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!”
Part-I ended with the crash of Jacques Laffite, which ended his F1 career. His replacement for the remainder of 1986, Alliot, drifted along in F1 for a further five years before trying to enter politics, and becoming a TV commentator. Second driver, Arnoux, hung about a bit longer but, without Laffite, Ligier continued to flounder.
With the withdrawal of Renault, Ligier introduced the JS29 powered by the Alfa Romeo 415T but, in pre- season testing, Arnoux was apparently so vociferous in his disdain for the engine, FIAT, who were apparently keen to end their finance of two F1 teams, simply withdrew the engine from Ligier… who had to quickly respond with the JS29B, fitted with hastily acquired Megatron units… These were old BMW M12 engines, regarded as the most powerful of this turbo era. BMW had ostensibly withdrawn from F1 at the end of 1986, and their engines were acquired by Arrows, who rebadged them as Megatron, and did a deal with Ligier…
. . . “and this (as they used to say on an old radio show) is where the story really starts…”
Arnoux was still onboard, and was joined by the somewhat surprise signing of Piercarlo Ghinzani… partly surprising because he wasn’t French, and partly because, after five years in F1 he had scored just two lucky, and lonely points in Dallas in 1984… and he wasn’t to increase this career total (111 race entries in eight years) in his final three years…
Arnoux finished 6th at Spa (with Ghinzani right behind him, after many top runners had dropped out), to score the teams solitary point of the year. For the French GP they introduced the JS29C which was even less successful, and Ligier had to accept 11th in the Championship.
With the return of N/A engines, alongside the turbos, Ligier adopted the Judd CV V8, for Arnoux and ‘newcomer’, Stefan Johansson, who had just enjoyed a successful year with Ferrari, followed by one with McLaren… Why he was left in the wilderness to join Ligier is anybody’s guess… but his career went downhill fast at this point.
Ironically it was Stefan who had replaced Rene at Ferrari, to support Alboreto, and he was often faster than the Italian and was perhaps surprised to be dropped at the end of 1986. He was quickly grabbed by McLaren to support Prost, and dropped again to make way for Senna – Stefan had been a stop-gap at McLaren who had been unable to extricate Senna from his Lotus contract.
Now he was to drive alongside the man he replaced… but the JS31-Judd was not a success… Both drivers often had difficulty even qualifying (with neither driver getting onto the grid in their home race at Paul Ricard) but it was Stefan who recorded the team’s two best (but point-less) results – 9th in the first and last races of the year… and this really was Ligier’s nadir.
Johansson moved to the new Onyx team, whence he was later fired by Peter Monteverdi (and could have easily asserted, “I’ve been fired from much better teams than this…!”, and moved to IndyCars, where he won Rookie of the Year, but failed to capitalise on it.
Perhaps still grasping at straws Guy replaced Johansson with Olivier Grouillard who… I’m sorry to say… sadly became yet another failed French F1 driver, scoring 1pt. in France before having three dismal seasons with, in turn, Osella, Fondmetal and Tyrrell. Arnoux scored 2pts. from a 5th place in Canada before finally bowing out of F1.
Ligier presented their JS33, now powered by Cosworth DFR, designed by Beaujon, with later alterations by ex- Fittipaldi designer, Richard Devila, which failed to qualify eleven times from thirty-two entries, and retired nine times. Arnoux’s surprise 5th place, and Grouillard’s 6th was enough to ‘reward’ Ligier with just 14th in the Championship.
