Interview: Jacques Laffite
We caught up with Jacques Laffite in the Formula 1 paddock, the Frenchman who had a Grand Prix career that spanned 12 years. It ended in 1986 at Brands Hatch in the British Grand Prix that would have – at the time – put him in the lead of the most Grands Prix started ahead of Graham Hill. In a first corner crash in his Ligier he badly broke his feet and legs, and because the race restarted without him, he remained tied with Hill on the most races started at 176, as it didn’t count. His famous response to that is: “If I was not in that race, how did I break my feet?!” His F1 career was its most successful at Ligier, where he won all of his six races before returning to Williams where his F1 career started. He rejoined Ligier in 1985, until his career-ending accident. The Frenchman raced in touring cars after his recovery, and made four further starts at Le Mans. He is now a commentator for French television channel TF1 in Formula 1. He is also a man of few words – but the ones he uses count. He has quite a sense of humility and humour.
Who was your fiercest, or greatest, rival?
What was your most satisfying race?
It was ’79 Brazil. It was the first race of the season, which was really important for the Ligier team. It was a good start for the season. Unfortunately it did not finish so well, but it was perfect souvenir, good memories.
What was the first race-car you bought?
I never have.
What was your favourite car?
It was the Ligier JS11.
…And the greatest car ever built?
Fangio’s 250F I think?
Which racing car would you like to own?
I had plenty I drove. It’s not something I think of because a racing car from two-three years ago is not interesting to me, and what can I do with a racing car? Nothing. So I’m not a collector.
Was racing better then or now?
It is completely different now. You have a smart phone, internet, twitter and the Formula 1 fans follow your life. All the technology is going up so you cannot compare. The only thing you can be sure of is that the driver is exactly like we were – same people, but in a different car in a different year, different era. But it is the same feeling… We are all racers.
Who was/is the greatest driver?
Jacques Laffite of course!!
What was your biggest “holy shit” moment – I’m guessing it was Brands Hatch that ended your career?
NO, no no. My bad moment is when my wife left me… That was a BAD moment…
I have no bad moments. Every bad racing moment made me strong – and much more stronger after it. So it was good things.
What is your favourite racing livery or logo?
The Lotus was a very nice livery with the black and gold.
Which three drivers dead or alive would you like to have dinner with?
I would like to have dinner with Jochen Rindt, Sebastian Vettel, and Fangio.
Who was the best driver who didn’t make it all the way?
I liked all of the drivers I was racing with. A really good driver was Didier Pironi. We were teammates at Ligier in 1980. He was a very good guy I knew him very well. We appreciated each other, and he was a really strong guy, a very strong guy.
When I was with Frank (Williams) in ’84 with the Honda engine, and the turbo. I thought I can do some winning, but all it seemed we did was retiring. I was a little bit disappointed with my season. Yes that was the first time.
What was the first race you saw in person?
I saw Monaco in 1968, because I was helping Jean-Pierre Jabouille in Formula 3 at the time supporting the Grand Prix, so that was the first. I went to Le Mans before but for Formula 1 it was Monaco ’68.
Is there any race you still want to do?
You know when I started racing, I was thinking if I can be world champion in F1, win the 24 of Le Mans, and if I can participate in the Indy 500 it would be good for me.
What was the best post-race party you had?
When I was winning races with Ligier and Gitanes, every time we had a very nice evening – too much drink – but it was perfect. We had success, and with mechanics and the whole the team, it was perfect. Especially in ’81 when I won Austria in Zeltweg it was a good race and I was completely out that night!
Are you fan of racing historic racing scene?
No no, not at all. I saw this car (Ed note: In the Shannons’ historic paddock in Australia) and it was really dangerous. I said to the guy who owns the car: “Take care because if you hit the wall you will have some problems!” So I don’t take the risk. I love old cars, maybe I will drive a car when I am older but for now, no… I have been to Goodwood, and it was great, what we must do in racing. Lord March is fantastic, and I always want to go there because it’s really a nice show.
Do you enjoy catching up with your old drivers and rivals?
I caught up with Tim Schenken in Australia, I have known him and his wife for a while and I’m always happy to chat to people like that, like Nelson when he came to Interlagos, but also all my old fans. It’s a shame that many drivers don’t come anymore. They have disappeared.
Have you ever complained about something that was written about you?
Never, no, because I think they can write it if it’s the truth. I don’t care. The press can do what they want except if they speak with “noise”. You can have an opinion different from mine.
Special thanks to Jacques Laffite