Teams Jean-Pierre Alain Jabouille
Races: 55Career Points:
21Jean-Pierre Jabouille: Setting the MarkBy Jeremy McMullen
It is fitting, as Formula One prepares to reintroduce turbocharged engines to the World Championship, to recall the man that earned the very first victory for a turbocharged car in Formula One. It is also fitting to recall the man that was as comfortable penning designs as he was driving them.
Jean-Pierre Jabouille would prove it doesn't matter at what age one starts. What matters is that one starts. Born on the 1st of October in 1942 in Paris, France, Jean-Pierre would be born at the height of German occupation in France. Growing up after the war, other things would occupy Jabouille's mind than motor racing. However, what he would become interested in, what would occupy his mind, and time, would end up being very handy for later on down the road.
Throughout his early years, Jabouille would be interested in art. In fact, he would end up studying art at Sorbonne for a short period of time. This all made sense given he had been born in Paris where art and architecture are in abundance. This love of art would, rather quickly, turn into a love for the mechanical arts, particularly engineering.
At a relatively late age of 22, Jean-Pierre would finally dip his toe in what was the engineer's ultimate playground. At the wheel of his own Alpine road car, Jabouille would line up to take part in the Mont Dore hillclimb. The result would be that Jean-Pierre was hooked on motor racing from that moment on, both from the driving side and the mechanical.
By 1966, Jean-Pierre would be taking part in the Renault 8 Gordini series. This was a relatively new series and would really require those participating to look after and maintain their own cars. This was perfect for the Parisian as he would quickly fall in love with technical things, such as suspension and engines. This passion would turn into something of a business as he would end up not only preparing his own car but, also, that of friend Jacques Laffite.
In 1967, Jabouille would move up to French Formula Three driving a Brabham he had purchased with his own money. He would end up battling against other drivers like Francois Cevert. While taking part in the series, Jean-Pierre would continue to maintain his own car and this would be quite impressive as it would lead to a runner-up result behind Cevert. This would be achieved with an ex-factory Matra that Jabouille managed to buy and maintain all on his own.
So not only was Jean-Pierre proving to be a rather talented driver, but he was certainly impressive in his skills as a mechanic and technician. He was truly one of a rare breed that could not only drive, but that could also understand what a car needed in order to go quicker. This technical ability made him invaluable as a test and development driver, and, in 1969, he would be contracted to Alpine to be one of their development drivers. He would continue to take part in Formula 3 at the same time but would actually be a part of the Alpine-Renault team for that season.
While doing development work for Alpine, Jabouille would take part in Formula 2. This would be a rather long experience in the series as many years would be interrupted with a lack of funds or teams pulling out of the sport altogether. This is what happened with Matra at the end of the 1974 season.
Throughout this long period of time competing in Formula 2 Jean-Pierre would also take part in a number of sportscar races. This was a rather perfect place for the Frenchman to improve his talents as the longer endurance races required his talents as a technically-minded driver.
The first forays into sportscar racing for Jabouille would actually come back in 1966 when he would compete with a Marcos Mini GT in such races as the Monza 1000 Kilometers and the Paris 1000 Kilometers. In 1968, he would take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the very first time. Co-driving with Jean Guichet in an Alpine A220, Jean-Pierre would start the French classic from 18th on the grid. Unfortunately, alternator problems would bring that first race to an early end.
Then, in 1969, the true talent of Jabouille would be put on display for all to see. At Dijon, taking part in a sportscar race with an Alpine, Jabouille would come through to earn his first victory of any kind. It would be that same year that he would be contracted to drive for Alpine. Jabouille's career was starting to climb, although the ascent would be rather slow.
Throughout a difficult period of time in which Jabouille would become a mainstay in Formula 2, he would be rather busy taking part in sportscar races. Suffering another early retirement at Le Mans in 1970, Jean-Pierre would help an all-French squad of drivers come away with a 2nd place result in the Tour de France. In that race Jabouille would be driving a Matra MS650 and this would mark the beginning of a relationship between the two that would last until Matra pulled out of racing at the end of 1974.
Besides driving for Matra in certain events, Jabouille would also take part in the European 2-liter Championship Paul Ricard starting in 1971. In that series he would be driving a Lola T212 and would prove to be quite successful. It would start with a 5th place in the first race and then a victory in the second. In that second race Jabouille would partner with a certain Austrian by the name of Helmut Marko.
This would lead to Jabouille participating in the European 2-liter Championship Imola later in 1971. Driving for Abarth Corse, he would come away with a 2nd place in the event. This would be followed up with a 2nd place result at the Tour de France at the wheel of a Ferrari 512 M entered by Escuderia Mantjuich.