The car was barely changed, to JS33B spec., and used the same engine, but both drivers were changed: after a further three disappointing years with Larrouse, Philippe Alliot returned to the fold, but nothing improved for him, nor for newcomer, Nicola Larini, who often showed promise but, after two fruitless years with Osella, had only a marginally better year with Ligier…
History doesn’t seem to record why Guy Ligier persevered…
Ligier produced the JS35, updated during the season to JS35B, fitted with the overweight, and under-powered (but, allegedly, free) Lamborghini V12, although this was to be a temporary measure… The drivers were changed again, to Thierry Boutsen and rookie, Erik Comas. Boutsen had enjoyed two good years with Benetton but was dropped in favour of Herbert (who was himself quickly dropped for Emanuele Pirro…), and then increased his record to three wins, and ten additional podiums with two years at Williams, but Williams wanted Mansell, and to retain Patrese, which left Boutsen to scrabble around for a seat. Perhaps Thierry was too ‘nice’, but his ‘slippery-slope’ started here.
Comas had been F3 champion in 1988, and was pipped by Alesi in the 1989 F3000 on ‘count-back’, but won resoundingly in 1990… but he also could do little with the JS35.
At about this time the Magny-Cours circuit, where Ligier was based, and did most of its testing, was updated and renovated… by Mitterrand & Co… It has since been suggested that Magny-Cours had a very different surface and layout to all other circuits which perhaps explains why Ligier usually did quite well here, but were often useless (at this time) elsewhere…
Unmentioned so far here (because it wasn’t yet relevant) Renault had returned to F1, as an engine supplier, in 1989, forging a long and profitable partnership with Williams, and now the (French) powers that be had ‘encouraged’ Renault to supply engines to Ligier… for their JS37, now penned by Frank Dernie, with a little help from his friends… i.e. M.Ducarouge.
Dernie started with Hesketh, in 1976, before joining Williams, then Lotus, and Benetton, having followed closely the movements of Ducarouge. In pre-season testing Alain Prost tried this car, apparently considering joining the team after being sacked from Scuderia Scammell but, allegedly, Ferrari had forked out many, many Lira for him not to drive for another team…
The engines were slightly older models, Ligier using the RS3B when Williams had the RS3C, which were passed to Ligier when Williams moved to the RS4 but this should not have made too much difference – it was just that the Patrick Head / Adrian Newey Williams was such a superior car.
Boutsen managed to finish in the points once, 5th in the final race in Australia, whereas Comas managed 5th in France plus two 6th places (in Canada and Germany), which gave Ligier 8th place in the Championship.
Meanwhile Mansell had been on Pole 14 times in 16 races, recorded fastest lap eight times, and won nine races – amassing more than twice as many points as Schumacher in 3rd, with teammate Patrese taking 2nd, it was a powerfully successful year for Williams.
At the end of the year Boutsen moved to Jordan, was unable to beat newcomer, Barrichello, and was dropped before the end of the season, ending his F1 career, having promised much more. Comas had experienced a life- threatening crash in practice at Spa, being ‘rescued’ by Senna, who supported Eric’s head in a stable position until the medicos arrived. Comas later moved to Larrouse but, after witnessing Senna’s crash in 1994, his heart was no longer in F1.
At this point our story moves into another gear – in fact, it moves into a whole new gearbox – because Guy finally seems to lose his powers of perseverance as he now sells his Ligier F1 Team to politician and businessman, Cyril Hubert Marie Bourlon de Rouvre for, allegedly, 200M Francs. M.Rouvre had previously, in 1989, bought the AGS team but, after spending (allegedly) US$18M, for no return, he was obliged to off-load some of his seventy companies… which included a sugar refinery and a small airline, a ‘finance’ house or two, and a rental catalogue of 650 films, as well as a film-production company, and real estate that included a hotel in Tahiti, much of which he inherited when his father was murdered by his valet…
[I promise, I’m not making this up…!]
