Jean Alesi, speed and an eternal love to Maranello



Giovanni Roberto Alesi, known to all as Jean Alesi, was born in Montfavet on June 11, 1964, to Sicilian parents who emigrated to France.


Jean grew up in his father's workshop with his brother, where he immediately became passionate about engines, thanks also to the fact that his father is a lover of the rally category. At the age of 16, the Italian-Frenchman began competing in a few races with karts and in 1984 he joined the French Formula Renault, also participating in the following two years.


Thanks to the good results obtained, in 1986 Jean moved to Formula 3, a category in which he also raced in 1987, managing this last year to win the title aboard the Oreca team car.


The following year Alesi raced in Formula 3000 always employed by the Oreca team, finishing in tenth position after having obtained two podiums. At the end of the season, however, various internal disputes arise within the team and in 1989 the Italian-French agreed with Eddie Jordan to compete for the season in one of his cars. Jean wins the title of the category, ahead of compatriot Erik Comas, and triumphing in the races held in Pau, Birmingham and Spa-Franchorchamps.


In the same year Jean participated for the first time in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, paired with Dominic Dobson and Will Hoy, but was unable to finish the race following a fire in the cockpit during the fourth hour of the race.


The 1989 season was extraordinary for Jean Alesi, who made his debut in Formula 1 starting from the French Formula 1 Grand Prix at the wheel of the Tyrrell, to replace the Italian driver Michele Alboreto, who was fired for sponsorship reasons. The Italian-Frenchman scored points on his debut, occupying the top areas of the standings for a good part of the race, and in the rest of the season he also scored two points in Italy and Spain.


Ken Tyrrell, satisfied with this performance, offers him an 18-month contract in his stable. The 1990 season begins with his first career podium aboard the Tyrrell 018, a second place obtained after leading the race for over 30 laps, before handing over the lead to Ayrton Senna.


In Phoenix, the outcome of qualifying is heavily influenced by the rain, which makes Saturday's session almost nil. The starting grid is therefore formed entirely on the basis of the times set in Friday's session; this leads to several surprises in the grid, given the unexpected competitiveness of the Pirelli qualifying tires compared to the Goodyear, so much so that five of the top ten riders are equipped with Italian tires, including Alesi, fourth.


It should be noted that Ken Tyrrell had signed the supply contract with Pirelli only two days before the race, breaking off a relationship with Goodyear that had lasted for eighteen seasons.


In the race, the Italian-French driver took the lead by immediately taking off on his pursuers and accumulating an advantage of 2.4 seconds at the end of the first lap

In the meantime Senna begins to recover and, after passing De Cesaris and moving to third position, he approaches Berger, who loses about half a second per lap from Alesi.


When Senna reaches second place, he is 8.2 behind Alesi. Not knowing if Tyrrell's Pirelli tires would last until the end of the race, Senna is reluctant to push too hard in the early stages of the race; however, the durability of the Italian tires will be proven when, after thirty laps, Alesi still holds the lead.



After patiently waiting for the best opportunity to pass his rival, Senna attacks Alesi for the first time during the 34th lap, slipping him inside the first corner of the circuit after the finish, but the Frenchman tenaciously resists the maneuver of the McLaren driver, remaining alongside him on the short straight following and passing him back to the next corner, in which he had a favorable trajectory; however, he cannot reply to the overtaking that the Brazilian inflicts on him a lap later, at the same point where the previous attempt had developed.


"It was like a dream to fight with Ayrton who two years ago I only saw on television and he was my hero. But I have no illusions. The Pirelli tires and the street circuit that levels the values ​​of the cars gave me a good hand. It will be difficult to repeat at these levels on other faster tracks".


Following the Brazilian Grand Prix, the Tyrrell 019 was put on the field, a car with innovative aerodynamic appendages, such as the gull-wing wing for example. However, the car has a not very powerful engine and is therefore followed by only a couple of initial positions such as a sixth place in Imola and a podium in Monaco.


After that the results are somewhat disappointing in the remainder of the season also due to the supply of Pirelli tires which guarantee exceptional results in qualifying, but not excellent grip in the race.


