Like some other teams, Ligier had designed a new car, the JS27, that featured a lower profile, making an advantage of the new reduced fuel regulations. The 1985 season had been promising and the team’s capture for 1986 of René Arnoux who had been inexplicably sacked by Ferrari early on in 1985 boded well. Nonetheless, there were a few doubters, suggesting that Arnoux was rusty and out of practice and Laffite was now 42 years old and must surely be finding his speed and motivation lacking. Nonetheless, at least on paper, it was Ligier’s strongest lineup for some years and with continuity in engines and personnel, all concerned hoped that the promise of 1985 could be built upon in 1986.
25. René Arnoux
Alain Prost’s old team-mate and rival had looked like a world champion in waiting at times in 1983 and 84, but the unreliability of the car let him down – other times he simply looked disinterested and content to simply circulate in midfield. Neither he nor Ferrari have made any comment on his shock sacking after just one race of the 1985 season – rumours suggest that his physical condition was in question – but he clearly hopes that a Ligier team on the cusp of a renaissance could be his ticket back to the top.
26. Jacques Laffite
The veteran driver had tested in the number 25 car but reverted to his usual number 26 for the season proper, and would be hoping to help the team with whom he had become synonymous to continue their revival. Some, including some in the French motoring press, believed he was getting too old for Formula One and moreover was potentially keeping a young driver out of a seat, so he also had a point to prove to them. Nonetheless, he would turn 43 during the season and many thought this would be his last year in Formula One regardless.
The Ligier team had had yet another disappointing year, their Renault turbo engines proving no use in a dreadful chassis, and Guy Ligier and Andrea de Cesaris had both looked more and more disinterested as the season progressed. But there were reasons to be optimistic with the arrival of Gerard Larrousse and Michel Tetu from the Renault works team, and the return to the team of Jacques Laffite after two lacklustre years at Williams. Tetu’s new JS25 chassis would be married to Larrousse’s improved and clarified team organisation, and both would hope that Laffite would be back on song with his return to his long-term team.
25. Andrea de Cesaris
The Italian driver had improved immensely and largely shed his “Andrea de Crasheris” image by 1984, but his year at Ligier proved troubled. Although it was hardly his fault that the car was a dud, he reacted badly to the lack of development, becoming either withdrawn and anonymous or stubborn and wayward. He did show some of his talent early in the season, though, most notably his impressive drive from a pitlane start to third at Imola before his car ran dry, and his good qualification at Monaco before being taken out by Hesnault in the first corner.
26. Jacques Laffite
There is little doubt about Laffite’s speed, even at the age of 41, but he had the misfortune to join Williams just as the team were going through a period of transition and struggling with their Honda engines and recalcitrant FW09 chassis. He may have been put off by having a wheel fall off while heading for third in Kyalami, and the team were constantly changing the car to fit with Rosberg’s driving style which was the polar opposite of his own. That said, the good humour of “Jolly Jacques” never disappeared and must have been an asset to Williams in a difficult year. Could he recover his form at the team where he had been a title challenger in ’81?
All change again at Ligier as the team continue to try and find the formula for success that keeps eluding them. Guy Ligier’s political connections have gained them turbocharged Renault engines, the same as the ones in the Lotus and works Renault cars. There is also new sponsorship from the state lottery, Loto, and the car has acquired some unfamiliar red paint as a result. New drivers too, with Jarier retiring and Boesel released – in come Andrea de Cesaris from Alfa Romeo and French Formula Three driver François Hesnault. All the pieces are in place for the team to begin returning to their glory days of 1980-81 but the question remains – can they put the pieces together?
25. François Hesnault
Like his compatriot and fellow-rookie Philippe Alliot, François Hesnault came from a well-off family but didn’t discover his vocation in racing until later in life. Hesnault completed his military service, like Alliot in an elite regiment, then got the racing bug while a student. He began racing in Formula Renault in 1980 and moved into Formula Three just two years later. He finished third in the championship in his first season, and went one better in 1983, taking the title race to the wire and just losing out to Michel Ferte despite winning five races. His government connections via his parents’ transportation business saw him fast-tracked into Formula One with Ligier – a surprising signing but his rise had been meteoric and he might just be a star in the making.
