Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler: BlackJack’sBriefs
As with my series on drivers, I started with the Wiki ‘List of Formula One Constructors’ and quickly reduced 136 to 43 eligible constructors by removing the Champions, and those hopefuls who failed to last beyond two or three seasons, and also those who only competed before 1958. [See Part-20 – Intro for details.]
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”
Born in Vichy in 1930 Guy Camille Ligier was an orphan turned butcher’s assistant and, as a young man, played rugby for France. When that was over, he bought a bulldozer and worked in the construction industry. In his spare time Guy raced motorcycles, and was French champion in 1959 and 1960, before trying his hand at four wheels, with a F.Junior Elva.
Elva was a small British constructor of attractive sports-cars and single-seaters, founded by Frank Nichol’s in 1955 who, at the time of the ‘trendy’ naming of Lotus and Lola cars, chose the name because it is French (ella va) for ‘she goes’. With Carl Haas as American agent the Elva sports-cars were instantly successful in North America and their first FJ car was advertised in 1960 as costing $2,725 + delivery – from England…
This car was fitted with a BMC (Austin/Morris) engine, before the Ford Anglia engine came on-stream, but in late 1959 Nichols fitted a car with a 2-stroke, 3-cylinder, DKW engine which surprised everyone by winning first time out. Over the winter the orders came ‘flooding’ in but, come 1960, the rear-engined Cooper and Lotus cars reigned supreme and the front-engined Elvas were doomed to wait a few years until they could race as ‘vintage’ cars.
Shortly afterwards the US distributor collapsed, leaving Nichols with major cash-flow problems, and almost an end to his business. He soldiered on for a few more years, making sports cars, and also production models of McLaren sports-cars, but a merger with the Trojan Group (which also imported Lambretta scooters into Britain, and then acquired the manufacturing rights for the Heinkel ‘bubble-car) also came to naught – the new Japanese motorcycles had seen off the Italian two-wheelers, and a change in British taxation rules effectively killed three-wheeled cars.
Nevertheless the Trojan T103, in the hands of Tim Schenken, contested eight rounds of the 1974 World Championship. They only finished three times, and out of the points… but it allows them to shine their light on this site. Schenken is one of only five Australian drivers to stand on an F1 GP podium.
Meanwhile… in western Europe autoroute / motorway / freeway / autostrada construction was booming and Guy made sure he was part of it, forming a large construction empire and in the process befriending Francois Mitterrand – amongst many others…
By the mid-60’s Guy was back on the tracks again, with Porsche sports-cars, and a brief dabble in F2, and then, in 1966 he just decided he could embark on an F1 career… with a private Cooper-Maserati. In his first GP, at Monaco no less, he actually finished 6th, between Ginther and Bonnier in identical cars, although all three were officially unclassified, not having covered 90% of the race distance. With only the first four drivers granted points this race holds the record for the fewest number of classified finishers in an F1 GP.
At Spa (incidentally…, the debut race for the McLaren team) Guy again finished 6th, this time between Ginther and Gurney, but still unclassified,…
At Reims Guy was again unclassified but, at Brands, although he was only 10th, he recorded his first official finish, followed by another at Zandvoort, in 9th place, but then crashed in Germany, and sat out the rest of the season.
After building a few hundred more kilometres of motorway Guy returned in 1967, with the same car, continued to qualify near the back, in Belgium and France and, as Jack Brabham had run away with the 1966 Championship, and Jack and Hulme were doing much the same this year, Guy acquired a 1966 Brabham-Repco, the only privateer ever to get his hands on what had proved to be the most successful car of 1966/67.
However, Guy continued to qualify near the back of the grid, and continued to finish a few laps down so, with perhaps an honest appraisal, Guy Ligier ended his foray into F1 at the end of the season…
. . . and that might have been all. . .
Instead, in 1968, with his close friend, Jo Schlesser, Guy founded Ecurie InterSport, with a pair of McLaren F2 cars – a perhaps odd selection as McLaren was hardly the car of choice at this time, whereas Brabham, and the French Matra were…
Nevertheless the team managed to score a few points, and newcomer, Schlesser, was beginning to be noticed, particularly by Honda, who wanted to gain experience with their new F1, air-cooled V8 car. At the French GP this car was entered by Honda-France, who wanted a French driver, of which there were very few at this time.
Beltoise was busy with Matra, and Servoz-Gavin was making only sporadic appearances and had already been offered a drive in France by Cooper.