Ferrari, impressed by the speed of this boy, despite the poor competitiveness of the cars he drove, offered him a contract for the 1991 season, snatching him from the competitor Williams with whom he had already signed a contract.


On the other hand, it is curious that three-time world champion Nelson Piquet, who takes the reins of the conversation between the Italian-Frenchman and the Italian-French carmaker, acts as an improvised manager and helps Jean to negotiate his engagement with Ferrari Maranello and advised him, managing to even get him a Ferrari F40.


"At that time everything was different, no one had a representative or an agent and they confronted each other directly. So Nelson, who has always been fantastic towards me, improvised himself as my manager and wrote the contract, also because it was not easy for a boy like me, who until the year before worked in the workshop with his father, talk about hiring and contracts with people of the caliber of Luca Cordero di Montezemolo".


"He included in the contract that I would be given a Ferrari F40 as a gift. When I read I opposed it, but he insisted. And so if I have an F40 in the garage today it's all thanks to him. I still remember that when I gave the contract to Montezemolo, he read it and I said: However, you have clear ideas to be a young driver".


Ferrari pays a four million dollar penalty to hire Jean and join him with Frenchman Alain Prost; on 19 September 1990 the team from Maranello announced the hiring of him.

"Now that everything is in place, that I am from Ferrari, the strength that supported me in these difficult, tormented and tormenting months is almost failing. I don't know if another would have resisted in this situation. I had to race, think about doing the results for Tyrrell and for myself, since I had everyone's eyes on me and at the same time fighting with lawyers, with stamped paper. But it's over, now I want to concentrate on the four missing races. The Estoril tracks. Sunday and Jerez, seven days later, could help me make a good impression".


He declares a radiant Jean Alesi, who then adds:


"I drive on the attack. It is my way of conceiving this sport. If there is a reasonable gap, I slip in. However it is true that I have to continue studying. The professor is Prost, I consider myself a student. But let me go. also be a bit presumptuous: Alain was the first Formula 1 world champion born in France. I hope, I hope, to be the second. I have lived this adventure intensely since the first day, last July when I made my debut in Le Castellet. Ken Tyrrell had phoned me at home, inviting me to come and try the car that had belonged to Alboreto. I did not even have time to realize the setup of the car and when I jumped into the cockpit I realized that the seat had been made for another. Tyrrell said to me: don't worry, don't make a fuss, that's okay. I will not judge you by the result of this race. I did well. In the race I was also second and then I finished in fourth place. When I finished, Ken approached me and I thought he wanted to congratulate me. Instead he was laconic but clear: come to England and have a new seat prepared for you according to your measurements".


In reality, only insiders and few true enthusiasts know that Jean Alesi had already raced with a Ferrari during the spring of 1990, driving an F40 entered by Jean Sage, former Renault director, in the American IMSA championship, obtaining good placings. A couple of races, sharing the commitment with friends Laffitte and Jabouille.


"It was on that occasion, at the wheel of that red car, that I definitively realized that my destiny had to cross that of the Maranello team. The attention of the fans, that special atmosphere that surrounds you, the sense of joining part of the history of the automobile they took me as an illness, a fever that was rising day by day. I will only be able to cure it on November 15, 1990, when I will go to Ferrari".


On Friday September 22, 1990, both Alain Prost and Jean Alesi are interviewed in Estoril about the hiring of the 26-year-old. And on that occasion, the professor declares:


"If it had been up to me alone, I would not have said a single word on the matter. It is normal that a team, having to choose a driver, takes what it considers to be the best on the square. It has always happened. If anything, it disturbs me that the sporting side every question always takes a back seat. It's a shame. Every statement you could make is interpreted in a thousand different ways. So it's useless to say so many words. I just say two things: in Monza I was unbalanced stating that I was afraid of the presence in Alesi's team because he is still an impulsive boy. Now I can assure him that I will give him all the necessary advice to make him feel at ease. I have already endured one of internal wars last year. And I didn't like it".


In response, Jean comments by saying:


"From Prost I only have to learn. For me, going to Ferrari is still a dream. Only my grandfather Giuseppe, 85, is convinced that it is a normal thing. Because he has only heard of that name about racing cars in his life. The truth is that everyone would like to be in my place: I don't know a rider who doesn't want to have this opportunity at least once in his career. I bet that even Nannini has something inside him that burns for having given up. For everything else, let's wait, first. The championship must end. I haven't had the chance to speak with Alain yet. We exchanged some superficial impressions".


Despite the good times in the tests, the Ferrari 642 F1 is not very competitive and Jean only gets a twelfth place on his debut, followed by a sixth place in Brazil. In the Monaco Grand Prix, Jean conquers the first podium with the red, followed by the same result also in the German and Portuguese Grand Prix.


During the Monegasque race, the first disagreements broke out between Alain Prost and the Italian team, with the Frenchman complaining of the excessive atmosphere of tension created around the team; but in this circumstance, Jean also complains to the Maranello team, after having obtained a disappointing ninth place on the grid.


"The car is at top performance. And this is the Ferrari performance today. We changed the set-up but it wasn't enough to solve the problems. The car is not agile, it jumps too much, goes very badly on the chicanes and in general at every change of direction. I believe there is a serious aerodynamic problem underneath. This Grand Prix will be resolved in a waiting race".


The season continues with three sixth places in France, Spain and Hungary, but in the meantime collecting nine retirements, the most important of which in Belgium, while he is in command of the race.



The Italian-Frenchman therefore concluded the season in seventh position with 21 points and the divorce between Alain Prost and Ferrari, due to the declarations at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix, led Jean Alesi to take over the ranks of first driver in the following season.


In 1992 the Ferrari F92 A was designed, yet another new project by the Italian team in the vain hope of solving the problems that have arisen in the last four seasons. But as happened with the 643 F1 against the 641/2, the F92 A proves to be much worse than its previous sister. The new creature from Maranello forces Jean to retire twice in the first two races of the season, while only on the third round of the season the Italian-French driver manages to get a fourth place behind the two Williams and the young star Michael Schumacher.


The best placement of the whole year takes place at the Spanish Grand Prix; starting eighth and in the rain, the Italian-French first touches Berger, slipping to the bottom of the standings, and then with Mika Hakkinen going into a spin. At this point Jean keeps his concentration and recovers various positions, until he finishes the race on the podium, in third position.



The season continues punctuated by technical problems. In particular, Jean Alesi was abandoned by the engine in Imola, while fighting for the podium, and in France, when with dry tires on wet asphalt, the Italian-Frenchman managed to lap at the same times as the Williams who fitted notched tires.


As an interlude between the Imola Grand Prix and the one raced in France, Jean Alesi manages to get a podium in Canada. Following a fifth position in Germany, a new car, the Ferrari F92 A / T, is supplied to the Italian-French at the Belgian Grand Prix, in an attempt to achieve better performance. In the following races, however, he fails to obtain any relevant results, ending the season with two sixth places.


In 1993 Gerhard Berger joined the Italian-French. Jean Alesi and the likeable Gerhard Berger start a working relationship accompanied by constant jokes, given that the Austrian has always been known in the Formula 1 world for his sympathy and desire to play. Among the most famous jokes made by Gerhard to Jean, certainly the one that takes place in February 1994, the day before the presentation of the 412T, is the most famous and fun.


The two teammates are in Fiorano and, while waiting for Jean Todt to arrive, they are carrying out tests with the new car. During a break, the Austrian notices a Lancia Y10 parked on the track with the keys on the panel, then convinces Jean to get into the car to do a few laps of the track.


Berger, sitting on the passenger side, as often happens, teases Alesi for his driving and for the pace he is sustaining, provoking the reaction of Jean who, touched in pride, increases the pace. But it is time for the joke to come to life, as the Austrian lifts the handbrake lever in the tightest corners. At the umpteenth curve the subcompact converts, sliding on the Fiorano track and finishing its run a few meters before the 412T that was to be presented to the press the following day.


The two drivers, extracted from the car by the men of the security service of the track, complain of severe pain. Then they are taken to the hospital for an investigation, and in the meantime they discover that the Y10 belongs to Jean Todt.


The French manager, notified by telephone of the hospitalization of his drivers, goes to the hospital, without however knowing that his car had been damaged. Here, Berger immediately declared himself sorry for what had happened and confessed to the Ferrari manager that his small car shows only slight signs of the curb on the roof.


The friendship with Berger is the only positive note for Alesi, as the new F93 A also proves unreliable due to the active suspension system. The Italian-French, after the first five Grands Prix of the season, is the victim of four retirements.


A disastrous season is expected, so much so that Jean Alesi will even declare that he has thought of leaving the Maranello team, also for fear of being considered a temporary fallback while awaiting the arrival of Ayrton Senna at the stable. But despite this, in Monaco Jean gets a third place.



In July of the same year, the technical direction was entrusted to Jean Todt, who convinced him to sign for Ferrari for another two years. In the following six world events, the Italian-Frenchman obtained numerous retirements and an accident with Christian Fittipaldi, causing a bruise in his leg which resulted in a clash between the two drivers, even touching a fight.


The negative series of failures was interrupted at the Italian Grand Prix, where Jean Alesi finished the race in second position (best result of the season), while obtaining a fourth place in the subsequent Grand Prix of Portugal and Australia. The season ends in sixth place overall with 16 points won.


In 1994, Ferrari's competitiveness improved significantly, with the 412 T1B fielding. In fact, the Italian-Frenchman obtained a third place in the first round of the season, but a back injury during a test session at the Mugello circuit on March 31, 1994 forced him to skip the next two Grands Prix.


In this circumstance, Jean Alesi, while driving the Arrabbiata curve in his Ferrari, climbs with force on the curb and loses grip and control of the car, which rises and crashes with the rear part of the car against the wall.


It seems an accident like any other, and instead Alesi remains stationary inside the cockpit: extracted and taken to the hospital, the doctors find that the French driver has the intervertebral discs (the fibrous rings interposed between the vertebrae) of the spinal column crushed: also due to he, as previously happened to Letho, promises a long stop.


And instead, back for the Monaco Grand Prix, Jean Alesi conquers a fifth place, a result obtained also due to a contact with the Smitek driver David Brabham, which causes him to lose some positions.


This is followed by a fourth place in Spain and a third place in Canada, when gearbox problems cause him to lose the second position. After a retirement due to collision with Rubens Barrichello in the home Grand Prix, the Italian-Frenchman returns to the podium at Silverstone, obtaining a second place thanks also to the disqualification obtained by Michael Schumacher.



The following races, however, are marked by various and continuous retirements, the most important of which on the occasion of the Monza Grand Prix, in which Jean Alesi obtained the first pole position of his career, on Saturday.


The Italian-Frenchman led the race when, during a pit stop, due to a transmission failure, his car was unable to restart. The negative streak was interrupted in Japan, the penultimate world round, with the conquest of a third place after engaging in a duel in the rain with Nigel Mansell, followed by a sixth place in the Australian final round.


The season ends with 24 total points and fifth position in the overall standings, marking the best Formula 1 season disputed by the Italian-French driver. In 1995 Ferrari designed the 412 T2, with which it slowly regained the competitiveness it had lacked in recent years. The season begins with a fifth place for Jean Alesi, followed by two second places in Argentina and Imola.



Then, in the Spanish Grand Prix the Italian-Frenchman had to stop due to a retirement due to mechanical failure while he was leading the race, and also in the Monegasque appointment he lost the second position due to the resistance of a lapped man who finally ran into in a spin right in front of the Ferrari driver, causing his innocent retirement.


On 11 June 1995, the much sought after victory for the Sicilian-French driver took place at the Montreal Grand Prix. This is his first career victory, as well as the only one with the red from Maranello and in his career, which took place on the day he celebrates his thirty-first birthday.


