This Frenchman arrived in F I in a plume of tyre smoke for the seventh race of the 1989 season. Brimming over with confidence while in the middle of a successful Formula 3000 campaign, he was presented with the Harvey Postlethwaite-designed Tyrrell 018. It was a fine-handling car but rarely as good as a Benetton, way off the Ferraris and Williams-Renaults, and light years behind the McLaren-Hondas.
That mattered little to Jean. He jumped in, blew aside Tyrrell incumbent Jonathan Palmer and proceeded to score a fourth on his F I debut, backing this up with another fourth and a fifth before the year’s end. He kept this momentum up in his first full season, notching seconds at Phoenix and Monaco. Thereafter, however, he seemed to suffer a loss of perspective. He turned down Williams to join Ferrari for 1991 as team-mate to Prost and his unquestioned speed was now being questioned. One win, two poles and nine seasons later, he finds himself propping up the GP grid, driving for the man who put him in his place.
The paddock is divided on Jean: his wetweather performances suggest he has the ability to have won a championship given the right car; others believe that, though he was superb in Formula 3000, those who leap directly from F3 to F 1 — Häkkinen, Schumacher. Prost and Senna — are the men Who really cut it. Button, who skipped F3000, has the same joie de vivre as Alesi but blends it with a more calculating approach that will allow him to make more of his talent. DM