A nephew of the late Jo Schlesser, Jean-Louis is a driver who missed the Formula 1 boat, and unfortunately the immensely popular Frenchman will be best remembered for inadvertently tangling with Ayrton Senna near the end of the 1988 Italian GP as the Brazilian was about to lap his Williams.
A graduate of Formule Renault, Schlesser got bogged down in French Formula 3 and production racing before turning to the European F3 championship in 1981. However, his Martini was saddled with the wrong brand of tyres and the undoubted high spot of the year was a terrific second place at Le Mans, sharing a Rondeau with Jacky Haran and Philippe Streiff. Still determined to succeed in single-seaters, Jean-Louis joined the Maurer F2 team alongside Bellof in 1982, but it was another season of frustration, as he did not enjoy the best of equipment.
In 1983 Schlesser began work as a test driver for Williams, and attempted to qualify the RAM for the French GP. He then returned to production cars, winning the French championship in 1985, before Tom Walkinshaw signed him for the TWR Jaguar sports car team in 1986. Disappointingly, finishes were thin on the ground and he was released, ultimately joining the Kouros Sauber team, which, in 1988, became the official representative of the Mercedes factory.
Schlesser scored two wins and finished second to Martin Brundle in the points standings that year, and the following season he made no mistake, winning five rounds (Suzuka, Jarama, the Nurburgring, Donington and Mexico City) to claim the World Sports Car Championship, a feat he repeated in 1990, when he shared the title with Mauro Baldi.
Throughout the nineties, Jean-Louis has been tackling another branch of the sport, the gruelling cross-desert marathons. In 1999, at the eleventh attempt, he finally won the Paris-Dakar Rally driving his own Schlesser-buggy.