I recently wrote about watching the Senna and Schumacher documentaries. After that I watched SuperSwede, a documentary about Swedish Formula 1 racing driver Ronnie Peterson. He was also killed in an accident. The SuperSwede documentary featured quite a few grave accidents, because this was a time when F1 had many fatalities. Luckily, after Senna’s death a great deal was done to make the sport safer and there was not a single Formula 1 fatality between 1994 and 2014.
One of the drivers featured in the SuperSwede documentary was François Cevert, a name I had not heard for years. Cevert – who was killed in a horribly gruesome crash at the age of 29 in 1973 – was an up-and-coming talent in Formula 1 racing and was almost preternaturally beautiful. Even in black and white footage, his light eyes looked straight through the screen and beyond, and his beauty was almost shocking. He was flamboyant, larger than life, mercurial. He drove really fast and yet was a very obedient mentee to Jackie Stewart, staying behind him in races even when he could have overtaken and won. He was being groomed to be the Tyrell team leader after the legendary Jackie Stewart, and would probably have had a stellar career.
South Africa only got television in 1976, one of the last countries in the world to have a regular television service. The apartheid government opposed the introduction of television for decades, calling it evil, the devil, a box to disseminate communism and democracy.
As a result, we did not watch Formula 1 on television in those days. We listened to races on the radio, saw them on newsreels (for example Movietone News, which featured current affairs and news before the interval and main feature at the movies), and read it in months-old magazines (everything had to come by ship). I read about all these famous sportspeople in my dad’s magazines and made scrapbooks.
In those days – even in other countries – sportspeople were not the superstars they are today. They were very dependent for income on agents and managers, and their companies. They may have been in magazines and on television news, but not more than that.
Today, Cevert would have been famous from day one because of his looks and talent. On social media, in fan groups, with designer collaborations, entertainment (he was an amazing pianist). His revenue streams off the track would bring in more money than his entire racing career. He could control his image, and tweet his every thought if he wanted to. On the other hand he would also have been besieged by trolls and haters, and probably stalkers who felt they knew him.
Influencers can be paid way more than $1 million per sponsored post these days. Christiano Ronaldo has more than 350 million Instagram followers. Despite this, older sports personalities say they preferred the times when sport was pure sport with no huge deals or multiple revenue streams. You did it because you loved it. What do you think?