Motor racing: Scheckter develops a dynasty

Ferrari's last world champion is helping his sons to follow in his Formula One footsteps.
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The Independent Online
JODY SCHECKTER was never renowned for reticence. He's remembered almost as readily - in this country, at any rate - for the pile-up he triggered at the start of the 1973 British Grand Prix as for delivering Ferrari their last driver's world championship, 20 years ago.

On and off the track, he was the quintessential South African: self-assured, forthright, uncompromising. The passing years have scarcely blunted his sharp edge, although those close to him maintain he has mellowed.

But circumspect? Palpably not. Invited to comment yesterday on the state of play at Ferrari, he suggested his former employers ought to find a new team-mate for Michael Schumacher, someone capable of pushing the German to greater heights. Since Schumacher's present partner is Northern Ireland's Eddie Irvine, who won the opening round of the championship in Australia, earlier this month, that represents a contentious statement.

Ferrari, like the reputation for causing mayhem, are permanent baggage for Scheckter. He carried it with him to London, where he appeared in a less familiar guise, that of the caring father. In common with many of his peers, Scheckter maintained he had no desire to see his offspring follow in his tyre tracks, yet here he was, introducing motor racing's next dynasty.

His sons, Toby and Tomas, rejected golf and other, more mundane careers, opting instead for the circuit. Toby, 20, is competing in this season's highly competitive British Formula Three Championship, the 18-year-old Tomas in the European nursery series, EFDA. They will race under the Jody Scheckter Racing banner, though as part of separate teams. Dad provides the name and publicity and that, in turn, is supposed to generate the necessary funding. "I'm really setting up a management team within teams for my boys," Scheckter explained. "At the end of the day, you need sponsorship.

"I've certainly not pushed them into this. I wanted them to do well at school and so on, but I couldn't stop them doing this. Motor racing chose me, so I can understand.

"I don't want to form my own team and in any case, it's good for them to learn to work with other people. I'm there if they want me. A good coach puts pressure on when a driver needs it, a bad coach puts it on when he doesn't.

"Their toys are much bigger and better than I had at their age. But you have to do it professionally. If you don't you never win, unless you're Schumacher. But there's only one of those in Formula One now."

Scheckter he sees some of himself in Toby ("the fear of defeat") and other of his characteristics in Tomas ("he spends too much time on the grass").

He expands: "Toby is very quick, but he doesn't have as much natural talent as his brother. Tomas is a real racer, more of my style. They've both got potential, and if you're in single seater racing you have to aim for the top, that's Formula One. Sure I get that feeling in the stomach. Any father would. It's a dangerous sport. But you have to accept it."

Yes, he would like to see them drive for Ferrari one day, but only if the Italian team have a competitive car. The sons concur. "I'd rather be in a Jordan if a Jordan is better than a Ferrari," Toby reasons. Tomas is unequivocal in his choice: "Right now it would have to be McLaren."

Not that the young Scheckters are dreaming beyond their means. They know they have some proving to do before that. They also stress they are racing because this is what turns them on.

"You've got to do it on your own," Toby said. "The family name doesn't guarantee anything. I create my own pressure to do well. It's nothing to do with dad. People are always asking about him, but I want this just as much as any other guy out there."

Tomas admits he is prone to taking the agricultural line. "It's true, I do go on the grass a lot. I shunted the car five times in eight tests last year. All I think about is going forward, putting pressure on the driver in front of me, forcing him into a mistake."

Dad, out of earshot, would have enjoyed that, just as he makes no bones about the fact he still wallows in the distinction of being Ferrari's last champion.

"They've got to do it this year," he said. "Mind you, that's what I said last year. Ferrari do a great job, but McLaren had the advantage last year and it looks as if it's a similar situation this year."

So how might they bridge that gap and make Schumacher their next champion?

"They should have a more aggressive team-mate for Schumacher, that would lift him to another level. When you're faster than your team-mate on every corner you learn nothing. When I got Gilles Villeneuve as my team-mate it lifted me to another level. I haven't seen Irvine within half a second of Schumacher."

Scheckter nominates Giancarlo Fisichella, Benetton's Italian driver, as a candidate to join Schumacher but maybe if they are patient enough there will be another Scheckter along to help them out.