Also in 1989 Cyril H. M. B. de Rouvre entered politics. By 1991 AGS lost it’s main ‘promised’ sponsor and Cyril apparently ‘gave’ the AGS team (presumably with its debts as well…) to two Italians… Maybe it was either that or find half a horse on his pillow… Despite all these shenanigans, by the end of 1992, Cyril was the new owner of Ligier, whose fortunes, despite this amazing new heritage, actually improved…
Cyril retrieved the services of Ducarouge, and also the same (ostensibly) RS5 engines as supplied to Williams, and took a risk with two British drivers, the evenly matched, Mark Blundell and Martin Brundle…
Brundle had been in F1 for nine seasons already (after being given 1991 off, for ‘good behaviour’…) but, despite showing ‘promise’, had not once stood on the podium until he drove alongside (and frequently in front of) Schumacher at Benetton but, at the end of 1992, Brundle was unexpectedly dropped from the team – unexpected, that is, to all but Schumacher and ‘Cheatatore’ – and, presumably, Brundle himself…
So Brundle joined Blundell at Ligier… Mark was the newcomer having spent 1991 driving for Brabham, and also testing for Williams… but had been dropped for 1992. Now he had a second chance and made the most of it by gaining the podium in the first race in S.Africa, and again in Germany, plus 5th in Brazil. Mark also out-qualified Martin in the first five races, until Martin got the hang of the car, and they finished with eight each.
Brundle had one podium finish but also a handful of 5th and 6th places to pip Mark in the Championship by 3pts. while Ligier were able to move back up to a more respectable 5th – just 5pts. behind Ferrari, whose ‘truck’ had another bad year.
For reasons that are not widely known Cyril subsequently dropped both drivers. Martin moved to McLaren, and Mark to Tyrrell… A frequent highlight of TV coverage at this time was the difficulty often exhibited by the great Murray Walker in not getting these two guys mixed up in his commentaries.
But now the Sword of Damocles dropped, and Cyril was arrested… for, surprise, surprise, various financial faux pas... in particular regarding a company he acquired in June, 1992, which he stripped, and left with debts of 172M Francs. At the end of 1993 he was incarcerated at the Fleury-Mérogis prison, for two months… Say what…!? Just Two – Months…!? By the time he was in a position to sign documents again he had sold Ligier to… Bona-fide Briatore… who, allegedly, only wanted to strip them of their Renault engines to give to Paul, I mean, to Benetton.
Oh – My – God – it just gets worse and worse… especially for young Cyril who, in 1996, was on trial for having used funds from other companies to finance his motor-racing passion. The prosecution asked for three years, and a twenty-year ban from company management. Cyril received an eighteen-month, suspended sentence, only a three-year ban, and a ‘large’ fine… and they call it: ‘Justice For All’.
Meanwhile Guy used his ‘gains’ to corner the fertilizer market, and create another fortune, while Mitterrand’s Socialist Party collapsed.
I’ve started, so I’ll finish… Nobody seems to want to admit who was running the team this year, or even who was holding the stop-watches, but Ligier arrived with an apparently updated JS39B, which was slower than last year – perhaps it was the drivers, led by ’93 F3000 Champion, Olivier Panis, and Éric Bernard, who had had three disappointing years with Larrouse, followed by a year recuperating from a broken leg, and a year as Ligier test- driver.
Panis was a relatively unknown quantity but he usually out-qualified his teammate and, in Germany led Bernard to a lucky, double Ligier podium in Germany, behind Berger’s Ferrari – that two Footworks, and the two Larrouse’s, took the next four positions indicates it was a race of attrition. Ten cars crashed on the first lap, alone…
After Portugal Bernard was dropped in favour of the return of Johnny Herbert, who had been dropped by Lotus who, in a bizarre exchange, offered Herbert’s seat to Bernard… Herbert only stayed for one race before moving to Benetton (where he had his best season, finishing 4th in the Championship), and the second seat went to Franck Lagorce, who had just placed 2nd in the F3000 Championship, and was the Ligier test-driver. Franck did the last two races of the year, and that was his F1 career speedily done & dusted…
The ‘new-look’ Ligier finished 6th in the Championship.
