Johnny Servoz-Gavin

Full Name:
Georges-Francis "Johnny" Servoz-Gavin
Born:
18th January 1942
Grenoble, Rhone-Alpes
Died:
29th May 2006 (Aged 64)
Grenoble, Rhone-Alpes
Nationality:
French
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Johnny Servoz-Gavin was an impressive protégé of Matra for whom Grand Prix stardom seemed certain. Blond, good looking and successful in the junior categories, what could go wrong?

Early racing career

Having attended the racing school at Magny-Cours and with some experience in local rallies, Servoz-Gavin made his Formula 3 debut in 1965 with a Brabham owned by his girlfriend. Fourth in the French series that year, the 24 year old signed with Matra for 1966 and won the title. He also made his Le Mans debut that year in a Matra M620-BRM he shared with Jean-Pierre Beltoise. However, the Frenchmen retired during the night with a gearbox full of neutrals.

Formula 1 with Matra and Cooper

The new European Formula 2 Championship was next in 1967 and Servoz-Gavin finished third in the final round at Vallelunga as Matras filled the podium positions. He made his GP debut as well that season – his Matra-Cosworth crashed early at Monaco but he was fourth in the non-championship Spanish GP.

He replaced the unfit Jackie Stewart for the 1968 Monaco GP and qualified the Tyrrell-run Matra MS10-Ford on the front row before leading the opening three laps. However, his moment of glory was short-lived for he damaged his driveshaft as he brushed a barrier next time around. He drove a Cooper T86B-BRM in France (crashing again) before returning to Matra to finish second in the Italian GP after a slipstreaming battle with Jacky Ickx’s Ferrari.

Formula 2 Champion and Tyrrell opportunity

Servoz-Gavin concentrated on F2 in 1969 and clinched the European Championship with victory in the Vallelunga finale. Sports car outings for Matra included flipping a Matra-Simca MS650 during testing at the Marigny-le-Grand airfield – Servoz-Gavin lucky to escape with a dislocated foot. He also drove the four-wheel-drive Matra MS84-Ford in the final three GPs of the year. Sixth in Canada, he signed as Tyrrell’s number two driver for 1970. A fulltime F1 driver at last, he was struck in the eye while driving off-road in a jeep before the season started.

His March 701-Ford finished fifth in the Spanish GP but that performance masked his damaged eyesight and consequent loss of confidence. He failed to qualify for the next round in Monaco and announced his immediate retirement from the sport.

Servoz-Gavin then became something of a recluse. He lived on a barge and was badly burnt in 1982 when a gas canister exploded on board. He visited the Goodwood Festival of Speed as part of a Tyrrell celebration late in his life.