26. Andrea de Cesaris
The headstrong Italian had matured in his two years at Alfa Romeo and turned in some excellent performances whenever his sluggish car had allowed him to. He still made errors, but had improved vastly on his antics with McLaren in 1981 and nowhere was this more clearly shown than at Spa, where he took pole and led for the first half of the race, and could have won if his team hadn’t botched the pitstop. For the first time at Ligier, de Cesaris had been hired on merit and not pressed on the team by Marlboro, and that spoke volumes.
As if Ligier’s dire 1982 season hadn’t been bad enough, the off-season had seen assets deserting the team like rats from a sinking ship: sponsor Talbot, engine supplier Matra, team manager Jean-Pierre Jabouille (whose infighting with Guy Ligier had been at least part of the problem) and drivers Laffite and Cheever all left, leaving Guy Ligier with a real problem. His longstanding friendship with French president François Mitterrand helped him replace Talbot as sponsors with government-owned tobacco firm Gitanes and Ligier was reportedly trying to negotiate a turbo engine deal with Renault, though nothing was likely to happen this year. In the meantime, a Cosworth DFV would sit in Herve Guilpin’s new JS21 chassis – a slightly odd-looking affair with almost no sidepods at all.
In to drive came Jean-Pierre Jarier who had filled in during 1981 but been denied the full-time drive he wanted, and Raul Boesel would provide some more funds in the second car.
25. Jean-Pierre Jarier
The veteran French driver had been a mixed blessing for Osella in 1981 and 82 – a solid driver and capable of putting in a good performance but particularly after Palletti’s death his commitment had seemed lacking and his driving had suffered accordingly. Jarier now had the Ligier drive he had wanted in 1981, but would his commitment return, or would he find it difficult in a team that wouldn’t necessarily mould itself around him the way Osella had?
26. Raul Boesel
It was difficult to assess Raul Boesel’s first year in F1, since it happened in the execrable March. While he was usually close to team-mate Jochen Mass on pace, his inexperience told in races – though he rarely crashed – and like Mass his season went downhill as the team slipped back into non-qualification. The jury is still out on whether Boesel has real talent or is just another well-heeled pay driver.
After high hopes for 1981, Ligier had started badly before coming good towards the end of the season. The major disappointment had been the second car, following Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s ultimately failed attempts to come back from injury. Patrick Tambay had not delivered in the second half of the season after taking over and was dropped by the team in favour of recruiting Eddie Cheever, who had brought the dreadful Tyrrell home in the points five times in 1981. Cheever would be the team’s first non-Francophone driver, and the only non-Frenchman besides Belgian Jacky Ickx. Matra were working on a turbo V6 engine, and Michel Beaujon and Jabouille were collaborating on the new JS19 chassis to contain it. In the mean time, the team would continue with the JS17-Matra V12 combination that had won twice in 1981.
25. Eddie Cheever
Cheever had come as a revelation in 1981, wringing decent performances out of the Tyrrell and consistently outperforming his teammate Michele Alboreto, himself touted as a future prospect. Whether or not he would cope with driving in the fiercely patriotic Ligier team alongside an established team leader such as Laffite would remain to be seen.
26. Jacques Laffite
Fourth place in the drivers’ championship in 1981 didn’t quite tell the whole story: Laffite won two races and took five other podium places in a brilliant second half to the season and with a bit more luck in Caesar’s Palace could have won the world title. A close relationship with Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Ligier team manager and brother-in-law, the prospect of turbo engines meant that Laffite could look forward to a renewed challenge in 1982.
