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Jean Alesi

Jean Alesi
Country: 
Full Name: 
Jean Robert Alesi
Birth Date: 
10 June, 1964
Birth Place: 
Montfavet, Avignon, Vaucluse, France
Driver Status: 
Former
Driver Height: 
170cm
Driver Weight: 
74kg
202
Races
1
Wins
2
Poles
0
Titles

Jean Alesi Biography

Jean Alesi F1 Career Overview

Regarded as one of the most dependable - if somewhat unlucky - F1 drivers of the 1990s, Jean Alesi’s one career victory arguably doesn’t do justice to a driver who remains fondly remembered across the six teams he competed with between 1989 and 2001.

A French Formula 3 Champion, it was Alesi’s romp to the 1988 Formula 3000 Championship with Eddie Jordan that caught the attention of F1 bosses, with Ken Tyrrell placing him in his eponymous car even before he wrapped up the intermediate crown and promptly scored a fourth place finish on his debut.

Famously leading only his ninth GP start in 1990 after engaging in an entertaining duel with Ayrton Senna, Alesi’s legacy was assured but after signing for Ferrari in 1991 at the start of a lean spell for the Scuderia, results were good but not able to match the mighty Williams, McLaren and then Benetton. 

Though his one and only win came with Ferrari, he enjoyed his best results with Benetton in 1996 and 1997 before notching up solid finishes with Sauber. A dismal spell with uncompetitive Prost machinery gave way to a brief swansong period with Jordan before he retired in 2001.

After a race-winning period in DTM and the short lived Speedcar series, Alesi competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours and attempted to qualify for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 before hanging up his helmet for good.

Despite only a single win, Alesi won 32 podiums during his career, plus two pole positions. 

His son Giuliano Alesi is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and will compete in Japan’s Super Formula Lights series for 2021.

Jean Alesi F1 Career - Team-by-Team

Tyrrell: 1989-1990

Already a leading performer in the International F3000 Series in 1989 - a title he’d go on to win over Erik Comas - Alesi got his big F1 break in the midst of that championship fight when he was called up to replace Michele Alboreto at Tyrrell, who had been dropped due to his conflicting personal sponsors.

Despite the steep step, Alesi starred on his debut at his home French Grand Prix (Paul Ricard) with a run to fourth position and though he missed two of the remaining rounds in Belgium and Portugal due to F3000 commitments, a pair of top fives at Monza and Jerez lifted Alesi to a remarkable ninth overall despite competing in only eight of the 16 events. 

Landing a full season with the British team in 1990, Alesi went on to stun further with a run to second position in the curtain raising United States Grand Prix around the streets of Phoenix, famously fending off Ayrton Senna for 34 laps before eventually settling for second position behind the Brazilian. Another podium followed at Monaco, which in turn led to a fierce bidding war between the top teams eager to secure his services for 1991.

Ferrari: 1991-1995

Tyrrell wanted to retain him but with Ferrari and Williams knocking on his door, the Frenchman had his pick of the top teams. Initially he chose Williams only for Ferrari to up its bid and lure him to Maranello at a cost of $4m towards the British team as compensation.

Hindsight would go on to suggest Alesi made the wrong choice as Williams went on to dominate in 1992 and 1993 (and win again in 1996 and 1997), whereas Ferrari found itself on a steady decline until Michael Schumacher joined its ranks in 1996. However, at the time Alesi was joining countryman Alain Prost in a team that had finished runner-up to McLaren in 1990 and arguably appeared the better option even without the more lucrative terms of his contract.

While Alesi acquitted himself well relative to Prost, whose relationship with Ferrari began to sour as the season progressed, the 642/643 package wasn’t a match for McLaren and Williams and underwent numerous modifications, a process complicated by shifting politics in the management structure behind the scenes. 

Alesi added three more podiums to his burgeoning tally en route to seventh in the standings before being elevated to team leader for 1992 after Prost’s exit. Another mediocre season followed as Ferrari again found itself wanting compared with Williams, McLaren and now also Benetton, leaving Alesi seventh overall again with two podiums to his name. 

By now Ferrari found itself on the cusp of an intensifying battle out from involving the three aforementioned teams as it was out-developed in a new era of technological innovations, with Alesi and new team-mate Gerhard Berger often reduced to a watching brief to pick up podiums when others tripped up ahead. Alesi made the best of it with a third in Monaco and a second place on Ferrari’s home soil at Monza as the car gathered pace but sixth in the standings was suggesting his best years were getting away from him. 

A fresh approach in 1994 gave Ferrari a more competitive car and it leapfrogged McLaren in the hierarchy but Alesi hampered the early part of his season by missing two races through injury after a crash in testing. 

In a year that saw Benetton and Williams duke it out for the title, Alesi - along with Berger - proved the drivers most likely to benefit from issues ahead, but it was the Austrian that returned the team to the winners’ circle with victory in Germany. While the 412T1 was unreliable, it held together for four podiums and a new personal best of fifth overall.