Schlesser, no longer a young man, accepted his first offer to drive an F1 car. On the third lap the car slid wide and crashed into a bank, An almost full fuel-tank split and the contents, along with dry straw-bales caused an inferno. Much of the media has repeated ad nauseum the ‘magnesium-myth’ as being the cause of Schlesser’s death though there was no official blame for this at the inquest.
[NB: There is more on this topic in the 4-Honda part of this series.] The distressed Guy Ligier disbanded the F2 team… and this also could have been all…
But, instead, Guy founded Ligier Automobiles, to design and build sports-cars, and was instantly successful. The first car was simply called the ‘JS1’, the initials in honour of Jo Schlesser. The JS2 was a road car, with a Maserati V6, and the JS3 had a Cosworth V8 which, in 1975, finished 2nd at Le Mans.
At the end of 1974/75 Guy acquired the remains of the 1972 Matra F1 assets and returned to his main love… and so, finally… this part of this series of F1 constructors starts here…
The JS5, designed by Gerard Ducarouge (who came with the Matra assets…), powered by the Matra V12, and sponsored by Gitanes, campaigned a full season with a single entry for reigning F2 Champion, Jacques Lafitte… who had also been racing Ligier’s sports-cars for several years, and had completed a full F1 season in 1975 with Frank Williams Racing, taking a 2nd place in Germany.
It was a great debut season, Lafitte taking a 2nd, two 3rd, and two 4th places, as well as Pole at Monza, to put Ligier 5th in the Championship. The car also came first in the contest for over-sized air-boxes…
Ligier retained the services of Lafitte, while Ducarouge created the JS7, which initially failed to perform well but, in the USGP-West Lafitte managed to qualify 5th, and kept the car going for all but the last two laps of the race. At Jarama Lafitte was on the front row of the grid but a puncture left him a lap down in 7th, after he had recorded the fastest lap.
After a couple more poor races Lafitte qualified 8th for the Swedish GP and fought his way to the front to take his and Ligier’s first F1 GP win – in just their second season. Would that that were still possible today. It was also the first F1 GP win for a French driver in a French car with a French engine.
At Silverstone Lafitte took another point for 6th, qualified well in, but retired from, the next two races, and turned up trumps again in Holland. Starting from 2nd, Lafitte took the lead after Andretti and Hunt collided, was then obliged to give best to Lauda’s Ferrari, but managed to finish 2nd, just two seconds behind.
With so many top drivers retiring or crashing Patrick Tambay was surprised to find himself running in 3rd in a privately entered Ensign but he ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap and was classified 5th… [NB: As is my wont, in this series, I had intended to include here a piece about the Ensign team but this episode has proved too long on its own… Maybe next year…]
Lafitte ran out the rest of the year by taking 5th in Japan (where he was joined for the one race by Jean-Pierre Jarier) but, despite the win and the second podium, the team dropped to 8th in the Championship… and Lafitte dropped from 7th to 10th in the Drivers’ Championship.
Ligier retained the same JS7 for the first two races, as the new JS9, was late appearing. Indeed, after the first two races, Ligier arrived in S.Africa with an interim JS7/JS9 and in four races took three 5th places. The new JS9 arrived in time for Spain and, first time out, took 3rd, behind the two Lotus cars… which was repeated in Germany, followed by a couple more points finishes to move both Ligier and Lafitte back up the final lists again, though not quite as good as in 1976
It is perhaps pertinent that Lafitte invariably finished higher than he usually qualified…
This year brought big changes; the Matra V12, after eleven years doing a much better job than many of it’s competitors, was withdrawn by Matra, and the team were obliged to acquire the now ubiquitous (non French) Cosworth DFV. They also fielded a second car, for Patrick Depailler who, in six years with Tyrrell, had scored 1 win, and 16 podiums.
With two top-class drivers, Ligier moved into a 3-year high-spell of their existence.
The new, ground-effect, JS11 was an instant success, with Lafitte recording pole, fastest lap, and victory in the first two races – both of them…! while Depailler won the fifth race. He also posted fastest lap at Monaco, while Lafitte scored two more poles… It was a very good year and put Ligier firmly in 3rd spot in the Championship, behind Ferrari and Williams. Lafitte took 4th, with Depailler 7th, despite completing less than half the season, after a hang- gliding accident smashed both his legs.
Depailler was replaced by Jacky Ickx, who had virtually retired from F1 at the end of 1976, and was unable to match Lafitte’s pace. Depailler did return in 1980, with Alfa Romeo, and was still fast, but sadly he died in a test at Hockenheim when his car mounted the barrier and flipped over.
