Ã‰ric Bernard, born in Martigues, near Marseille, France, was a Formula One driver who raced for the Ligier, Larrousse and Lotus teams.
Éric Bernard was born in Martigues, near Marseille, France. He was a Formula One driver who raced for the Ligier, Larrousse and Lotus teams.
He started karting in 1976 and in the seven years that followed, won four French titles. In 1983 he attended racing school at Paul Ricard and was one of the finalists at the Volant Elf competition. He beat Jean Alesi and Bertrand Gachot to the prize, earning himself a fully-sponsored drive in Formula Renault for 1984. He finished sixth in the series, but won the following year, and entering French Formula 3 in 1986. He won the series the following year, finishing in second place for the championship, behind his old rival, Alesi. In 1988 he entered Formula 3000.
In 1989, he was called up to the French Larrousse team for the French Grand Prix, replacing Yannick Dalmas. On an assured debut, he ran as high as 5th place, and was still in 7th when his Lamborghini V12 engine failed a few laps from the end. Bernard stood in again at the following British Grand Prix, before returning to his Formula 3000 commitments with DAMS.
He was rewarded with a full-season drive for Larrousse in 1990. There, he attracted many positive notices for his smooth style and set-up skills, with several observers likening him to a young Alain Prost. He took his first point for 6th place at the Monaco Grand Prix, and his best result would come at Silverstone in the British Grand Prix, where he took 4th place.
Bernard elected to stay on at Larrousse for the 1991 season, but the team were in trouble, losing their Lamborghini engines to the quasi-works Modena F1 team, having their 1990 points stripped by the FIA and also losing sponsors. Bernard would take 6th place in the Mexican Grand Prix, but slipped back down the field, failing to qualify for the first time in his career at the Italian Grand Prix - partially due to a bereavement. Worse was to come, however, when Bernard broke his leg in a qualifying session for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Bernard fought back to fitness, and for the 1993 season his old sponsors Elf managed to get him into a test driver seat for the Ligier team. The two-year testing contract would pay off, as a team backer was jailed for fraud before the 1994 season, and the reduced budget saw Bernard promoted to a race seat, alongside rookie Olivier Panis. Sadly for Bernard, Panis would largerly outpace him, and the team's Renault V10 engine was couterweighted by the team using a "B"-spec version of the 1993 JS39 chassis - by this time a very unusual practice in Forumula One which carried a heavy penalty. Bernard would take third place in the high-attrition German Grand Prix, but by the European Grand Prix he was dropped in order to accommodate Johnny Herbert. He was engaged by Herbert's previous team, Team Lotus, to fill the seat at the European GP, but it was to be his last F1 drive, with Mika Salo taking over.
For 1995, he was linked to a return to Larrousse, but the team folded before the season began. Eric has since followed many other erstwhile unemployed Grand Prix drivers into the world of sports car racing. After contesting the Global GT series in a Ferrari, he moved to DAMS to help develop their front-engined Panoz-Ford. The 1997 season brought little but a spate of retirements, but the following term he began an excellent partnership with David Brabham as the car became a contender for honours.
Outright victories finally came in 1999, the Frenchman sharing wins at Portland, Road Atlanta, Donington, the Nurburgring and Kyalami with Brabham, Wallace and Gounon. When DAMS were chosen to run Cadillac's sports challenger in 2000, the team lost little time in ensuring that they had Bernard's signature on a three-year contract.