Extract: F1 Retro 1980 part 4


The fourth in a five-part series of extracts from Motor Sport Grand Prix editor Mark Hughes.

In this extract from F1 Retro 1980, Mark Hughes looks back at Ligier – not quite a minnow, but not quite Williams – with its former team manager…

Ligier was a Gallic entity with a core of creative, clever and distinctively French engineers, slightly cowed by the big, volcanic personality of owner Guy Ligier, an ex-rugby international and ex-privateer F1 driver. ‘Guy was the patron and the team was like a family,’ recalled Ligier’s team manager Danny Hindenoch. “Guy was the father, the rest were his children and Ducarouge was the oldest child helping to bring the family up. Ducarouge had the reputation as a brilliant designer. But most of that was Michel Beaujon. Ducarouge was more of a project leader; he was very good at getting people to work together. But Guy could sometimes impose his will by the force of his personality and send the team off in a different technical direction – until it was proved he was wrong…’

‘Yes, Guy could be a scary man,’ Ducarouge agreed. ‘Sometimes he was totally charming, other times he was horrible, shouting at everyone and going completely mad. People were scared of him. I was the only one there who didn’t move back when he was like this, but even I was scared inside.’ And so they got along, this sometimes argumentative Gallic family, very high highs, thunderous lows, never quite able to string it together long enough to make race wins anything more than triumphs against the odds rather than markers along the way.

This medium sized pond seemed the perfect equilibrium for Ligier’s long-time driver, happy-go-lucky Jacques Laffite. Relaxed in his role as a big fish in a medium pond, he took life as he found it: a competitive car that allowed him to win races when everything came together, a stress-free laissez-faire existence and plenty of time for playing golf. But his teammate for 1980, Didier Pironi, was a Frenchman of a very different cut. His ambition was directed with a chilling ruthlessness that was occasionally evident on-track but more often off it. Just passing through on his way to greater things, he was enjoying his first season in a competitive car after a two-year apprenticeship at Tyrrell and his calculated bravery was beginning to mark him out as a sometimes thrilling performer. He’d outgrown Ligier almost as soon as he’d arrived. After the second race of the season he was already in serious discussion with Ferrari, so Guy Ligier’s tantrums meant nothing to him as he gathered the momentum needed to become an unstoppable force sometime soon. 

Ducarouge described Ligier’s limitations thus: ‘We were too small to take advantage of the quality of our car really. We had not enough money, not enough people. We were living like animals. People would sleep in between the two cars in the garage. And they were tiny boxes these garages, with nothing to stop others from walking in. It’s easy to be nostalgic but, really, these were not great times.’

‘There were only around 30 of us in total,’ recalled Hindenoch. ‘Our budget was FF16m [around £1.6 million, compared to Williams’ £2.2 million] which even then was small. We were bigger than some but not as big as those doing the winning. Also, we did not have as good a relationship with Goodyear as Williams did – and I think that was crucial.’

You can buy F1 Retro 1980 now from the Motor Sport shop

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