Lafitte, still loyal, was now joined by Didier Pironi, after two years and two podiums in the under-financed Tyrrell. He would continue to show his talent with Ligier, and was snapped up by Ferrari for 1981 – Didier seemed destined to play out his life elsewhere…
Ducarouge continued to develop the car, into the JS11/15, and the aerodynamics and ground-effects were now so effective, the pressure on the suspension and wheel-hubs was causing breakages – ‘weakest-link’ syndrome… Without these failures Ligier would have fought for both Championships but, in the end came 2nd, behind the all- conquering Williams. The team collected two wins (one each to Lafitte and Pironi), eight podiums (four each), three fastest laps (two to Pironi), and three poles (two to Pironi), with Pironi just ahead on qualifying performance – but in the Championship Lafitte just pipped Pironi, 34 – 32, for 4th & 5th.
To everyone’s surprise Ligier now performed an unexpected about-turn, and reinstalled updated Matra engines in the JS17, re-badged as Talbot, along with sponsorship deals with several French public companies, negotiated by good friend, Mitterrand.
Lafitte was joined by Jean-Pierre Jarier, whose best season had been 1979, with Tyrrell, but he didn’t seem to get to grips with the car (or perhaps with Guy) and was replaced after two races by Jean-Pierre Jabouille, who was also heading for his ‘last roundup’ season in F1. With Renault, in 1979 and 1980 Jabouille had many stirling drives but scored points on just two occasions – although both with wins. He had a great time in F2, from 1974-76 but sadly never quite got it together in F1.
In his final five F1 races he failed to qualify twice, retired twice, and was unclassified once… while Lafitte was plugging away and had so far finished on the podium three times, and started in Spain from Pole.
In France Patrick Tambay was drafted into the team. After success in CanAm, Tambay entered F1 in 1977 for half a dozen races, and impressed someone enough to spend two disappointing years at McLaren, before going back to CanAm. For Ligier he entered the final eight rounds, and retired from every one. Nevertheless he also seemed to impress someone at Ferrari, where he subsequently spent two very successful years, while Lafitte carried on, regardless, recording Pole in Spain, fastest lap, and victory, in Austria, along with another victory in Canada, and two more podiums.
Mid-season the apparently increasingly irascible Guy fired Gerard Ducarouge and, after being Championship contenders for the first half of the season, the team fell about during the second half, as Guy seemed to be floundering.
Lafitte made the highest points score of his career, to take a third consecutive 4th in the Championship (two wins, two 2nd, and three 3rd places) but he couldn’t do it all alone. The second car didn’t score a single point all year long, and Ligier dropped to 4th in the championship.
It seems that, much as Stirling Moss might have been more successful if he hadn’t preferred to drive British cars, Guy might have done better if he had been less partial to French drivers… but perhaps that had been a condition of all his ‘State’ funding…
And so ended Ligier’s Golden Years.
Ducarouge moved along the pit-lane to Alfa Romeo, where he seemed to become the ‘patsy’ and was later fired again but, after the death of Colin Chapman, he joined Lotus… and really made a name for himself… but… he would return…
[Incidentally, on a completely different note, if you’re playing poker with strangers, and you fail to work out who’s the ‘patsy’, you are the patsy…]
Still with Lafitte (for his seventh consecutive year – surely the longest stint any driver remained with one team, until Schumacher’s eleven years at Ferrari) and the Talbot V12, A new JS19 was penned by Michael Beaujon, who had moved to Ligier from Matra with Ducarouge, and Eddie Cheever, another driver who did well in F2 but never quite made the upgrade, took the second seat. The team ran the previous year’s JS17B for the first half of the season but, unfortunately the new car was less successful than the older model. Lafitte managed one podium, in Austria while Cheever scored three, and was quickly snapped up by Renault.
Ligier dropped to 8th in the Championship… and Jacques Lafitte finally upped-sticks – to two poor years with Williams… but… he also would be back…
Ligier reverted to Cosworth for their power, and adapted the JS19 to become the JS21 (three chassis were just converted earlier models), while Jean-Pierre Jarier returned to the fold. Remember… he had had a one-off appearance for Ligier in Japan in 1977, and the first two races of 1981 (after a decent year with Tyrrell in 1979), before being shown the door by Guy… Well, after wasting a year or two at Osella, Jarier was now back as Ligier’s No.1 driver – for the final year of his F1 career. Somehow it just didn’t make any sense.
