French-Italian driver Jean Alesi joined us in the Champions Club at the recent French Grand Prix to talk about the return of the circuit where he made his Formula 1 debut 30 years ago and his legendary career at the pinnacle of motorsport.
Circuit Paul Ricard has always been important to Jean Alesi. Born less than 150km away in Avignon, Alesi cut his racing teeth at the Winfield Racing School, which is still based at the circuit today. He also made his Formula 1 debut for Tyrell at the circuit in 1989, finishing a sensational fourth for Tyrell. In a 13-year career in Formula 1, Alesi raced for Tyrell, Ferrari, Benetton, Sauber, Prost and Jordan. From 201 starts, he scored 32 podiums and one win at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix. Alesi is now an ambassador for Circuit Paul Ricard and also oversees the career of his son, Guiliano, who is competing in Formula 2.
How important is the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard?
It’s very important. The main key for the return of the circuit was not to change its DNA. We tried to keep the same iconic corners, like Signes at the end of the Mistral Straight, the double right of du Beausset and the final corner with the pit lane entrance. We tried to keep these corners the same as when I raced here 30 years ago. At the same time, the safety side has been improved. Before Formula 1 returned, this was a test track where safety was really important.
We also did something different when it comes to grandstands. We looked at what Silverstone does to incorporate spaces where you can walk around, have a drink in a bar and see something. We wanted to offer more for the fans than just sitting in the grandstand and waiting for the cars. We didn’t sign a contract with Formula 1 for one year. We are trying to improve the circuit each year. The pit entry has been changed this year, for example. It’s faster now, which should improve the show. We are constantly working to make it better for the fans.
You drove for many teams during your Formula 1 career. Did one car stand out as your favourite?
My first one, the Tyrell. It fitted like a glove for me. I really enjoyed driving this car.
What about your favourite team?
I was also fortunate to race for a lot of teams with spirit. My last F1 team was Jordan. Eddie Jordan is amazing. I enjoy his company so much. I started with Jordan in F3000 and we won the championship together. Then I ended my Formula 1 career with them as well. I liked Eddie and the spirit in the team was very good.
Of course, I also drove for Ferrari. When you drive for them, you also drive for the whole of Italy. You are a star everywhere that you go. I wasn’t looking for this, but it’s enjoyable to be stopped by customs officers or police because they want to have their photo taken with you. I’ll never forget the experience of driving for Ferrari.
Who was your favourite teammate?
When I started at Ferrari, Alain Prost was my teammate for one year. It was fantastic to drive with ‘The Professor’, as he was known. He wasn’t only talented at driving the car, he also knew how to set it up. It’s different now with all the engineers and computer systems, but the driver’s input was very important back then. You had to provide feedback and also provide direction. We were changing the car all the time, from race to race. The input of the driver was massive. Alain was the kind of driver who always provided good direction for the team. I liked driving with him a lot.
Jean Alesi will be making several more guest appearances with F1 Experiences in 2019. Get your Champions Club Ticket Package for the Belgian Grand Prix or Italian Grand Prix to meet the legendary French driver!
Official Ticket Packages are now on sale for the 2020 French Grand Prix. Get a select grandstand seat at Circuit Paul Ricard or access to the best trackside hospitality in the Champions Club or Formula 1 Paddock Club. Early bird discounts apply until 24 July!