Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1979: Asterix would have been proud.
Anybody who is a smoker and has visited France may have had the dubious pleasure of having smoked Gitanes at some stage; a quite foul aroma which maybe explains the reasons why Frenchmen wear onions around their neck – I jest, of course…
It’s easy to forget that the French nation has a rich history in motor-sport. Success has come in different disciplines over the decades with Peugeot, Renault and Citroen predominantly – but you have to include Gordini, Matra and Bugatti to that illustrious list.
The seventies produced a rich seam of talent from the country that had introduced Grand Prix racing to the world and by 1976 the various tangents came together in Vichy in a new Formula One team named Ligier.
Guy Ligier had been a part time racer and in 1968 went into partnership with Jo Schlesser. Sadly Schlesser was killed in the French Grand Prix and Ligier decided to retire from racing. His cars would forever be a tribute to his fallen friend by designating each of the chassis with ” JS ** ”
The original business was based around sports-car racing but by 1974, Ligier had bought the assets of Matra and began making plans for Formula One.
His first lieutenant of note was Gerard Ducarouge. He had worked for Matra since 1965 and had designed the Matra MS80 which Jackie Stewart and Tyrrell used to win the titles in 1969.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not the Renault driven by Jean-Pierre Jabouille that became the first French car driven by a Frenchman to win a World Championship event. That honour was bestowed upon Laffite driving the Ligier-Matra JS7 at the Swedish Grand Prix in 1977.
Finally President Francois Mitterand – a close personal friend – was Ligier’s most powerful ally; over the years he would ‘persuade’ government-owned companies to supply sponsorship to the team in a similar manner to Nazi Germany funding the pre-war Mercedes and Auto-Union teams. The only discernible difference being the Germans were meticulous in their efforts.
On this day the exquisitely liveried Ligier JS11 won its second Grand Prix of the season.
Ducarouge had designed the JS11 as the team’s first ground effect car. The Matra engine had been withdrawn from service and the team had installed the Ford Cosworth DFV as the power unit.
In Argentina, Laffite had romped to victory and only a misfire in the sister car stopped a Gallic 1-2.
In Brazil, the Ligiers qualified first and second and dominated the race.
The remainder of the season failed to measure up to the perfect start; there were eight retirements, a second, three third positions and an eighth place finish and yet Laffite finished a mere fifteen points from the title.
Laffite: “We were quick in the first two races – and we did not really know why. When we were off the pace, it was the same thing – we did not really know why!”
What triggered the complete collapse of the team when they were so competitive?
One popular legend suggests that the teams set-up data had been scribbled on the back of designer Ducarouge’s cigarette packet – when that was thrown away, so was their championship challenge…