Throughout 1972 and 1973 Jean-Pierre would take part in fewer sportscar events and would have some decent results including a couple of top five results. The highlight during the period would undoubtedly come at Le Mans in 1973 when he co-drove with Jean-Pierre Jaussaud and earned a 3rd place overall result at the wheel of a Matra MS670B.
Jabouille would repeat the feat the following year. That time he would partner with Francois Migault in a Matra MS670C. However, following the highlight of Le Mans there would be the news of Matra's departure from motor racing. Therefore, Jabouille would have to look to another manufacturer for which he could compete. He was still a developmental driver for Alpine. Therefore, he and Jean-Claude Guenard would take an Alpine Formula 2 car and would make some changes to it in order to compete in some Formula 2 races. This would result in Jabouille earning a victory. The victory would come at Hockenheim in early June of '74. Driving his own Alpine for Ecurie Elf, Jabouille would manage to hold off Jacques Laffite and Hans Joachim Stuck for the victory.
Elf had been persuaded to fund Jabouille's effort in Formula 2 in 1974 and their faith would be rewarded with the victory at Hockenheim. This would lead Elf to reward Jabouille with greater funding for 1975. Jean-Pierre's abilities as a car builder and engineer would be recognized. Therefore, Jabouille would be encouraged to end his ties with Alpine and would throw his time and energies into building his own Formula 2 cars. This was a huge undertaking and quite a statement as to the Frenchman's abilities in and out of the car.
The effort would be a rewarding one as Jabouille would take his own new car to victory at Magny Cours and Salzburg. In the end, the partnership would be quite successful in its very first year. The partnership would also lead to Jabouille making his Formula One debut.
Actually, Jabouille would make a couple attempts at a debut in Formula One and they would both come in 1974. The Frenchman's star, especially as a technical driver, was really beginning to rise. The strong results at Le Mans were certainly very helpful. Unfortunately, those first couple attempts at Formula One would be not nearly as successful. In fact, in both cases, when he first drove for Frank Williams and then Team Surtees, the result would be that he would fail to qualify.
In 1975, Jabouille would be entered in the French Grand Prix as part of Elf Team Tyrrell. This would be a great opportunity for the Parisian. He had raced against Francois Cevert in the past and this was to be the team in which he was to become the number one driver after Jackie Stewart retired. That all tragically changed at Watkins Glen. However, for Jabouille, it was a great opportunity to show what he could do on the grand Formula One stage.
The debut would be less than spectacular. Though he would finish the race he would end up well down in 12th place. Still, he had gained some valuable experience and it helped to shape his career.
Following the actual debut in Formula One, Jabouille would go back to Formula 2 and would be focused on winning that championship, which he would finally do in 1976. He had first taken part in Formula 2 starting back in 1970 and he had finally earned the title. This would set the stage for what he would be most remembered, at least within Formula One circles.
Renault was looking to develop a new turbocharged engine for use in Formula One. One of Renault's major backers would be Elf, the same company that had also funded Jabouille's efforts. Jean-Pierre would catch wind of the proposal and would throw his name into the ring wanting to be a part of the experience. He would be snatched up as Renault would get not only a talented driver, but also, a technical driver that would be able to help identify weaknesses and points that could be improved upon.
Right away Jabouille's worth would become apparent. The project would be more than just an engine. Renault would want an all-new chassis and body design as well. This meant a lot of work for Jabouille and the team. Immediately the Frenchman's input would be invaluable. Though he had very little Formula One experience his engineering talents made him aware of short-comings and possible solutions when many other drivers would have no clue as to what to do. This would be very apparent during the testing phase when the engine presented more than its fair share of problems.
Having so many things to test, Jabouille would quickly grow frustrated with the car's inability to go more than 5 laps before breaking. Then there was a problem with the 1.5-liter engine. The engine had power but because of the turbo lag there would be a large area in which the engine would produce very little power until the turbo kicked in. Even the engineers would not understand what was happening. Jabouille would know right away what the solution would be. He would suggest using the 2.0-liter prototype engine instead. That little extra power from the engine, coupled with the brute force of the turbo would result in the car gaining some 2 seconds per lap from what it had been lapping earlier.
Despite Jabouille's intellect behind the wheel and in the garage, the simple fact of the matter would be the new engine was untested and proving to be very fragile. Its first four races in 1977 would result in retirements. The 1978 season would be worse as Jean-Pierre suffered no less than nine retirements. However, the 1979 would be somewhat of a different story.
