Teams Jean Alesi
241Amato AlesiBy Jeremy McMullen
It is entirely likely, throughout the entirety of European history, there has ever been a more Italian man than the Frenchman Jean Alesi. Undoubtedly due to his hard-charging style, the Tifosi would be left forlorn after his departure from the Scuderia in 1995. It would be a sentiment that would seem to follow him wherever he went. No matter the highs, or the numerous lows, Alesi retained a special place in everyone's heart.
The blurring of national identities would start from the very beginning. Birthed on the 11th of June, 1964 to Sicilian parents, Jean would actually be born Giovanni Alesi. The Italian roots were obvious. However, Giovanni would be born in Avignon, France, just about an hour north of Marseille. One couldn't get much more fleur-de-lys or vin than that. Thus, Giovanni would become Jean and the Sicilian side would be flavored with more than a pinch of French seasoning.
Initially, Alesi's affection would trend toward rallying. However, by the mid-1980s, he would be at the wheel of single-seaters getting his start in the French Renault 5 championship. Having practically no sponsorship money, Jean would have to earn everything on merit. This hard driving style would lead to a drive in Formula 3.
Jean would be immediately successful at the next level finishing as runner-up in the championship in his first full season in Formula 3. However, the following year, he would improve that much more and would end up taking the championship.
The championship meant a drive in Formula 3000. Driving for Oreca in 1988, the French-Sicilian would find the road much more difficult. The team's Reynard 88 would give them fits and would leave him struggling for even points-paying positions.
Alesi's battling driving style would catch the eye of none other than the Irishman Eddie Jordan. Jordan's team would be one of the best teams in Formula 3000 and the French-Sicilian seemed the ideal fit. Therefore, Alesi would be offered a drive for 1989. This would be game-changing for Jean as it would not only renew his passion for motor racing, it would also provide opportunities he likely would not have had otherwise.
The 1989 season would start out strongly with a victory at Pau followed by a 2nd and two more victories, back-to-back, later on in the season. After a trying 1988 season, Alesi was clearly leading the way in the championship well before the last round of the championship.
The success on the track would be opening doors Jean knew nothing about. Besides Formula One lying on the horizon, Alesi would join Team Schuppan driving a Porsche 962C in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Co-driving with Will Hoy and Dominic Dobson, Alesi appeared to have a chance at conquering Le Mans. Unfortunately, after just 69 laps, his race would come to an end. It would also spell the end of Alesi's career at Le Mans for more than two decades.
At the same time Alesi's career was on the rise, Michele Alboreto would depart Tyrrell just prior to the French Grand Prix. Desperate to find a driver that could come in without much notice and be fast, Tyrrell would give the nod to Alesi. He seemed the perfect man to fill the role. It was the French Grand Prix and Jean was a Frenchman from the same vein as those that sacrificed so dearly during the French Revolution. The French already had the calculating professor Alain Prost. What they really needed was a Louis IX, a man not afraid to charge into seemingly impossible odds and fight the very best. Alesi was that man.
Jean would immediately make his mark. Despite driving an inferior car, he would guide the Tyrrell 018 to a fine 4th place finish. Bearing a helmet design resurrecting Elio de Angelis' memory, Jean had arrived in Formula One and two more points-paying finishes in Italy and Spain would only cement that fact.
Tyrrell had visions of reclaiming former grandeur. It also needed to survive. In Alesi, the team saw a man that could do both. Therefore, he would be retained for the 1990 season. Firmly implanted within the team, everyone in and around Formula One looked forward to what Jean could do. Yes, Senna and Prost dominated the headlines, but Alesi seemed poised to take advantage of any misstep.
Any misstep…Jean would prove in the very first race of the 1990 season, the United States Grand Prix, that he wouldn't need a misstep. He would simply earn the results by sheer determination.
In his debut for Tyrrell the year before, Alesi would run as high as second place at one point behind Alain Prost. At Phoenix, Alesi would take the lead straightaway and would brilliantly battle with none other than Aryton Senna to retain the lead. Lap after lap, Alesi would prove the Brazilian's equal. Senna would take the lead, but Alesi would battle back to retake the spot. It wouldn't be until lap 35 that Alesi lost the lead for good. He would finish 2nd that day, but in the minds of Formula One fans the world over they had found Gille Villeneuve reborn.
