Those are his words rather than ours – and in any case we beg to differ. Jean-Pierre Jarier might not have won any of the 134 Grands Prix he started, but his CV includes world championship victories at the Nordschleife and the full, 8.7-mile Spa. Doesn’t sound much like ‘failure’ to us…
Writer Simon Arron
Early evening is a good time to savour modern Goodwood. The crowd has dispersed so there are few distractions to mask row upon row of competitive elegance. The paddock is almost deserted and most of those remaining are waiting for the same man. Preparation specialist Hall & Hall’s crew wants to make sure Jean-Pierre Jarier will be comfortable in his old Shadow DN5, the car he is due to demonstrate 40 years after he raced it, while I simply want to talk to him.
But he’s running late.
Jarier is based in Monaco nowadays and there are many direct flights to London from nearby Nice, but he chose a one-stop strategy, via Paris, and missed his connection. That seems somehow appropriate for a driver blessed with so much potential, yet for whom – in Formula 1, at least – the stars were never quite correctly aligned. By the time he arrives, chauffeured by Franco-Lebanese dental surgeon Greg Audi, the DN5’s present owner, it is pitch dark and freezing but Jarier is ripe with good cheer. After a quick round of handshakes, he launches into a stream-of-consciousness delivery about the DN5’s virtues. He seems quite pleased to be reacquainted, but it is now too late – and cold – for paddock interviews, so we repair to his hotel to chat over dinner.
I have three sheets of questions prepared, but most remain unasked as Jarier zig-zags through a sequence of anecdotes about his racing past, pausing occasionally to sip from a glass of red. And before we’ve even reached the table, the first subject he picks (without any prompting, honestly, despite my oft-expressed fondness for the place) is Mallory Park. That’s perhaps not so strange, however, as it was the scene of his first major victory, in the opening round of the 1973 European F2 Championship.
“That day,” he says, “I was behind [works March team-mate] Jean-Pierre Beltoise when his engine threw a con-rod. I saw something come through the block like a missile. It went straight through one of the race control tower’s windows, covering officials with shards of glass. I don’t think they were best pleased, but it was the only engine failure we had all season and I went on to win the race. I can’t begin to tell you how happy I felt. It was my first international success…”
Born on July 10 1946 in the Parisian suburbs, Jarier’s upbringing was scarcely conventional. “My father was press-ganged into joining the German army during World War Two,” he says. “It was either that or a bullet in the head. He was eventually stationed at Malmédy, Belgium, close to Spa. He and my mother separated when I was seven and I grew up close to the Bois de Vincennes in Paris, an area well known for its prostitutes. With my father absent and my mother often busy (she ran a small hotel), the prostitutes sometimes used to look after me…”
During his teens, a passion for matters mechanical took hold – motorcycles in particular, although Jim Clark was his racing idol – and he landed a job in a garage. “As luck would have it,” he says, “the owner was nephew of racer and constructor René Bonnet and consequently had lots of friends in the sport – including Luigi Chinetti, the Ferrari importer for North America.”
After racing his motorcycle a few times, Jarier cut his teeth – like many peers – in the Coupe Renault 8 Gordini. He did well enough to attract support from Parisian furniture magnate Marcel Arnold, who eased his path into single-seaters through Formule France and, subsequently, F3. After finishing third in the 1970 French F3 Championship (behind fellow Jean-Pierres Jaussaud and Cassegrain), he was promoted to the Shell Arnold F2 team and notched up a couple of podium finishes. He also made his F1 debut in 1971, driving friend Hubert Hahne’s freely loaned March 701 in the Oulton Park Gold Cup before entering the Italian Grand Prix.
“I needed an international carnet to take the car to Italy,” Jarier says, “and an old school friend was very adept at producing counterfeit paperwork. He forged a carnet so that I could take the car to Monza. I had no money, no mechanics and no tyres, but McLaren lent me four Goodyears that were hard enough to last the whole weekend. And although I didn’t have any mechanics, Vittorio Brambilla and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud stepped in – so I had two top-line racers as my crew. I couldn’t afford a hotel for the weekend, either, so slept in the pits.”
He was running at the end, albeit too far back to be classified. “The car was still in one piece,” he says, “so I put it back on the trailer to return it to Hubert. I was apparently entitled to some starting money, too. When I went to collect it from the automobile club on Monday morning, I discovered that Max Mosley had claimed it as his, because I was driving a March!”
He kept his F2 seat in 1972, but the team was running low on funds and after four races José Dolhem turned up with some sponsorship to usurp him. That’s when his former garage contacts came in handy. “I was told to head to Le Mans, meet Luigi Chinetti and drive one of his North American Racing Team Ferrari Daytonas,” he says. “I didn’t practise on the first evening, but was sent out late in Thursday’s session. The car felt really heavy at first and I wasn’t sure how anybody could drive it, but I settled down to some ballpark lap times and ended up within a second of Sam Posey, who was sharing the sister car with Tony Adamowicz. When I passed the signalling pit I could see they were waving in an effort to slow me down!”