Former French rugby international Guy Ligier turned his hand to the roads after his playing career ended, first building a road construction company in the midst of France’s motorway-construction boom (and making friends with influential local politicians Francois Mitterrand and Pierre Beregovoy en the way), then taking to racing single-seaters in the late 1960s. He made his Formula One debut at Monaco in 1966 but with little success in privateer Cooper and Maserati cars, he partnered up with his friend Jo Schlesser to start a Formula Two team – only for Schlesser to be killed on his F1 driving debut. Ligier retired from racing and turned to building sportscars, teaming up with designer Michel Tetu to design the JS1 (the initials stood for Jo Schlesser), a production sportscar. The Ligier cars contested Le Mans through the early 1970s, but in 1974 a new opportunity fell into Guy Ligier’s lap; Matra had decided to pull out of F1 and he bought the team and its assets. With backing from French state-owned Gitanes tobacco, Ligier entered F1 as a constructor in 1976 with Matra as engine supplier. Jacques Laffite guided the team to two podium visits in its first season, and went one better with the team’s first win in Sweden in 1977 – a French team, French driver and French engines: a first all-French win in the sport’s long history. 1978 wasn’t so successful but the 1979 Ligier JS11 was a handy chassis and Laffite took two race wins and Patrick Depailler one before breaking both legs in a hang-gliding accident and missing the rest of the season. Replacement Jacky Ickx added a couple of lower-points finishes to take the team to third in the Constructors’ championship, and in 1980 the team went one better with second place, a race win apiece for Laffite and Tyrrell signee Didier Pironi and the team were regular visitors to the podium. With Pironi departing for Ferrari, Ligier signed Renault driver Jean-Pierre Jabouille but he was injured near the end of the season and the team turned to veteran Jean-Pierre Jarier to fill in until Jabouille could regain fitness. For 1981, French car manufacturer Talbot bought a stake in the team to increase funding and Guy Ligier’s old friend Francois Mitterand was making a run for the office of French president. Ligier had every reason to be confident of challenging for a world title in 1981.
25. Jean-Pierre Jarier
Jarier was born near Paris in 1946, and began his racing career on motorbikes, but switched to cars at his mother’s insistence and she sold the family car to buy him a Renault 8 Gordini – the car in which many young French drivers got their start. He impressed quickly and moved up to Formula Three – finishing third in 1970 – and European Formula Two where he took a couple of third places before his Shell Arnold team bought a March chassis to give him his Formula One debut in 1972. It was a one-off but brought him to the attention of others, despite a lack of funds curtailing his 1972 season. For 1973, he moved to the works March F2 team and won the title in dominant fashion before moving up to Formula One full-time in 1974 with Shadow, where he ended up as team leader in his first season after the death of Peter Revson. He took a podium position that year and even led a race, but Shadow were on their uppers and after dreary 1975 and 1976 seasons, Jarier moved to the new German ATS team for 1977, also driving single races for Shadow and Ligier. 1978 saw further bad luck with reliability and Jarier left the team halfway through the year, before deputising for the late Ronnie Peterson at championship winning Lotus for the last two races of the year, putting it on Pole in Canada. In 1979, Jarier had a much better year with Tyrrell, visiting the podium twice and scoring regularly, but the 1980 car was worse and he only scored four points, so an open-ended deal with championship contenders Ligier looked like a good bet.
26. Jacques Laffite
Happy-go-lucky Laffite began his racing career as a mechanic, working alongside childhood friend and later brother-in-law Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and it wasn’t until his late 20s that he began racing seriously. His rise was meteoric, winning the 1972 French Formula Renault title, then the 1973 French Formula Three title including a win at Monaco. 1974 saw him racing for March in Formula Two and winning a race in his first season, and an F1 debut with Frank Williams’ ISO Marlboro team soon followed. Although Laffite scored a second place at the Nurburgring in 1975, the team ran out of money and he dropped back into F2 and won the European title while waiting for another opportunity. It came in the shape of Guy Ligier, who recruited him to head up the new team for 1976, and in 1977 Laffite took the first win for himself and Ligier at the Swedish Grand Prix. He continued with Ligier throughout 1978, 79 and 80, improving all the time and helping the team to third and second in the 1979 and 1980 constructors’ championships.