The Renault RS01 chassis had shown very short flashes of brilliance. But in 1979, Jabouille would manage to take pole at the South African Grand Prix. This would be followed by two more pole positions at the French Grand Prix and the Italian Grand Prix. But the biggest moment would come at the French Grand Prix held at Dijon on the first of July.
The race would be remembered in Formula One history as the titanic duel between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux. These two would battle side-by-side throughout the last moments of the race and would produce moments of racing each and every Formula One fan expected at every single race from then on. What is lost to memory is that the fight was for 2nd place and that another memorable moment was taking place some 15 seconds up the road.
In his 27th start, the Frenchman, Jabouille, would be guiding his turbocharged Renault home to a historic first win. It was the French Grand Prix and it would be taken by a French driver piloting a French car. The French faithful would be absolutely beside themselves in a truly moving rush of patriotism. In all of the excitement, with what was happening behind him, Jabouille's first Formula One victory, first of just two, remains one of the most forgotten about wins in Formula One history.
At the age of 36 at the time of the victory, Jabouille would be one of the oldest drivers to ever win their first Formula One victory. His second, and last, Formula One victory would come the following season, again while driving Renault. It would come at the Austrian Grand Prix and would be one of just two race finishes he would have all season long. It was clear this was not the Renault team that would become such a force with Alain Prost behind the wheel, but if it was not for the work performed by Jabouille even those days may not have come.
Following his retirement from Formula One after just a few races in 1981, Jean-Pierre would turn his attentions back to sportscar racing. Throughout the middle '70s, sportscar racing was providing him about his only highlights. In the longer distance races where his technical driving skills would make a huge difference he would be quite successful. This run of success would include victories at Nogaro and Misano, but also in the Jarama 2 Hours and the Mugello 1000 Kilometers.
Third and fourth places in the Monza and Nurburgring 1000 kilometers would be about the last highlights in sportscar racing until Jabouille retired from Formula One. In 1989, at the ripe old age of 46, Jabouille would join Gianfranco Brancatelli and Jean-Louis Schlesser to win the Dijon Test while at the wheel of the Sauber-Mercedes C9. This performance would lead to a drive with Team Sauber Mercedes at Le Mans that year where he would come away with a 5th place result after having started the race on pole.
After some drives in a Ferrari F40 in IMSA, Jean-Pierre would join forces with Peugeot Talbot Sport and would take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1991, 1992 and 1993. In 1992 and 1993, Jabouille would help to come away with two more 3rd place finishes in the 24 hour classic. Though disappointing as they were not victories, especially since Jabouille's car started from pole on each occasion, it was nonetheless an incredible achievement given he was 50 at the time of the 3rd place in 1993.
The successful return with Peugeot would lead to Jabouille replacing Jean Todt as director of Peugeot Sport. Unfortunately, regulation changes and poor associations with McLaren and Jordan in Formula One would lead to his being released from his directorship. As a result, Jabouille would start his own sportscar team. This would last a couple of years before he decided to run Philippe Alliot's racing team.
Jabouille would never be far from racing. Taking part in the FFSA GT series, Jabouille would continue to compete right through the 1990s and into the new millennium. In fact, he and another ex-Renault Formula One driver, Alain Prost, would partner together driving a Chrysler Viper in the FFSA GT Championship throughout 2005. Fittingly, Jabouille and Prost would come away with a heat victory at Dijon that year, the site of Jean-Pierre's first Formula One victory.
Among the rank of great Formula One drivers to have scored a victory the name Jean-Pierre Jabouille would likely not register in the top 25. Unfortunately there is even the very real possibility of his name being forgotten from the list altogether. However, any such omissions or low positioning would not truly reflect the talents of Jabouille. While not a stand-out driver, his driving skills are couple with a stand-out engineering and technical mind that made him invaluable to teams on many occasions. In many respects, Jabouille would be the one setting the mark, stretching the technology, the great champions would build upon and use to great exploits. And for that, Jean-Pierre Jabouille is a name that cannot be forgotten.Sources:
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'Drivers: Jean-Pierre Jabouille', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Jean_Pierre-Jabouille-F.html?page=6). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/archive/Jean_Pierre-Jabouille-F.html?page=6. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
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Smith, Roy P. 'Alpine & Renault: The Development of the Revolutionary Turbo F1 Car 1968 to 1979', (http://books.google.com/books?id=646PVGF2Bd8C&pg=PA63&lpg=PA63&dq). Google Books. http://books.google.com/books?id=646PVGF2Bd8C&pg=PA63&lpg=PA63&dq. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Jean-Pierre Jabouille', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 September 2013, 21:06 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jean-Pierre_Jabouille&oldid=573962048 accessed 26 September 2013