Aided by the revolutionary 019, Jean would prove the performance on the streets of Phoenix was not a figment of anyone's imagination. At the Monaco Grand Prix, Alesi would stick the car third on the grid right beside Prost. Nothing, not even a balked start that would erase a fine move on Prost to take over second place, could hold Alesi back who would end up performing brilliantly to finish second yet again!
Jean was intriguing. Here was the man of mixed descent mixing it up with the very best so early in his career. It appeared another champion had entered the picture, one who drove hard and fought for everything he got precisely because he didn't have the best car on the grid. This endeared him to the fans and only seemed to signal a career filled with victory after victory.
Although he would start the 1990 season with two second place finishes out of the first four races, the remainder of the season would not be kind to the V8-powered Tyrrell. No more points would befall Jean and he would finish the year 9th in the standings, but the Frenchman had made his mark and he had garnered the attention of a very important team.
Scuderia Ferrari had their hard-charging lion and the Tifosi loved him. However, in 1991, Nigel Mansell would semi-retire from racing and would end up with Williams. This left a seat open at Ferrari, but it was necessary to fill that seat with a man that Enzo Ferrari would have loved. The answer was simple.
Alesi would join Ferrari for the start of the 1991 season. At the time, the team appeared to be one of the best in Formula One. However, as the season wore on, the Maranello outfit began to slip from the top-tier ranks. Before the end of the season, Alain Prost would be sacked for criticism of the car. Jean would be happy to earn three 3rd place finishes…all was beginning to go wrong at the Scuderia.
Driving for Ferrari had always had an aura to it. Sadly, it was becoming a liability to Alesi's career. The raving supporters desperately needed someone they could cling on to in hope. The French-Sicilian would fill that role and would forever be changed by the experience.
Alesi's time at Ferrari was a difficult one. Before coming to the team he had been tipped for greatness. He should have been losing count of victories. Instead, he would find himself without one right up through the 1994 season, but he understood his role. He understood what he needed to do. He needed to keep the ship afloat anyway he knew how. Thankfully, in 1995, Jean would be rewarded for his sacrifice and the Tifosi would forever enshrine him within their hearts.
Ferrari would introduce its 412T2 at the start of the 1995 season. And, while conventional in its appearance to its competitors, it did represent a step in the right direction. The fruits of the team's labors would be immediate. Alesi would manage a 5th place result in the Brazilian Grand Prix and would follow those up with two-straight second place finishes. The strong start would continue through the next couple of races. Then the season arrived in Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.
The starting grid for the race appeared normal enough with Michael Schumacher on pole with Damon Hill alongside in second. Jean Alesi would start the race from a rather demure 5th place on the grid just looking to get back on track after a couple of bad races. However, after just a few laps, the normal would turn strange as Alesi would begin turning fastest laps of the race and would start to draw in Hill and Schumacher at the front of the field.
Schumacher would respond and it looked, early on, as though the German was going to run away with the race. Hill dropped behind Alesi with problems but the Benetton had a seemingly insurmountable lead, that is, until, an electrical problem slowed the World Champion. Suddenly, Alesi found himself in the lead of the race without any real competition. After years of hard work and numerous second places, Jean could look after his Ferrari and relatively cruise to his first victory in Formula One.
It would be a momentous victory for Alesi and Ferrari. Not only would it help to restore the hopes of Ferrari and the faithful, but it would be a fitting reward for the Frenchman that had sacrificed for so many years, especially at Ferrari, providing the racing team and fans hope, as would be witnessed by the waves of fans that would stream onto the track with cars still running at speed. Alesi was now the beloved of the Tifosi.
Two more second place finishes in the British and European Grand Prix meant Alesi finished the season 5th in the standings, tying his personal best in Formula One.
Sadly, the victory in Canada would be the highlight of what would be the final season with Scuderia Ferrari. Alesi had helped the team weather the storm, but the team was looking at another to take them back to prominence. Negotiations would take place and the result would be, in the end, a swap. Schumacher would come to Ferrari, Alesi would move to Benetton.