He and Claude Buchet finished ninth overall, fifth in class, and his performance earned an invitation to drive NART’s Ferrari 712M in a couple of Can-Am races. “I don’t think any of the Americans wanted to drive it,” Jarier says, “because it didn’t handle and had no brakes.” He finished 10th at Watkins Glen, then fourth at Elkhart Lake – beaten by the Porsche 917/10s of George Follmer and Peter Gregg, with François Cevert’s McLaren M8F in between. “The UK press took notice,” Jarier says, “and shortly afterwards I received a telex from Robin Herd, asking me to come back to develop and race his F3 cars.” It was during this time that the nickname ‘Jumper’ would first surface, coined by Herd in reaction to his charge’s appetite for the Thruxton chicane kerbs. Beyond lay a campaign as a works March-BMW driver in European F2, which takes us back to Mallory Park and the first of that season’s eight wins. He would score 78 points, runner-up Jochen Mass just 42.
“There was a fantastic sense of togetherness in ’73,” he says. “The atmosphere within the team was magical. It ran almost like a military operation: we were totally focused on winning and felt absolutely unbeatable.
“To give you an idea, BMW had lent me a 3.0 CSL to drive to races. Heading to the Nürburgring, I saw a beautiful young woman by the side of the road – and she was trying to hitch a lift. I thought, ‘I’m dreaming’. I stopped to pick her up, told her I was heading for Germany, and she said, ‘That’s OK, I’ll come with you’. We got to the track and checked in to my room, but the following day the race team arrived – engineers, mechanics, everyone. They were all there to win the race and I’d turned up with this fabulous girl, the most attractive you could ever wish to see. I told her she should carry on hitch-hiking, because I needed to be alone. That’s where my focus had to be, because racing was absolutely a religion as far as I was concerned. I qualified on pole and took the lead, with Patrick Depailler not far behind, but on the long straight my rear suspension broke. There was no guardrail, I spun through 180 degrees and went off backwards into the undergrowth at about 150mph. I hitched my way to the pits and afterwards thought, ‘I let that girl go, like an idiot. To do what? Lose the race, like an idiot’. But the whole March team was absolutely dedicated, under Ray Wardle and Robin Herd, and I was part of that.
“Six months later I visited one of my favourite jazz clubs, in Paris, and saw her again, on another table. She was even more beautiful than I remembered and I concluded that I was probably the biggest idiot in the world.”
In the meantime, he carried on winning.
“In July that summer, Enzo Ferrari invited me for lunch at the Ristorante Cavallino in Maranello. I arrived, ordered a red wine – he was drinking grappa – and we went on to take a look around Fiorano. I didn’t speak much Italian, but he said he knew some beautiful female students who would help me to learn. He wanted me to drive in 1974 and said everything would be fantastic, that I’d win the world championship. I agreed, of course, but a few days beforehand I’d also signed a contract with March. I spoke to Max Mosley, told him that Ferrari wanted me and he said, ‘No, you can’t go – you’re racing for us’. Max would have released me if Ferrari had bought me out, but the old man didn’t want to do that and I certainly didn’t have any money, so they ended up signing Niki Lauda instead. In one way that screwed me completely, but perhaps I wouldn’t have survived if my career had taken a different turn and we wouldn’t be having this dinner…”
He also contested 10 of 1973’s 15 Grands Prix for March, but ironically – given Ferrari’s interest – he didn’t subsequently remain on board, being liberated from his commitments when the team initially announced that it was to quit F1. It didn’t in the end, but Jarier went off to race for Shadow, recording his first points finish with third place in Monaco, and dovetailed that with a successful season for the title-winning Matra team in the World Sports Car Championship. He shared five victories in an MS670C (four with Jean-Pierre Beltoise, including the Nürburgring 1000Kms, and one with Jacky Ickx).
“Events like that were just wonderful,” he says. “At Spa our winning average was almost 240kph (150mph) – and that’s with a hairpin! The Masta Kink? We took it at about 195mph… Jean-Pierre thought Spa was by then too dangerous, so Ickx stepped in. I’d never raced at Spa and was a little slower than him in practice, but we lapped at the same pace in the race. He was the King of Spa and I don’t think he liked that. I remember once coming back from Brazil with Jacky. My father had been based in Belgium for a time, remember, and held French and Belgian passports – and consequently I did, too. Jacky and I were queuing at immigration and my French passport had expired, so I was using the Belgian one. When he saw that, I said, ‘See, you’re not the fastest Belgian driver’…”
For 1975 Jarier had the Tony Southgate-designed DN5, his Goodwood demonstrator, and initially it proved every bit as fast as it looked, the Frenchman qualifying on pole for the season’s opening two Grands Prix in Argentina and Brazil. “We should definitely have challenged for the world title that season,” he says. “I dominated every session in Buenos Aires and was comfortably on pole, but the transmission failed on the warm-up lap. In Brazil, the fuel metering unit packed up when I was leading, I had an oil leak when running second to Niki Lauda in Sweden… we lost lots of potentially strong results.” Despite so much latent promise, his best result would be fourth in the accident-shortened Spanish GP.
