We continue our series of Top 20 Greatest F1 Racers with Jean Alesi.
Frenchman Jean Alesi was born to Sicilian parents on June 11,1964. Despite being very talented, he always found himself at the right place in the wrong time. Throughout his career, Jean Alesi always found himself in a team which would be showing strong performances before he arrived after he left. And as a result, his career statistics don’t reveal the talent he had. In his Formula 1 career, he drove for various teams including Benetton-Renault, Tyrrell, Sauber, Prost, Jordan and most notably, Ferrari.
Jean Alesi wasn’t interested in racing single-seaters in his early years. Instead, he had a passion for rallying and it was not until the 1980′s that he graduated to single-seaters. In 1987, he won the French Formula 3 title and subsequently moved on to International Formula 3000 which he won in 1989 after a very closely contested duel with Erik Comas.
In the 1989 French Grand Prix, he got the break he was looking for in Formula 1 with Tyrrell. During his first year there, he scored points in the Italian and Spanish Grand Prix, but didn’t contest in the whole of the 1989 season and occasionally gave up his car to Johnny Herbert whenever an F1 race clashed with Formula 3000, which he continued to contest throughout 1989.
1990 was his first full year with Tyrrell and this was the year when he burst upon the F1 scene after some sensational driving, most notably in the season opener at Phoenix, where he led the first 25 laps of the race ahead of the legendary Aryton Senna. While Senna had a faster V10 Honda engine, Alesi had to content with vastly inferior Ford V10. The race at Phoenix meant that by the end of 1990, Tyrrell,Williams and Ferrari all were trying to get his signature.
Ultimately, Jean Alesi decided to sign with Ferrari for the 1991 season. This move later proved to be disastrous for him as the Ferrari team suffered a decline in form and both Gerhard Berger and him managed to win just one race each in the next five years. On the other hand, a rejuvenated Williams team went on to win five championships between 1992 and 1997. During his time at Ferrari, Jean Alesi became a favourite with the tifosi, especially because of his aggressive driving style and the number 27 (which was also Gilles Villenueve’s car number) he carried on his Ferrari. Alesi won his first and only race with the Ferrari team in the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix on his 31st Birthday.
When Michael Schumacher signed up with Ferrari in 1996, Jean Alesi signed the contract with the then-world champions Benetton-Renault. Like his span at Ferrari, the Benetton team saw a decline in form in 1996 from which it could never recover and in his time there, Alesi had some of his worst and most erratic races which saw him getting involved in many dangerous accidents, most notably in the 1997 Australian Grand Prix, where he tried to outbreak Eddie Ervine from nearly eight lengths behind. This caused a spectacular collision that saw Alesi being placed under investigation for dangerous driving after the race. Alesi was dropped by Benetton at the end of 1997 season and he moved initially to Sauber and then to Prost.
Alesi drove for the Sauber team from 1998 to 1999. But the Sauber car, though at times quick, was very unreliable and Alesi suffered many retirements especially during the 1999 season, where he couldn’t finish almost half the races he participated in. His best result with the Sauber team came at the 1998 Belgium Grand Prix where he finished on the podium in third place.
Alesi finally decided to move to Prost, his former rivals, in 2000. During the first year, the Prost car was powered by vastly inferior Peugeot engine which lacked performance and reliability. Alesi only finished in four races during the 1999 season. For 2001, Prost changed their engine supplier and used Ferrari engines which saw them compete in the midfield. Alesi left the Prost team midway through the 2001 season after the German Grand Prix and signed with Jordan for rest of the season. He finally ended his career with Jordan in 2001 and went on to contest in the German Touring car Championship DTM from 2002-2006.
Despite his lack of achievement in Formula 1, Jean Alesi is and always will be regarded as one of the F1 greats as he never had the machinery to back him up to win world championships and was always a victim of bad luck and timing. Had he moved to Williams instead of Ferrari, his statistics would have been much better and he would probably had many more wins and maybe even a championship. Jean Alesi will always go down as one of the most entertaining and talented drivers in the history of the sport.
Jean Alesi Teammate Comparison:
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