It was a similar story in 1995 - Benetton and Williams comfortably in front - but the Alesi-steered Ferrari closed the gap to the front further before he finally peaked with what would be his one and only F1 win in Canada, albeit fortuitously when Schumacher retired close to the end ahead. He could have won more had he not retired from the lead at Spa and, cruelly, at Monza when his mechanical problems forced him to park up seven laps from the chequered flag.

Those issues arguably cost him third in the standings (he was fifth) and a fitting Ferrari swansong as an incoming Schumacher meant Alesi would go the other direction to Benetton for 1996.

Benetton: 1996-1997

Armed with the title-winning car from the previous two seasons, hope was high that Alesi could finally deliver on the promise of those early races at Tyrrell but the Frenchman found a Benetton reeling in the wake of Schumacher’s departure, an exit that took with it several members of its ‘dream team’, notably designer Rory Byrne.

Though he was on the podium in Rounds 2 and 3, Benetton boss Flavio Briatore - anticipating a continuation of its success without Schumacher - wasn’t unimpressed and demanded an improvement. That didn’t come in the shape of race wins - primarily down to Williams’ sheer dominance up front - but Alesi was predominantly best of the rest and his eight podiums (4x second, 4x third) were a solid return amid arguably unattainable expectations on his way to fourth overall.

Retained for 1997, Benetton had more tempered targets despite the car being powered by the same Renault engine that was out front in the Williams. Again, Alesi was a steady hand in a more evenly-matched field, racking up five podiums (and only his second pole position in Monza) but was out-shone by Berger’s German GP win on his return from injury. Still, fourth overall (gaining a place following Schumacher’s expulsion) kept him in the upper echelons overall.

Sauber: 1998-1999

A switch to mid-field peddlars Alesi yielded modest results and four top six results for 1998, though his experience shone through with a fighting run to third position at the chaotic Belgian Grand Prix, only seven seconds shy of what would have been Sauber’s first victory in F1. 

A tougher campaign followed in 1999 during a sobering final season with Sauber as his two points saw him out-scored by notorious pay driver Pedro Diniz, who despite only finishing four of the 16 races, was nonetheless inside the top six in three of them. 

Prost / Jordan: 2000-2001

Linking up with ex-team-mate Alain Prost in his eponymous team for 2000, Alesi’s arrival in the factory Peugeot backed team was supposed to herald a French superteam. However, the car was woefully unreliable and lacked power, leading to a zero score for both Alesi and team-mate Nick Heidfeld.

Peugeot pulled the plug on its F1 effort in the wake of its dismal season but Alesi stayed on board after Prost sourced Ferrari-customer engines, racing under the Acer nameplate.

Unexpectedly, the car proved rapid in testing but there were suspicions it was being lightly fuelled for headline runs in a bid to drum up sponsorship. This was betrayed when racing got underway, even if the car was notably more competitive - and significantly more reliable - than in 2000.

Alesi was a regular top ten finisher, albeit in the then-points free lower reaches, before returning Prost to the top six in Monaco and Canada on the bounce. A third top six finish came in Germany before Alesi made the surprise switch to Jordan mid-season to replace the sacked Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who duly went the other way to Prost.

The change only yielded one extra point for Alesi in what was a solid end to the year for the Frenchman, who - after turning down an offer from Arrows for 2002 - opted to retire from F1 racing, instead filling his time with McLaren testing duties and a stint in DTM.

Jean Alesi - Beyond F1

Alesi remained an active racer in the years after F1 and began the trend of ex-F1 drivers landing in the DTM with a works drive at Mercedes. Adapting quickly to the rigours of the tightly-contested series, Alesi won both races at the Donington Park double header in his rookie year en route to fifth overall.

A switch to longer single race weekends saw two more wins follow in 2003 and fifth again in the overall standings. They would prove to be his best efforts over five seasons with the Stuttgart marque, though he did add a fifth win in 2005 at the season opener at Hockenheim. 

Going on to triumph in the sparsely-contested Speedcar Series (“European NASCAR”), Alesi returned to international racing in the 2010 Le Mans 24 Hours, finishing fourth in class (16th overall) at the wheel of an AF Corse Ferrari F430 LMGT2 alongside Toni Vilander and another ex-F1 driver in Gianmaria Bruni.

In 2013 Alesi launched a surprise bid to compete in the Indy 500 in conjunction with Lotus, which would supply engines to both himself and Simona de Silvestro. However, the Lotus proved woefully underpowered compared with its Honda and Chevrolet counterpart and while Alesi was given dispensation to start despite failing to qualify, was ignominiously black flagged after ten laps due to the car’s slow pace.

Hanging up his helmet for good in the wake of his Indy embarrassment ,Jean now looks after the career of his son Giuliano Alesi, who is a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy and will compete with the Japanese-based Super Formula Lights series after two fruitless seasons in F2.