Still effectively being ‘controlled’ from the Benetton pit, apparently by Flabio’s puppet, Tom Walkinshaw (who later claimed he had been promised the team would become TWR-F1 for 1996), Frank Dernie produced the JS41 (I’m beginning to assume this strange, odd-number system is just to make the company look more prolific…) and, as has been written elsewhere in this series (whenever the sorry name of ‘Cheatatore’ has risen to the top of the
heap), Ligier were now the grateful recipients of Mugen Honda V10s – at the expense of Minardi, who had to scrabble around for alternative power at the last minute, and redesign their car.
At the end of the previous year Ligier had announced Johnny Herbert would be partnering Panis for 1995 but (there’s always a ‘but’…), the late-arriving Mugen power plants were joined by an umbilical cord to Aguri Suzuki… and it was a case of: “There’s Johnny…!” as Herbert exited, Stage Left…! Aguri was later surprised to learn he would be sharing the second car with Martin Brundle, when Martin wasn’t in Murray Walker’s second seat.
This was Aguri’s eighth and final season in F1 amassing a total of eight points during his career. After three races he was dropped in favour of Brundle, who had been dropped by McLaren having, ironically, been replaced there by Mark Blundell… with Mansell flitting briefly in and out in-between both of them, like a Pythonesque butterfly. Meanwhile Cheatatore did the honourable thing and brought Herbert back to Benetton… where he had driven in the last two races of 1994.
There was a brief hiatus with the FIA when it was believed the JS41 was an illegal ‘copy’ of the Benetton B195 (which was not allowed by the regulations) but Walkinshaw put everyone’s mind at rest by declaring: “Mechanically it is totally different and structurally it is quite different as well. Aerodynamically it’s as close as we can make it . . . Of course the damn thing looks the same. But if you go into the detail . . . nothing is interchangeable.” How could one not believe such PR bull-shit…?
Despite all this it was a better year for the resurgent team which moved one place higher, to 5th, at the end of the season.
Still with Panis, Mugen Honda, and Frank Dernie, Ligier entered what was to be their final year, with the JS43 (by my reckoning there were actually only 19 F1 Ligier models…!). Panis was partnered by Pedro Diniz who, after one year of a claimed three-year sponsorship/driver deal at Forti, moved himself and his father’s funds to Ligier (causing the collapse of the Forti outfit), scored two 6th places, when all around him others were losing their wheels… and then took his ill-gotten gains to Arrows… following in the wake of Walkinshaw, who stormed off to buy Arrows, after an ownership row with Guy who (to almost everyone’s amazement) still held 10% of the Ligier team… and perhaps was interested in selling it for a second time. A bit like selling London Bridge to American GIs after The War.
At a wet Monaco GP Panis started from 14th but, as thirteen of the twenty-one starters fell by the wayside, and following an early stop for slicks, Panis moved into the lead, and held it to the end, by which time only he, Coulthard and Herbert were still ‘racing’. It was Panis’ first (and only) F1 GP win, and the first for Ligier in fifteen years, since Lafitte’s victories in 1981. It was a long time coming. It was also the first win at Monaco for a Frenchman in a French car since René Dreyfus’ Bugatti victory in 1930.
With such persistence, and their considerable support (financial and otherwise…) Ligier ought to have done better, and were always expected to do so but, apart from their ‘glory years’ (1979-1981), their cars were either fast but unreliable, or reliable but not fast enough, or just slow and unreliable… but one can say this about most teams, at some time or other.
It does seem that Guy’s dependence on French drivers was not the best strategy, but he was also renowned for not taking prisoners, nor suffering fools gladly, and many people left the team after short spells. On the other hand some people came back for more… so it presumably wasn’t all bad. Maybe as Guy took the bull by its keratinous substances so often it’s not surprising he should come a cropper at times.
Whatever… over the winter the team was now bought by Alain Prost, though it isn’t well known who actually sold it, what the asking price was, nor what Prost actually paid… and nor to whom… Nor whether Guy continued to retain an ‘interest’.
