I was actually thinking about Jean-Pierre Beltoise the day before he passed away. There I was, sitting in the car in King’s Road, stuck in traffic, when suddenly I was smiling inwardly at the thought of Jean-Pierre and all that he had triggered. I don’t think it was co-incidence: I happened to be stationary right by the spot where I once threw a Gauloises non-filter into the garbage bin, thus marking the end of my very brief smoking career. I’d been so intoxicated by the French Revolution – by the whole Gauloises/Gitanes thing, married as it was to Jean-Pierre, Matra, Elf, BP France, Ford France, Antar, Motul, Stand 21, Francois Cevert, Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Jean-Pierre Jaussaud, Johnny Servoz-Gavin, Pierre-Francois Rousselot, Patrick Tambay, Bernard Beguin, Didier Pironi, Jean-Luc Salamon, Jacques-Henri Lafitte, Jean-Pierre Jarier, Henri Pescarolo, Johnny Rives, Manu Zurini, Bernard Asset, Eric Bhat, Jose Rosinski, Jabby Crombac, Ligier, Gerard Flocon, Un homme et une femme, Francois Hardy and Francois Guiter – so romanticised was I by it all – that I felt I owed it to them at least to try a Gauloises. The experiment lasted three puffs…but I never forgot the time nor the place.
JPB passed away on January 5, 2014. As quick on two wheels as he was on four, he survived several major accidents before he and Matra’s Jean-Luc Lagardere set about changing the world. If Jackie Stewart’s 1968-69 Tyrrell Matras were works of art – and I think they were – much of the credit must go to the French creative geniuses of the time. The elegant white signwriting on the French-blue riveted chassis. That head-turning Elf logo. The colour-coding with the drivers’ helmets – something that mesmerised me when I first saw JPB at Monaco in 1967. (I took the picture above from the chicane on the Saturday as he drove the F2 car round to the pits.)
Then there were the loves of JPB. He lost his first wife while he was recuperating from his big shunt at Rheims: she died in a Matra road car, driving south out of Paris. Then he married Francois Cevert’s sister, Jacqueline. He helped her through the dark days of Francois’ death. They remained forever close.
I’m not a great believer in obituaries. If there’s something worth saying about someone, I think we should say it when they’re with us, not the day after they’ve left us. And so I decided to chat about Jean-Pierre with one of my friends (and mentors), Mike Doodson. MGD, as he was known in the great days of Motoring News, saw JPB race in his prime; and, speaking passable French (!) he also got to know him pretty well. Thus we remembered him: