Sports – Formula 1: The French Connection

F1’s spectacular barnum will reopen its doors on March 5 with the presence of two talented French artists. Not bad, especially after the terrible shortage of the 2000s, but a far cry from the 1970s contingent of seven French drivers. Let’s go back to this golden age.

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EFrancois Javert, who won the 1971 United States Grand Prix, led the way, followed by his brother-in-law Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who won in Monaco the following year. It was actually another little-known man who initiated this rise of the French from his office on the rue Nelaton in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, the headquarters of the Elf oil company before La Défense tower was built. Drivers in Formula 1. His name was Francois Guiter. “Monsieur Guiter” was in charge of the “sales support” for this new brand of fuel, which was to take place before the word marketing had become commonplace. The consummate man, the visionary, the adventurer-puncher, he drew his line: to make people talk about Elf with a noble vehicle, motorsport, starting at the bottom of the pyramid and reaching the top with F1 and its pilots that make you dream of children. . Finally, Guiter knew how to attract all the media, from the regional newspaper to the big presenters of the world television.

He neglected no detail, no partnership, first with Matra and then with Renault, so much so that at the start of the French Formula 1 Grand Prix in the late 1970s, he faced no fewer than seven drivers. It really was the “French connection”.

How did we get to this level? The recipe was simple: train pilots and managers, create flight schools for the youngest, take them to F 2, grab the already proven seniors and give them a chance. to all these wonderful people.

I lived through this great period and without falling into the limelight “It used to be better” I think this with great emotion. newspaper in 1974 Motor sports He sent me to cover the F2 Rome Grand Prix at Vallelunga to witness the victory and Patrick Depailler’s European title.

Patrick was 30 years old at the time. An age that seems very advanced today, but back then, nothing in motorsport was possible without a driver’s license. Kart did not yet produce devils trying their luck in this century, and Patrick was the first to use his talents on two wheels. Like one of his illustrious predecessors, Jean-Pierre Beltoise.

Jacques Laffite or the art of living

And he was the European champion Depailler, he explained to me the qualities of the March-BMW F2, he talked with me when I was young in this profession. He analyzed his championship in a quiet and calm voice, smoking a cigarette. I remember he did it later during his F1 victories as well. So on the plane back from the 1979 Spanish Grand Prix, holding his trophy well, he explained his winning race in the Ligier in the same soft voice. , the winner’s. That day, he beat another Ligier member, Jacques Laffite. “Jacquot” came from what we might call the BP sector before moving on to Ligier and Elf colours. But rather than talking about his driving style, which is subtle, very, very subtle and at the same time bold at the highest point, I prefer to say that Laffitte’s name expresses more the art of living: getting up early, doing what he wants. , heckling, throwing terrible tantrums, pampering his release, coming late, casting. I still see him today as a kind of jet-setting wanderer, a lover of the good and the beautiful, and by the way, he won six F1 and was capable of at least two world championships (in 1979 and 1981).

PHILIPPEANZEMBERGER/STUDIOASSET

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Laffit was breath taking to watch… But not a nice friend nor a prankster! One day in Brazil, behind the Ligier grandstand, watching him prepare for the Grand Prix, we found him next to a small Brazilian (several people working on each, a way for these guys). to get money). Mechanical speak? Not worth it! He repeated it in Portuguese: “Depailler om om, Laffite muito bom. “ (Depailler is not good, Lafitte is very good). And the Clermont pilot accepted it, smiling and fatally in front of this shattered Laffitte. Tragically, Depailler killed himself during a private test in an Alfa Romeo before the 1980 German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, a race won by Laffitte ten days later.

The transition from Laffite to his then brother-in-law Jean-Pierre Jabouille is difficult but technically very rewarding. Jacquot was not interested in mechanics, but Jabouille showed himself to be very skilled in this field and, above all, very didactic. That’s why he was the man for the job when the Renault Turbo program was launched in 1977. For us media, he was our gold mine explaining why and how this or that part works. In less than fifty Grands Prix, he has two victories.

Patrick Tambay, elegance incarnate

Two wins are also Patrick Tambay’s tally. Despite winning more than a hundred Grands prix, Patrick flew over F1. Handsome, strong in stature, distinguished by manners, manners and riding, the boy was, above all, elegant, like an excellent skier. At the Paul-Ricard circuit, Volant won the Elf final, becoming the first pure product of the Elf sector, and this performance paved the way for him. Was it really made for F1? His high sophistication perhaps did not prepare him for the “rag-pickers’ battles” involved in this sport. The patient left us in December 2022.

When it comes to scavenger battles, René Arnoux and Didier Pironi had a field day. The first, cabochard, of humble origins, the other was born into a family of entrepreneurs and flew airplanes from an early age. Rene goes down in history as one of the most famous duelists of F1. In 1979, he fought Gilles Villeneuve in Dijon. We are talking about titans: Arnoux and Villeneuve, one at Renault, the other at Ferrari. Today we still enjoy these images of the French Grand Prix. And during the fiftieth anniversary of the circuit, Rene reminded us of all this. In 1982, Didier, who crashed during practice at the German Grand Prix, was to become the first French world champion. Terrible accident that ended his career. This epic of the French legion in Formula 1 fortunately had a happier epilogue in 1985 when Alain Prost won his first world championship title. But that’s another story.

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