The ambassador of the Paul Ricard circuit, who is among the 20 drivers having raced in the most grands prix in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship, kicks off our series of eye-witness accounts.
“I remember every corner; what I felt behind the steering wheel of a quick car in which I had great confidence so I was able to really push. On 9th July 1989 I started my first Formula 1 Grand Prix on the Paul Ricard circuit in France. On home turf! I was sixteenth on the grid, and fourth at the end of a race marked by many incidents. That day I emerged from the shadows into the limelight. In the morning I was an unknown, in the evening all the teams and the media were talking about me. I had seized my chance. At the age of 25 a career in Formula 1 beckoned. I pushed open the door!
“I owe this opportunity to a conflict between sponsors at Tyrrell just beforehand. The brand that backed Michele Alboreto withdrew when the team signed a title sponsorship agreement with one of its direct rivals. It was the same sponsor as the Jordan team’s with which I was well on the way to winning the F3000 title. I suppose that Ken Tyrrell, Eddie Jordan and this sponsor quickly came up with the idea of pulling off a coup by giving me my first drive in F1 on the Le Castellet circuit.
“In hindsight it was a pretty incredible period in my career. Nine months earlier I had zero prospects. I had no drive as after winning the French F3 title my collaboration with the Oreca team in F3000 in 1988 didn’t go off well. I was determined not to be written off so I set up a little team with my brother José to race in the prestigious Macau International F3 Grand Prix. It’s a crazy circuit! I went there determined to push as hard as I could.
I was second in the qualifying race and I was leading the grand prix when one of my tyres delaminated. I stuck in there, refused to retire and took the flag in 15th place on three wheels! Eddie Jordan loved my fighting spirit and I joined his Formula 3000 team for the 1989 season. When the championship began at Silverstone in April little did I know that I would be racing in the French Grand Prix four months later!
“I raced in 13 French Grands Prix and finished on the podium in 1996. It was always a great pleasure for me to give my very best on home turf and talk to and share myself with the fans. Even more than reviving a tradition the return of Formula1 to our country opens up a raft of opportunities. There’s French knowhow in motor sport and there are real sporting, technological, industrial and commercial perspectives: a great deal’s at stake in many fields.
“The Paul Ricard circuit is the mirror image of this French modernity, and the remarkable quality of this innovative site goes far beyond the technical standards required without forgetting its charm and authenticity. Long live French motor racing!”
Crédits photos : DPPI MEDIA