People often justify ill luck by saying they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. For Jean Alesi, it seems that even if he went to the right place, it would make itself wrong, just so that it could thwart a man that could have been so much more than just a racing driver.
Born to Sicilian parents in France on June 11th, 1964, Alesi was more inclined toward rallying in the early stages of his life, but eventually ended up racing, and achieved considerable success doing so. After racing in many series such as Formula Renault and Formula 3, and after winning many a race, as well as the 1989 Formula 3000 World Championship, the Frenchman was signed by Tyrell Racing in 1989. He raced in eight races and scored eight points in his debut season. 1990 was his first full season in Formula One, and with a brilliant start to the year, he was sought after by Williams as well as Ferrari only half-way through the season. Ferrari, who were championship contenders at the time, already had the best driver of the era, Alain Prost, racing for them. Logically it seemed like the best place to go for Alesi. So he teamed up with his compatriot for the 1991 season at the Italian marquee.
Alesi, who was drooling at the prospect of working alongside one of the most successful drivers of all time, in one of the best teams of all time, was in for a disappointment. 1991 marked the advent of Ferrari’s downturn, and the revival of Williams’ fortunes. Ferrari’s V12 engines just couldn’t keep up with the superior V10 engines of their competitors. Alesi managed to secure only one win, the only one of his career, in his five years at Ferrari, at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix. He never finished higher than 5th in the championship.
In 1996, Michael Schumacher left the Benetton team after winning back to back titles, for Ferrari. Jean Alesi switched to Benetton, taking the German driver’s seat in the team. Benetton at that time were the defending champions. And as luck would have it, 1996 saw the renaissance of the Ferrari team, and was the beginning of the slump in form of the Benetton team. In his two years at Benetton he managed 13 podiums, and finished 4th both times in the championship.
After leaving Benetton in 1998, the Frenchman’s career also went downhill. He raced for Sauber, Prost, as well as Jordan, with whom he had won the F3000 title, but achieved very little. Finishing on the podium only once in his last four seasons, he retired from the sport after the 2001 Japanese Grand Prix.
Jean Alesi was a man many thought would win a Formula One title. But it wasn’t to be so. He was also a man probably no one believed would walk away from the sport with only one grand prix victory. And that’s just what happened. Despite a despondent score card to show for at the end of his career, Alesi endeared himself to the fans, the Tifosi in particular, who loved his aggressive style of driving. The statistics don’t do justice to his skill, for he spent all of his best years racing uncompetitive cars. But irrespective of the number of races he won, or didn’t win, Jean Alesi will always be considered as one of the Formula One’s forgotten stars, someone who was almost there, but never was.
-Rohhan A Divanji