Jacques Laffite

Jacques Laffite

21/11/1943

Laffite competed in Formula One from 1974 to 1986. He raced in 176 GPs, scoring 6 victories, 7 pole positions, 6 fastest laps for a total of 228 points.

Born in Paris, the son of a Parisian lawyer, Laffite started his racing career as a mechanic, working for his friend Jean-Pierre Jabouille during the 1968 F3 season. The relationship would eventually become that of brothers-in-law when the pair married two sisters.

In 1972 he won the French Formula Renault Championship and the following season moved into Formula 3 with Automobiles Martini, winning the French title, the Monaco and Pau Formula 3 Grand Prix and coming close to taking the British John Player title as well.

With backing from BP France, Laffite moved into Formula 2 in 1974 with a March-BMW, soon establishing himself among the front-runners and winning a round at the Salzburgring. Having tried a number of drivers during the first half of the season, Frank Williams decided on Jacques for the German GP, and although his race ended in a shunt he had impressed more than the previous incumbents and settled in for the next season and a half. In 1975 Williams were very much in the doldrums, but Laffite profited from others' misfortune to provide the team with a much-needed second place in Germany. In Formula 2 meanwhile, racing an Elf-backed Martini, Jacques clocked up six victories, edging out Jabouille to secure the European title, and he also took the Kauhsen/Autodelta Alfa T33 to victory at Dijon, Monza and the Nurburgring.

Ousting the originally nominated driver, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Laffite joined Guy Ligier's debutant Ligier-Matra team for 1976 and quickly became a favourite son at Vichy, working hard to bring the car to a competitive pitch. He was rewarded with a win at Anderstorp in 1977, but it soon became clear that Cosworth power was a necessity for sustained success. At the beginning of 1979, now partnered by Depailler, Jacques flashed to victory in the opening two Grands Prix, but the dominance could not be sustained, as development brought more questions than answers. He took another win at Hockenheim the following season, but plans were already afoot to return to Matra power in 1981 under the Talbot banner. The team enjoyed a remarkably consistent season, and a strong run saw Laffite take two wins and make a late bid for the title before finishing fourth just behind Piquet, Reutemann and Jones. The promise evaporated in 1982, however, and Jacques managed only two points-scoring finishes all year, prompting his return to Williams on a two-year deal to drive alongside Keke Rosberg.

His year began soundly, but the Cosworth car became less and less competitive and Laffite suffered the late-season embarrassment of non-qualification at Monza and Brands Hatch. Things picked up in 1984, but with Rosberg extracting the very maximum from the car, the Frenchman's efforts seemed pedestrian by comparison.

Despite rumours of retirement, Jacques returned to Ligier and rediscovered some of his form of old, enough at least to ensure that his beaming smile appeared on the rostrum from time to time. Perhaps spurred by the arrival of Arnoux, Laffite produced some sparkling displays in 1986, even leading the Detroit race briefly. Then came a multiple shunt at the start at Brands Hatch which left the unlucky Jacques trapped in his car with both legs broken. His Grand Prix career was over.

Jacques was to return to the circuits, enjoying the cut and thrust of the French touring car series over the ensuing seasons. In 1995 he was still a regular in the Supertourisme series driving an Opel Vectra, but now races mainly for fun in selected events. He also made a welcome return to the Grand Prix paddock working for Ligier in a PR capacity and is also a television commentator.

Jacques Laffite was one of the three people (along with Jacky Ickx and Johnny Servoz-Gavin) believed most likely to be the unidentified driver in director Claude Lelouch's classic 1976 short film C'était un rendez-vous. It has since emerged that the driver was in fact Lelouch himself.


(c) 'Who is Who' by Steve Small, 2000

Leave a comment

Comments