Jody Scheckter was as wild and unrestrained behind the wheel as he was brilliantly talented. The curly-haired South African was quickly afforded the nickname ‘Fletcher’ after the baby seagull in the book Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, who tried to fly when he was too young and kept on crashing into the cliff face.
Jody arrived in the UK to race Formula Ford in early 1971 and breezed through FF1600 and F3 with such good effect that he was at the wheel of a works McLaren M19A in time for the following year’s US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. This dazzling progress continued, and in 1973 he led the French GP at Paul Ricard in one of the new McLaren M23s before being pushed off by Emerson Fittipaldi’s Lotus 72.
A couple of weeks later he ensured that McLaren hit the headlines in the British GP at Silverstone. Trying too hard too soon, Jody ran wide coming out of Woodcote corner on the opening lap; his M23 spun back across the track and, in the process, triggered a multiple pile-up which resulted in the race being stopped!
Although tipped to have a long-term future with McLaren, instead he was signed to lead the Tyrrell team in 1974 in the wake of Jackie Stewart’s retirement. Under Ken’s stern tutelage he began to calm down and won that year’s British and Swedish GPs. He stayed with Tyrrell for three years, but then signed for the emergent Walter Wolf Racing team which planned to field a single car in 1977 designed by the respected Harvey Postlethwaite and run by former Lotus team manager Peter Warr.
Scheckter very nearly won the 1977 championship in the Wolf, winning three Grands Prix but ending up as runner-up behind Niki Lauda. The 1978 season saw the Wolf squad lose momentum and when the offer of a Ferrari drive came up for 1979, Jody did not hesitate. Many observers felt that Jody was biting off more than he could chew throwing in his lot with Maranello, but he successfully saw off his tempestuous young team-mate Gilles Villeneuve to win the world championship in the bullet-proof Ferrari 312T4. In 1980, the Ferrari 312T5 was a hopeless successor to the title winning machine and Scheckter retired from racing at the end of that season.