18/1/1942 - 28/5/2006
Record updated 19-Feb-23
Georges-Francis 'Johnny' Servoz-Gavin was a handsome, playboy racer who loved the good life, but also possessed a great deal of talent.
Georges-Francis 'Johnny' Servoz-Gavin was born in Grenoble where his parents owned a bar. He went to school only for as long as was necessary and indulged in his first love, skiing.
At the time everyone knew him as George, or Geo for short, but when the local girls started to pay attention to his blond hair and blue eyes, he became 'Johnny' and in return started to pay attention to the girls. His parents bought him a gift shop in 1961, which he ran during the day before heading to the clubs at night.
He married at 21, mainly because his best friend had just got married. unsurprisingly it didn't last and Johnny returned to his playboy lifestyle.
He decided to become a racing driver after he heard a report about the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the radio and enrolled in the Winfield driving school at Magny-Cours in 1963. Unfortunately after a few lessons he was thrown out and returned to Grenoble.
Johnny then did a little rallying, co-driving a Citroen with J.C.Ogier in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally and with J.F.Piot in a Renault in the Alpine Rally. He scraped the money together for an old Volvo and took part in some minor rallies and hillclimbs. It was in 1964 that he got his first real break when he was selected by l'A.S.A.C. Dauphinois to represent Savoie driving a Lotus Seven in the Coupe de Provinces sponsored by Ford to develop new talent.
Coupe de Provinces 1964
He then entered the Volant Shell competition in Belgium which had a first prize of an F3 car. As he started his run the engine dropped a cylinder, despite this he set the fastest time but in what the judges deemed a 'too impetuous' manner. Thus the prize went to another driver but Johnny was even more determined to race.
So in 1965 he took all his money and with some help from Veronique, his girlfriend at the time, placed an order for an F3 Brabham Cosworth. Living on sandwiches, sleeping in a tent a race meetings and on friends floors at other times, he was wild but fast. He finished the year fourth in the French F3 Championship, enough to earn a drive with Matra for the following year.
He proceeded to win the French Championship in 1966 with the Matra MS5 and was promoted to the Matra Formula 2 team for 1967. However his results were moderate and it looked like he would be dropped at the end of the year. His lifestyle and attitude where hurting his chances but Johnny realised that having made it this far, to fail now would spell the end.
He was given one last chance by Matra at the season ending non-championship Spanish Grand Prix at Madrid, a combined F1 and F2 race. A splendid drive saw him finish fourth overall behind Clark, Hill and Brabham all in F1 machines. It saved his career but was relegated to a testing role and driving in sports prototypes.
1968 saw a change in Johnny, he cut his hair (he used to say that he grew it to protect his neck from the sun), he stopped drinking and partying and took up Yoga. He took a few wins with the Matra-Ford prototype, but it was Beltoise and Pescarolo racing for Matra in F2 that were in line for the F1 drive when the new car was ready. However an accident to Jackie Stewart in Spain early in 1968 left Ken Tyrrell looking for a driver to deputise at Monac in the Matra MS10.
Beltoise was due to drive the works Matra and Tyrrell remembered that Johnny had managed to qualify an F2 Matra at Monaco the year before when Pescarolo hadn't made the grid. Thus he was given the drive. He was quickest in the wet practice session and second in qualifying so lined up on the front row of the grid alongside Graham Hill on pole. When the flag dropped, Johnny took the lead and was pulling away after three laps when a driveshaft broke.
Desperate to race in F1 again, Johnny paid his own way to circuits on the off chance of a drive. At Rouen, John Cooper gave him a drive in Cooper T86B to replace the late Lodovico Scarfiotti and the injured Brian Redman. On the third lap of the race on the downhill section Schlesser lost control of the new Honda and crashed. The car overturned and caught fire. Schlesser became the fourth F1 driver to die that season (after Jim Clark, Mike Spence and Lodovico Scarfiotti). Johnny crashed out a few laps later without injury. He took a superb second place in the Italian GP late in the season, but he still lacked a full-time Grand Prix drive for 1969.
Johnny testing the MS630 in 1969
For 1969 he concentrated on the European F2 championship, and with victory in the Rome GP took the title of top non-graded driver. In Grand Prix, he was mainly entrusted with the Matra MS84, and succeeded in gaining a point with it at Mosport, the only time any 4WD car achieved this feat. He was also very active in sports car racing. he also teamed up with Pedro Rodriguez in a round of the canAm series at Watkins Glen in July. Driving the Matra MS650 they finished fourth, the only French car ever to compete in CanAm.
The following season he was signed to drive alongside Stewart in the Tyrrell March team but that winter he took part in an off-road event in a Jeep and was hit in the face by a branch of a tree which damaged his eyesight.
Monaco in 1970, Johnny last appearance in an F1 car. He retired after failing to qualify
Running the difficult March 701, he finished fifth in the Spanish GP, but after he failed to qualify at Monaco he took the decision to retire, partly due to concerns over his vision. Ultimately he had decided that the risks inherent in racing at the time were not worthwhile, but there was also, apparently, a problem with his vision, which may have been the deciding factor.
His Bohemian nature suited his life in Formula 1 during the '60's and later he lived on a boat. In 1982 suffered serious burns when a gas bottle exploded. He survived this despite his heart stopping three times as he was being operated on. He also spent much of the rest of his life wandering around the Mediterranean in a horse-drawn caravan.
Johnny died in May 2006 as the result of a pulmonary embolism, following a period of ill health. He was 64 years old.
Camille du Gast
Alberto Rodriguez Larreta
René Le Bègue
Enrique Díaz Sánez Valiente