Guy Ligier seemed to have ‘lost the plot’ and added to his problems by partnering Jarier with Brazilian, Raul Bosel, whose previous year in F1, with March, had mostly resulted in retirements and failures to qualify. He did little better during his one year with Ligier and moved on to IndyCars… where his results were steady, if unspectacular…
M.Mitterrand, now President of France, came to Guy’s aid by ‘arranging’ for a supply of Renault turbo engines, along with further sponsorship from major state companies: Gitanes, Loto and Elf – presumably, without this support, Ligier would have now folded.
Nevertheless, whether it was the cars or the drivers, Ligier, for the first time, failed to score a single point throughout the year, and were unclassified in the Championship…
. . . and yet this was not to be their worst year…
While George Orwell was turning in his grave (as people laughed at the failure of his prediction, arrogantly not realising Orwell was just slightly premature with his ‘convenient’ date…), Guy just turned gay pirouettes on the spot as he first signed the virtually unknown (but French…) F3 campaigner, Francois Hesnault… and partnered him with… wait for it… the F1 ‘star’ of the early 80‘s… Andrea de Cesaris… What on earth was Guy thinking…?
It seems almost unfair to review this season of the Ligier story. In the JS23 de Cesaris scored a 5th and a 6th to put Ligier 9th in the Championship. Hesnault did nothing… and moved to Brabham – Say what…!? – whence he was fired after four races, and one major crash, signifying the end of another French career.
Guy Ligier seemed to relent, and welcomed Lafitte back to his hearth. Ligier retained the Renault engines, and de Cesaris (who miraculously retained his personal Marlboro sponsorship), but Andrea was eventually fired by an irate Guy: “I can no longer afford to employ this man…!” after a spectacular crash in Austria. De Cesaris apparently returned to the pits and told Guy the engine had stalled, without declaring this had happened after he had crashed…
Philippe Streiff, after one race the previous year with Renault, stepped into the breech, and managed to get onto the podium in the final race of the season, right behind Lafitte, who took 2nd, to Rosberg’s Williams. However, at the end of the race, with both cars in safe 2nd & 3rd places, Streiff stupidly tried to pass Lafitte, and ‘did-a-Rosberg’ – (‘junior’, that is…). Lafitte was able to continue but Streiff had to limp round the final lap with one wheel barely attached… It was classed as a ‘racing-incident’ but Guy was furious, ‘did-a-Lauda’, and refused to re-sign him for a second year – another shortened French career, that might have been better.
Lafitte also took two other podium positions which helped Ligier to climb back up the list, to 6th spot in the Championship.
Somehow de Cesaris continued his career for a further ten years, mostly with impoverished teams who were prepared to juggle his crash costs with his Marlboro money. Streiff had two years with Tyrrell and one with AGS (see Part-19 of this series) before a testing crash consigned him to a wheelchair.
This was another turning-point year for Ligier… Lafitte stayed again, Michel Tétu worked with Michael Beaujon on the JS27 (I have no idea what happened to all the even numbered cars…), and the second car was offered to Rene Arnoux, who had sat out the 1985 season after the first race, following a major personal schism with Enzo Ferrari [See Part-13 of my Drivers’ series, for details]. Arnoux’s Ligier days (four years, in total) were not to be as successful as his time with Ferrari but, this year at least, he achieved half a dozen low points finishes.
Lafitte, as usual, doggedly notched up his score, with two podiums… until the British GP changed everything… On the opening lap Lafitte was involved in a multiple crash, breaking both his legs, which ended his F1 career, after tying the record for the most number of race starts – 176 with Graham Hill. As the race was declared void, and started again (rather than re-started), Lafitte was classified as a non-starter, otherwise he would have created a new record.
Jacques recovered and drove touring cars and sports-cars for a while, but is best known now, at least in France, as a commentator on TF1 where, in 1997, he swore on live TV as Schumacher and Villeneuve collided…
In his first two years in the European F2 Championship Lafitte finished 3rd and 1st. In 13 years in F1 he three times finished 4th in the Championship. He had two years with Frank Williams Racing, seven with Ligier, another two years with Williams, and a final two with Ligier. Many will argue he deserved more… or should have done better… In my list of twenty drivers who didn’t win a championship Jacques came just outside, but higher than any other driver of his era.
Jacques was replaced by Philippe Alliot, a sort of Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none… who scored one point.
Meanwhile Arnoux invariably out-qualified his teammates, and finished 10th in the Championship, although Lafitte finished 8th after only half a season… and Ligier recovered from their doldrums to take 5th.
The JS27 was the last properly competitive car to appear from Ligier. It was also the last Ligier to lead a GP for ten years.
Part II of 2nd-Ligier will appear next week