1997-2001 – Prost
Just to wrap up this very long story it is not unreasonable to mention the five-year Prost era if only because the team remained largely unchanged during this period and its soul was much the same as Guy Ligier had created. Normally I always feel that, when a team changes hands, with new personnel, and a new name, it becomes a new team – I would not, for instance, include Force India and Jordan, or Red Bull and Jaguar, in the same article but… my gut reaction is, this is an exception.
So… now for something completely similar…
Maybe the planets were aligned in an inauspicious manner, or the stars were spinning out of control, but the late nineties were a rather volatile time in the world – and in F1 as well. Williams lost Newey to McLaren, and then ‘released’ their Champion driver, Hill, in favour of Heinz-Harold who some thought should have been a champion but who ultimately just didn’t seem to be sufficiently hungry. The Stewart team arrived almost out of nowhere, while Lola disappeared inside a MasterCard black hole. Eddie Irvine was released by Eddie Jordan to Ferrari in return for the latter funding a new wind-tunnel for the former – the first recorded existence of a ‘pay-tunnel’ in F1…
Schumacher had previously shown his gratitude to Cheatatore for coaxing him away from Jordan by coaxing himself away to Ferrari, along with a few (Benetton) friends, which saw a decline of Benetton fortunes, and Larrouse had missed out from the Ligier State Lottery and also disappeared.
Taki Inoue kept being crashed into when he wasn’t even racing, and Mansell seemed to have consumed too many Denny’s ‘Grand Slams’ during his sojourn in IndyCar and couldn’t fit in the McLaren.
Perhaps most bizarre was David Hunt’s announcement that he owned the name, Team Lotus, and had leased it to the Pacific team for 1995. However… Pacific’s driver, Mika Salo, had opted to sign another contract with Tyrrell, which was upheld by the FIA, stating the Team Lotus Salo had previously signed for was not the same Team Lotus that now claimed his services… Hunt later sold the name to AirAsia, who relinquished it to Renault, probably at a great profit… leaving ‘poor’ David Hunt to cry all the way to the pawn shop…
At the end of this odd decade, Ford bought out the Stewart-Ford team and renamed it: Jaguar-Cosworth, and the Ford name disappeared from the F1 grids after 33 years.
1997… That Alain Prost thought he could run an F1 team might have seemed foolhardy to some but, by fair means or foul, he acquired the Ligier GP team which he ran for five years, initially without any changes, apart from the team name – the already-designed JS45 was simply called the Prost JS45, retaining the Mugen-Honda engines, whose umbilical cord had now attached itself to Shinji Nakano, a sort of 90’s Japanese version of ‘Bling Bling’, but without the talent. Nevertheless he managed to score a lucky 1pt. in Canada, and another in Hungary. In 1998, when Mugen cut the umbilical, and moved to Jordan, Shinji moved to Minardi, and then retired.
Panis had a much better year, finishing 3rd behind Berger and Villeneuve in Brazil, and 2nd in Spain behind Villeneuve, and the feeling in the pit-lane was that Prost would win before the end of the year. Unfortunately Panis crashed heavily in Canada, missed seven races, and was replaced by Jarno Trulli, from Minardi who, in Austria, led for the first 37 laps… An engine failure prevented maiden victories for Trulli and Prost but Trulli was retained for 1998, alongside Panis.
Prost finished their first year in 6th place. Murray Walker summed it up thus: “There goes Panis in the Prost. For years we knew them as Ligiers, because that is what they were called.”
1998… saw the arrival of the AP01, now with Peugeot engines, but still with the same design team, with Panis partnered by Jarno Trulli, who had previously replaced Panis after his crash in 1997. As with the second year of Ligier this year was disaster as well, Trulli scoring the teams solitary point at Spa to give them 9th place.
1999… heralded the AP02 which was an improvement, and sometimes qualified well, but the only highlight of the year was Trulli’s surprise podium at the Nurburgring (after starting 10th), sandwiched between the even more surprised Stewart cars (that had started even further back – 14th & 15th), which helped Prost to 7th in the Championship.