Who wouldn't want a victory in a Formula 1 race as a birthday present? Jean Alesi's racing conduct is perfect on this special day. Starting from fifth place, the Ferrari driver is the author of a perfect race right from the start, an occasion in which he immediately overtakes Damon Hill.


The fight is therefore between Jean Alesi, Michael Schumacher on Benetton and Gerhard Berger, but both cars of the two opponents are victims of technical problems during the race. The Austrian is slowed down by a problem in the pits, which relegates him to fifth position, while the German is forced to make a further pit stop while in first position. Jean Alesi's masterful conduct of the race meant that the Italian-French driver could finally win a well-deserved and unpredictable victory over the competition.



During the lap of honor, the Ferrari driver involuntarily turns off the car due to too much joy and exultation, then is brought back to the pits by Schumacher himself, who demonstrates enormous respect for the Italian-French with this act.


"Do you want to know what was the most difficult moment of the race? When I learned that Schumacher had stopped in the pits. Tears filled my eyes and I could see nothing. I felt incredible joy, I knew I was going to win. In a way I am sorry to have built my first success on the misfortunes of others, but at the same time I have had so much bad luck in the past, I have come close to winning many times at the last moment, that I can think of nothing but this fantastic statement".


"For me it ended a nightmare. I was terrified of going down in history as a driver who had never won anything. The eternal second. But I had faith, I knew that sooner or later I would have hit the target. Since the beginning of the year we were getting closer and closer. We surpassed the performances of the Williams in the race, now we are also close to Schumacher's Benetton. It took a twist, but when you press at the end you arrive. After all, racing is like that, in other opportunities and I capitalize on our rivals to win over our misfortunes".


"Ferrari can aim for the Constructors 'World Championship, that's for sure. In fact, I'm sorry for Berger, we could have made a beautiful booty, finishing first and second. As for the drivers' championship, you have to be realistic, it will be very difficult. But the season It's still a long way to go. If Monza too, there will still be eleven races to go. And anything could happen. Realistically Schumacher is always the big favorite".


"Why did I stop? To tell the truth there was no shortage of fuel. I greeted the crowd, I was mad with joy and I took both hands off the wheel. And the engine stopped. It was my mistake. allowed to drive the Benetton, even if I was on the hood. Nice car, really...".


This victory interrupts the major series of consecutive races without success for a Ferrari driver (67 races), a negative record subsequently beaten in 2013 by the Brazilian Felipe Massa.


Galvanized by the recent success, Jean Alesi returns to the podium in Great Britain, followed by four retirements in Germany, in Hungary due to the engine, in Belgium due to the suspension after just four laps while he was leading the race, and in Italy seven laps from checkered flag, always when he was in command of the race.


Meanwhile, Jean Alesi's move to the Benetton team is also announced during the Hungarian weekend. The Italian-Frenchman thus avoids becoming the second Ferrari driver in the service of world champion Michael Schumacher, who would take over the following season.


In the final races, Alesi reaches fifth position in Portugal, with an after-race characterized by a heated discussion with DT Jean Todt, triggered by the refusal of the Italian-French to give way to companion Gerhard Berger, and an outburst on live television:


"I drive with pride for Ferrari. And I have to leave. But if there is one person who should go home, it is Jean Todt. The fault of everything that happens is his. For ten laps, during the race, I he asked over the radio to let Berger through. It had already happened in Brazil. I had to pretend not to hear in order not to answer in a certain way. Basically I changed the Todt channel. Todt broke my balls. Everything in the team works badly. Engineer Ascanelli, manager on the track, takes care only of Berger. At the most, if it turns out that we have found some good adjustments, they come to see what we have done. At this point I don't really know what I'll decide in the next few days, whether to race with Ferrari again. I'll go and talk to Montezemolo, but it's the crowning glory that I should always turn to the president".


But the Ferrari director replies by explaining this choice:


"We know Jean. He is hot-blooded. When he speaks he does not take into account the team's strategies. We had two tire changes planned for him and three for Berger. Gerhard was faster and lost one second per lap behind Alesi's car. This is why we asked him to let him pass. Since he didn't accept, we were forced to stop the Austrian a few laps earlier. And this could compromise all our tactics".