Departing Scuderia Ferrari after the 1995 season likely brought about forlorn hearts among the Tifosi, especially after his most successful season with the team. Unfortunately for Alesi, allegiances would quickly turn. Still, Jean would find good pasture with Benetton. After a flurry of podium results at the wheel of the B196, he would finish the 1996 season 4th in the standings, his best ever in Formula One. He would follow it up with another 4th in the standings the very next year.
Jean's arrival at Benetton would be similar to that of Ferrari. Despite his best ever results in the World Championship, Benetton was a team on the decline. This left Jean looking for another competitive drive. Suddenly, the man that many had tipped to be a multiple race winner and possible World Champion would be starving for a competitive drive.
Alesi would join Red Bull Sauber Petronas in 1998 and would manage to pull off an incredible 3rd place in the Belgian Grand Prix, but it would be the only time over the remaining four years of his Formula One career the Frenchman would ever stand on the podium. It would be one of the few times in which he would even score a championship point.
Jean Alesi's Formula One career would come to an end at the end of the 2001 season while driving with Jordan Honda after two disappointing seasons with Prost. Alesi would finish his Formula One career much the same way he had begun it—with Eddie Jordan. Eddie had believed in him and had a special place in his heart for him. Jean would repay that favor with a 6th place result in the Belgian Grand Prix and an unfortunate bow-out in the Japanese Grand Prix.
A Formula One career at an end, Jean had to look for another way in which to exercise his need for speed. In 2002, this desire to keep racing would lead to a drive with the HWA Team in the DTM series.
The DTM series offered Alesi a fresh challenge in a competitive, but much more relaxed setting than the highly secretive world of Formula One. Alesi would relish this new opportunity and would thrive having a competitive drive. Proving that he was not at all too old, Jean would end up fifth in the series standings in 2002 having scored two wins out of 20 races.
The following season there would be just a total of ten rounds of the championship. Yet, despite the fewer chances for victory, Alesi would still come through to score two victories and would end up 5th in the championship once again.
The next couple of seasons with the HWA Team would not be as fruitful and competitive. Over the course of twenty-two rounds Jean would score a number of top ten results but the victories would be hard to come by. Nonetheless, at the first round of the 2005 season Jean would come through to take what was his fifth DTM victory.
Following what would end up being a rather uncompetitive 2006 season driving for Persson Motorsport, Alesi would leave DTM and would seek out pastures new, and some old.
In 2010, Jean would lend his talents to the AF Corse sportscar team. Alesi was back with Ferrari and it was an exciting situation. Driving with fellow former Formula One driver Giancarlo Fisichella and Tony Vilander, Alesi would finally get that result at Le Mans he had missed out on some 20 years earlier. Sharing driving duties in a F430, Alesi would help the team complete 323 laps and finish 4th in class.
Having survived Le Mans, Jean looked to the other race as part of motorsport's triple crown, the Indianapolis 500.
Gaining a spot in the 33 car field would not be easy and it would come down to a last minute qualifying run to garner the final spot on the grid. In spite of the more than a quarter of a million spectators present, there was really nothing Alesi could do to delight the crowd. The only tool that would be available to him to delight the crowd was his famous name as his race would come to an end after just a dozen laps as a result of a car that could not maintain a high enough average speed to stay in the race. It would be a truly disappointing Indianapolis experience watching a man that had stunned crowds the world over with his hard-charging driving style struggle so much at the tail-end of the field. But, to Jean, he had done it. He had raced at Indy. It was enough; Jean would step away from racing after that.
Jean would only step away from racing behind the wheel. From 2013 onwards he would serve as an ambassador for Pirelli, Lotus and would be a somewhat familiar sight around the Formula One paddock.
However, Jean also enjoyed a rather quieter life outside of racing as well. Married to Japanese model and singer Kumiko Goto, Jean continues to live just outside of his native Avignon and has become a well-respected connoisseur of wine owning his own vineyard.
Were he to have never taken part in a Formula One race, the motorsports community would have been at a lost and it never would have known it. Charismatic and passionate, hard-working and humble, there was so much to love watching Alesi do battle out on track. Perhaps the champion that was never really given the opportunity, Jean never seemed to mind and, instead, relished those hard days carrying the fragile hopes of fans the world over. For that, in many respects, he will always be the beloved peoples' champion.Sources:
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