He is complimentary about his team-mates from that period, Peter Revson (killed at Kyalami in 1974, ahead of what would have been only his third race for Shadow) and Tom Pryce. “I always felt Peter was hugely underrated,” he says. “He was probably wealthier than the rest of the paddock put together, as the Revlon heir, but he wasn’t racing because he was rich – he was doing it because he was extremely talented.
“And I got on well with Tom – a very quick driver and a nice guy. The only thing I didn’t like was that he and [team manager] Alan Rees often used to speak to each other in Welsh. My English was pretty good at the time – I’d understand if people were using slang, or even talking to each other in Cockney, but I couldn’t do Welsh!”
Jarier quit Shadow at the end of ’76, after a disappointing campaign with the DN5B, and went to drive for German industrialist Gunther Schmïd’s ATS, initially in a Penske PC4 and in 1978 with the team’s own HS1. “I thought Schmid a complete madman,” Jarier says. “He had a real ego problem. Those Penskes were fantastic cars, but he kept modifying them and making them slower. At Dijon in 1977, we had only one set of soft tyres for qualifying. In that situation the mechanics from most teams would cool the tyres with water after one run, so that they might be used again. At ATS, the mechanics tried to do the same with neat petrol, which of course spilled onto the hot front discs and ignited…”
He twice split with ATS in 1978 after arguments with Schmïd, the second time for good, and at the end of the year he was recruited by Lotus to replace the late Ronnie Peterson, as team-mate to confirmed world champion Mario Andretti.
“I paid my own air fare to America, made my way to the Glen Motor Inn – where all the drivers were staying, as if they were part of the same rugby team – and sat in the car for the first time the following morning,” he says. “We hadn’t done a seat fitting and I was very uncomfortable.” Starting eighth, he dropped back after pitting with a puncture then stormed through to third before running out of fuel. His fastest lap was a 1min 39.557sec, 1.5sec clear of the rest. In Canada he streaked away from pole and built up a huge lead until pitting with fading brakes, the consequence of a leaking hose. People remember that day for Gilles Villeneuve’s first F1 victory, but tend to forget the dominant cameo that went before.
“Those races were certainly good for my reputation,” Jarier says, “but by that stage all the top F1 drives for the following season had gone. The only free seat was at Tyrrell. Paul Newman offered me a place in his Can-Am team, as lead driver, and I very nearly signed. I ended up with Tyrrell, though, at a time when it had no sponsor. That’s just how things seemed to go. I think my career was a failure…”
There would subsequently be interest from Frank Williams, when his two drivers – Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann – were both contemplating retirement. By then Jarier was tied up at the back of the grid with Osella and the timing to make an escape was never quite right. He was available when Williams thought it wouldn’t need him, but not when it did.
The final straw with Osella came at Las Vegas in 1982, when he had a sizeable accident after losing a front wheel during practice – a slight variation on a theme, as he’d had a similar experience not long before when a rear wheel detached at Monza.
“Soon afterwards,” he says, “I bumped into Guy Ligier, who suggested I should drive for him in 1983. He offered me three million francs – a lot of money at the time (circa £300,000), although nothing by today’s standards. I agreed, then went back to my hotel and bumped into an American in the lift. He was a regular gambler and asked me to play cards for him that night. I told him I wasn’t lucky – even if I had almost been killed that afternoon – but he insisted: it was his money, but we’d split any winnings 50/50. I agreed to play for five minutes, won $1500, then $2000, $2500, $3000 and decided to stop. I was tired, needed a shower, took my $1500 and left. I headed towards my room and met a Swiss lady who asked if she could come with me. I’d survived the accident, agreed a deal with Ligier, won some money at cards and now this… I’d never known a sequence of events quite like it.”
He did one season with Ligier, but the team’s DFV was no match for the growing armada of turbos, and South Africa 1983 would be his final GP. Thereafter he competed in sports and touring cars, enjoying his racing and flirting with success from time to time (not least when sharing a Porsche 911 GT2 with Bob Wollek in the early 1990s). He also assisted Robert De Niro during car chase scenes in the movie Ronin. “It was a right-hand-drive BMW M5. He sat in the front passenger seat twirling a false steering wheel while I was on the other side, doing the hard work.”
Whichever aspect of sport – or life – he’s discussing, his delivery is infectious, his tone equal parts passion and affection. “I still watch racing,” he says, “particularly MotoGP. But F1? I follow some Grands Prix, at the circuits I like, but if it becomes a race only for manufacturers, which is what Bernie seems to want, with Mercedes winning all the time…”