First - correct me if I am wrong - the forum is a place where we try understand and put the historical facts right as much as possible, without prejudice. Sometimes we can get to a conclusion, some other times it remains open to interpretation for the very nature of the sport itself. There shouldn't be anything personal in this quest and I don't think there is in this case. I met Cheever once in Rome in the mid '80s, he's a very likable and articulate person. Maybe some could say that in hindsight F1 was a step too far for him, maybe not and I think he did everything with committment and dignity. Probably he could have been a very good sports prototype driver - something like Pirro ended up being - and I can't check now how he did with Jaguar. In any case all this is beside the point we are making in this instance.
Yes, Rega, agreed. I added the bit at the end of my last post just to make clear that this is not about some dislike I have of Cheever. I actually think he did quite well for himself hanging around F1 as long as he did, and he did have some talent. When I say he was "mediocre" that is more about his career accomplishments than his talent.
And the historical facts are why I started this. I knew when this person tried to tell me Cheever had been Ferrari's "test driver" and had signed a large contract with them it did not fit with what I knew. But I am also aware that I do not know everything and perhaps I had missed something.
The point I dispute here is whether he actually had "some sort of contract agreement with Ferrari", as RStock put it. For what I can see and remember [and I can't check my collection of Autosprint 1977] there is only his word and several contradictory versions of it [e.g., see Giraffe's post above, see Alan Henry quote, and several others in the public domain].
I am sceptical.
Yes, when I say he had a "contractual agreement", that does not mean he actually ever had a contract.
He may have tested for Ferrari, like others did. He may have signed an option, like others did with Ferrari [Patrese seems had something like that in 1978-79, only he didn't go around saying he "got it in the pocket", as matter of fact he has kept quiet about it ever since] or maybe not. My opinion is that whatever it was [one-off test, talk of a contractual option] he made too much of it, used it to promote himself [smart move with Enzo Ferrari...] and then began giving contradictory details [either that he declined the contract, or a solicitor went with him, that he was about to jump in the car and race, that he was paid $50k to test, etc etc], that makes the whole situation doubtful at best.
The only way to sort this out is for Cheever to produce the paper he says he had in his pocket at the time. If not, please keep quiet, because otherwise it is not helping the historical truth.
The truth is that Ferrari - like any other forward thinking F1 boss - always kept track of new talent and obviously the one growing closer at home was the easier to assess directly. Cheever was assessed and passed over. No shame in that, he then had plenty of time and opportunity to make Ferrari change his mind.
Well. I think it's pretty clear he was never paid $50,000 to test. And even if he did have a contract with Ferrari that was going to pay him that amount to stay with them it did not last even long enough for the ink to dry it seems.
I think he might have had some sort of offer, as he was supposed to drive the non-championship race, but nothing was finalized by signing or if it was signed it quickly was dropped.
I can see Ferrari having interest in him at the time, he had done well in Italian F3 and had lived in Italy most of his life which would be a plus. However I don't see anything showing Ferrari really wanted him that bad. It seems according to what Piero has said that it was Scheckter they really wanted above everyone else but had not to that point been able to get him. They were in need of a driver with Rega being gone and now Niki, so someone had to team with Lole. Ferrari looked at Cheever, de Angelis and even Mario. Mario wanted no part of it according to his own words if he was not going to be sole number one driver. So at that point it seems it left Cheever and de Angelis readily available. Gilles at that point I believe was still under contract with McLaren. I don't think Patrese was really in the picture at that point but I do recall Tambay's name coming up. Tambay reportedly told Gilles that he had signed with McLaren and that Gilles should pursue the Ferrari drive, they were said to be good friends so I can see that being true.
So what we have indicated here seems (to me anyway) that Gilles was the one they were really interested in between he, Cheever and de Angelis. If not, they could have had Cheever or de Angelis. I think when Ferrari found that they could have Gilles, Cheever and de Angelis became unwanted. The Cheever test happened in September but they were also talking to Gilles at that time. Cheever was perhaps the front runner for the Ferrari seat until Gilles became free from his McLaren contract.
So back to the Cheever "contract" with Ferrari. I don't think whether or not he signed it is relevant to the end results. It didn't happen regardless. I'm suspecting the truth is, Cheever knew when Gilles came along he was 2nd choice. I would not doubt Ferrari still had an offer to Cheever just to keep him "hooked" so to speak. If Cheever had seen language in the contract that did not guarantee Cheever would have the race seat, but could instead only be a "test driver" I can believe he balked at the offer. (I seem to recall something similar with another Ferrari driver, Amon? Ickx?)
Cheever seems to want it remembered it as him having turned down Ferrari, but other stories say it was Ferrari themselves that killed the deal. The truth is often somewhere in the middle, so my guess is, Cheever did have a contract offer. Even with Gilles there Ferrari were still interested in Cheever, but Cheever was not as interested when Gilles came into the picture. I think he saw he wasn't going to get the race seat but that Gilles was, and tried to make sure he had a contract naming himself as the race driver, which in turned killed the offer.
As you say, we try to establish historical fact here at this forum, but this might be one of those times you mentioned that things remain open to interpretation. This is my interpretation of what happened as we may never know if Cheever ever actually signed.