On the pitlane it was suggested that Prost’s best driver was the one on the pit wall, and Alain appeared to confirm this myth by happily releasing Panis, as well as describing Trulli’s podium in a press release as ‘a fluke’. For a man with a reputation when driving of understanding man-management this was hardly worthy of him.
2000… said goodbye to Panis, after three years (plus the three before that with Ligier, almost as long as Lafitte’s time), and also to Trulli, who moved to Jordan. Panis turned down an offer with Williams and took a break, as McLaren’s test-driver, followed by two disappointing years with BAR, before renewing his partnership with Trulli at Toyota.
Prost came up with the AP03 (with later input from John Barnard), and signed his Ferrari teammate Jean Alesi, alongside Rookie F3000 Champion, Nick Heidfeld… but the car was a dog, and the year a disaster, and Prost finished the year point-less, in 11th and last place. Some, with unintended pun, said it had now become a pointless exercise.
Frenchman, Alain, now obtusely tried to blame his French engine manufacturer’s lack of power which infuriated Peugeot who went public with their denials before withdrawing their engines altogether. At the same time the Prost team also lost all their main sponsors.
Despite Alain’s previous dismissal from the Scuderia Scammell all was now forgiven as Ferrari provided (Acer badged) engines for 2001. Alesi stayed on, partnered by Pedro de la Rosa, with substantial sponsorship from Repsol but, one week before the first GP, Pedro flew the coop and his Repsol pesetas to Jaguar… and Alesi was joined by virtual unknown, and never to be well-known, Argentinian, Gaston Mazzacane. After four races Alain replaced him with Brazilian, Luciano Burti, ironically freshly sacked by Jaguar. He had two major crashes during the year and was replaced by Czech rookie, Tomas Enge, whose three races for Prost signaled the be all and end all of his F1 career. Burti and Enge between them demolished three cars…
With no major sponsor Alain sold a part of the team to the Diniz Dynasty (which brought a little money from Parmalat, before it, also, was taken elsewhere…), but it was a constant struggle.
In pre-season testing the AP04 performed well but when it became bogged down in the midfield in the races there were suggestions the team had tested an illegal car, to attract sponsorship… and unfortunately, even when this sort of comment is quite untrue, it tends to stick.
At the British GP Alesi crossed swords with Alain and, after throwing his helmet into the crowd at Montreal (complete with radio gear), departed, for Jordan, to replace the just fired Frentzen who, with nowhere else to go, joined Prost. It was an era of musical-chairs, without the jolly music. More like a polka to a funeral-march tempo…
By the end of the season Alain had also locked horns with Diniz & Co. and the murky bottom of the money pit was finally visible. With staff waiting to be paid, and despite Alain, at a press conference, claiming he had sponsors lined up for 2002, a few weeks later, it was all over… Not as in: ‘all over bar the shouting’… nor: ‘not over until the fat lady sings’… But… just… Over…!
That Prost had scored 4pts., and finished 9th in the Championship, was ignored… or forgotten.
Yet another fool-hardy attempt to buy the team – with Walkinshaw (once described as a ‘money-hungry racketeer’) and Cheatatore connections again – purely to ensnare the Prost TV and prize money, came to nothing when the FIA declared the Prost ‘entry’ could not be bought or sold. Phoenix F1 (as the bid was known) collapsed, and was soon followed by Arrows, and then also by TWR, and Ligier/Prost was finally put to rest… although, in 2006, Super Aguri arrived, with 2002 Prost chassis, an indirect result of the Arrows collapse, which resulted from their failure to get their hands on the TV and prize monies.
The facts of the twenty-one years (as Ligier), are of highs and lows. The highs amounted to 9 race wins, 41 additional podiums, 9 Poles and 9 fastest laps – enough to give them second place on this list. The five Prost years added nothing but ignominy.
Meanwhile… Guy Ligier went on to found an ‘economy-car’ company which, as Bruznic has prematurely annnounced, is successful to this day.