One-time Grand Prix winner Jean-Pierre Beltoise passed away yesterday, aged 77. The Frenchman is reported to have suffered two strokes while at his holiday home in Dakar, Senegal.
Having forged a successful career in motorcycles – indeed, he won no less than eleven national titles in the space of three years – Beltoise’s four-wheeled motorsport career almost ended as soon as it began, courtesy of a massive shunt at the Reims 12 Hour race that badly broke his arm and restricted its movement ever since.
Having recovered, he moved to F3 racing and won at the scene of his tragedy in 1965 for Matra, with whom he graduated to Formula 2, winning the German Grand Prix support race.
By 1968, he was duly rewarded with a full-time drive for Matra, who entrusted him with their own V12-engined machine.
The highlight of his first full season was a brilliant drive to second place at the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, doing enough to get himself noticed and promoted to Tyrrell in 1969, as Jackie Stewart’s number-two, while Matra stepped away to further develop their V12.
He supported Stewart’s title ambitions well, and finished runner-up to the Scot at Clermont Ferrand.
The Matra V12 returned for 1970, and Beltoise went back to the French squad, finishing on the podium at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza. Victory, however, continued to elude him, as it would again in 1971.
That year, he also received a lengthy suspension for his role in the death of Ignazio Giunti at the Buenos Aires 1000Km sports car race.
For 1972, he was lured to BRM with the attraction of the role as lead driver. The team was now its terminal decline, but Beltoise finally notched up his single F1 victory – and the last for the team itself – in the monsoonal Monaco Grand Prix. It was a truly great wet-weather drive, acknowledged as one of the best seen on the streets of the Principality. Even Jacky Ickx – the wet-weather maestro – finished over a minute adrift of the Frenchman, and was one of the first to congratulate Beltoise on his achievement.
Beltoise would never win an official F1 championship race again, and suffered the indignity of BRM’s rapid freefall from grace, retiring at the end of 1974 before turning to touring car racing.
Beltoise is survived by his wife Jacqueline (sister of the late F1 driver, François Cevert) and their two sons, Anthony and Julien, who both pursued motor racing careers.
RichardsF1.com extends its condolences to the family and friends of Beltoise.