Subsequently, at the European Grand Prix in the first laps the Italian-French leads the race despite using slick tires in the wet, but is overtaken just two laps from the end by rival Michael Schumacher, also due to a slowdown due to some voiceovers and the fear of running out of petrol before the end of the race.



In the Pacific Grand Prix, Alesi obtained a fifth place while in the Japanese Grand Prix he became the protagonist of a powerful comeback on the wet asphalt, but stopped by yet another retirement due to mechanical failure when he has already reached the second position. Jean Alesi concludes his adventure in Ferrari with an accident retirement in the last Australian final round, finishing fifth in the general classification with a total of 42 points.


In the two-year period 1996-'97 Jeanburrasca (nickname given to the Italian-French press by the Italian press) raced with Benetton, the 1995 world champion team which, however, lost the competitiveness shown in the last two years, winning a total of seven second places and five third places, managing in the first year to score the best final result in his career with a fourth place in the general classification and 47 points scored.


After being released by Flavio Briatore, in 1998-'99 the Italian-French raced with Sauber. The Swiss team is anything but competitive, but that doesn't take away from Alesi's chance to take third place at the crazy Belgian Grand Prix in 1998.


After his experience with Sauber, in 2000 Alesi joined Alain Prost's team, with whom he obtained thirteen retirements out of seventeen races and a tenth place as best result, closing the season with zero points.


Jean Alesi decides to leave the team at the end of the championship, even though he has another year of contract with the French team and despite the resistance of Alain Prost, who does not want to lose his top driver. To resolve this thorny matter and free herself from all constraints, Jean decides to reveal her non-payment of her salary.

In 2001 the Italian-French driver took over from Jordan to replace the injured Heinz-Harald Frentzen starting from the Hungarian Grand Prix. Compared to recent experiences, the results with the Irish team are a little better, as Jean gets three sixth places and a fifth place as best result.


For the following season Jean hopes for a call from Eddie Jordan, but the latter announces the hiring of Takuma Sato, who enjoys financial backing from Honda, the team’s engine supplier. Given the situation and the lack of desire to race for less competitive teams such as Arrows, the Italian-Frenchman announced his retirement from Formula 1 at the United States Grand Prix.


Jean Alesi then concludes his Formula 1 career with 201 Grands Prix disputed, one win on his assets and 32 podiums, for a total of 251 points. Considered one of the most unfortunate drivers in the history of Formula 1, he himself, aware of this, uses over the years Sauber and Prost, as a mascot for his merchandise, the unfortunate Looney Tunes character Willie Coyote.


After retiring from Formula 1, Jean Alesi collaborates with McLaren-Mercedes as a test driver and at the same time takes part in the German DTM tourism championship. In 2008 Alesi touched the title in the Speedcar Series, but in 2010 the Italian-French returned to a Ferrari, returning to the GT Competitions.


The Frenchman takes part in the Le Mans Series aboard an AF Corse Ferrari F430, paired with Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander, also competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with which he manages to get two third places at the Circuit de Paul Ricard and Spa-Francorchamps, followed by a second place in Portugal on the Portimao circuit, finishing the season in second position with 66 points, while at the 24 Hours of Le Mans he concludes the race in fourth place in the LMGT2 class and in sixteenth place in the standings general.


In 2011 Alesi became a Lotus ambassador with the task of developing the Type 25 project, involving a car inspired by Formula 1, and in 2012 he participated in the Indianapolis 500, marking his debut in the American ovals. But the performance is somewhat disappointing, given by the inadequate preparation of the engine by Lotus, finishing the race after 10 laps, invited by the commissioners to return to the pits as it was unable to maintain a pace equal to 105% of the opposing drivers.


Since 2013, Jean Alesi has been a Pirelli ambassador, and in 2015 he returned to a Formula 1 car for a demonstration with Piquet, Berger and Lauda, ​​on the occasion of the Austrian Grand Prix. Jean Alesi is also awarded the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic.


Andrea Rasponi

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