The 1980 Formula 1 World Champion was a hard-as-nails, no compromise racer whose success had seemed as unlikely as his team owner’s just five years or so before. Alan Jones grew up watching his father race in Australian national events, present as Stan Jones received the laurel wreath for winning the 1959 Australian Grand Prix at Longford.
Struggling to make ends meet in Europe
Jones senior ran a Holden dealership in their native Melbourne and his son was driving as soon as he could. Fired by watching his father race, Alan Jones travelled to Europe in 1967 but did not have the money to race in Formula Ford as intended. Jones and compatriot Brian McGuire bought and sold cars in order to find the budget to progress in their chosen sport. Jones eventually bought a Formula 3 Lotus 41 but his stuttering career was further delayed when he broke a leg testing the car at Brands Hatch.
They eventually had done enough deals (selling camper vans to travellers visiting from Down Under) to run a pair of Brabhams in the 1970 British Formula 3 Championships under the Australian International Racing Organisation banner. Jones finally scored his breakthrough victory at the following season’s August Bank Holiday meeting at Castle Combe – his BT28 winning in the rain.
He turned down an offer from March Engineering’s works F3 team in 1972, but the AIRO partnership soon dissolved. Second at Mallory Park while guesting in a March 723, Jones acquired a GRD 372 and was regularly qualifying on the front row of the grid by the end of the season only for engine problems to let him down on raceday.
Jones’s F3 career came good in 1973 when driving a DART Racing GRD 373. With earlier driving inconsistencies all-but irradiated, he won six times and led the John Player F3 Championship for most of the season. However, a misfire at the final double points round at Brands Hatch handed the title to Tony Brise.
Without a drive at the start of 1974, Jones made the sideways switch to British Formula Atlantic after the season had already begun, driving a March 74B for former British F3 Champion Harry Stiller. Jones won four times but mechanical failures prevented a sustained title challenge. Despite that, he finished as runner-up in the Southern Organs Championship and fourth in the John Player standings.
Formula 1 at the wrong end of the grid
Expected to switch to Formula 5000 in 1975, Stiller acquired an ex-works Hesketh 308-Ford with which Jones finished seventh on his F1 debut in Silverstone’s non-championship International Trophy. Four Grand Prix starts followed before Stiller abandoned the enterprise and moved overseas. Jones immediately switched to Graham Hill Racing as replacement for the injured Rolf Stommelen. He was fifth in the German GP at the Nürburgring to score his first championship points before Stommelen was fit to return.
Jones was at the centre of a storm when he made his next F1 move – driving a Durex-sponsored Surtees TS19-Ford in the 1976 Race of Champions. The BBC cancelled its broadcast of the Brands Hatch non-championship race, officially because of the “unacceptable volume of advertising on racing cars” and denying their action was specifically due to the London Rubber Company’s high profile support of one car. The race, when it finally started, provided Jones’s finest day so far for he led until half-distance before finishing second behind James Hunt’s McLaren. That prompted Surtees to sign him for the rest of the season although team boss and driver soon clashed. Existing commitments with Theodore’s North American Formula 5000 team yielded victories at Mosport Park and Watkins Glen but tested his relationship with John Surtees. Jones completed the season by finishing fourth in the Japanese GP before walking away from Surtees and F1.
Tragedy, breakthrough and the move to Williams
He decided to concentrate on building his career in North America during 1977 but returned to F1 once more when Tom Pryce was killed during the South African GP. Shadow turned to Jones as replacement for the talented Welshman and he delivered for the grieving team. Jones’s Shadow DN8A-Ford was sixth in Monaco and fifth at Zolder before he came from 14th on the grid to win the Austrian GP. Third at Monza and a couple of fourth place finishes meant the gritty Australian had gone from nowhere to seventh in the 1977 World Championship.
He joined Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1978 – driving the single Saudia Airlines-sponsored Williams FW06-Ford for the newly reconstituted. Patrick Head’s first design for the team was a neat and effective chassis with which Jones was regularly qualifying in the top 10 by the end of the season. Fourth in South Africa and fifth at Paul Ricard, Jones finished the United States GP in second place at the climax of a promising season for team and driver. In addition, his Lola T333-Chevrolet won five times on the way to Jones clinching the 1978 Can-Am Challenge for Haas-Hall Racing.
Bolstered by his most competitive F1 season so far, team owner Frank Williams expanded to a two-car operation in 1979 by adding the experienced Clay Regazzoni to the line-up. Even more important was the introduction of the “ground effect” FW07 at the Spanish GP. Jones, who had finished third at Long Beach on the final appearance of the FW06, was suddenly the fastest man in the field although poor reliability prevented a title challenge that year. Jones retired from the lead of the British GP (handing Williams’ first victory to Regazzoni) but the Australian then won four of the next five GPs.
World Champion for Williams
Third in the 1979 standings, Jones began 1980 as the clear favourite to win the World Championship. He won the opening race in Argentina despite spinning twice as the track broke up. He then recovered from a couple of retirements to win another four times and withstand Nelson Piquet’s spirited challenge. Jones clinched the title with a round to spare to become the second Australian to win the World Championship.
Jones began his title defence with victory in the 1981 Long Beach GP and was second next time out in Brazil. That race at Rio de Janeiro was marred by new team-mate Carlos Reutemann refusing to heed team orders to let Jones past for victory. With his relationship with the moody Argentinian frosty as a consequence, Jones won the final race of the year in Las Vegas before making the hasty decision to retire from the sport.
Back in Formula 1 with Arrows and Haas
He returned to Australia but Jackie Oliver – who ran Shadow when Jones won the 1977 Austrian GP – enticed him out of retirement at the start of 1983. Recovering from breaking his leg while riding on his farm and not yet fully race fit, Jones retired his Arrows A6-Ford from the Long Beach GP a fortnight before finishing third in the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch. However, Arrows were unable to find the sponsorship required to prolong the arrangement and it was over two years before Jones returned to F1 once more.
A couple of appearances in the World Endurance Championship included sharing the sixth placed Kremer Brothers Porsche 956B in the 1984 Le Mans 24 Hours. Jones’ old Can-Am team owner Carl Haas launched an ambitious new F1 team in 1985 with Beatrice sponsorship, engineering talent that included Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn and a works Ford engine deal. Jones was tempted out of retirement as team leader and, while waiting for the F1 team to be ready, he deputised for the injured Mario Andretti in Haas’ Lola T900-Cosworth in that year’s Elkhart Lake Champ Car race. Despite having not raced for over a year, Jones dodged the rain showers to finish third.
The Team Haas USA Lola THL1 (named after the Huntingdon-based constructor as Haas was its North American importer) was ready for the 1985 Italian GP, initially powered by Hart engines. The single car team attended four late-season GPs that year but Jones failed to finish – not starting in South Africa through illness.
Jones was joined by Patrick Tambay for a full campaign in 1986 but the Teddy Mayer-managed team proved less than the sum of its parts. They struggled for pace and reliability, even after the Ford V6 was introduced at Imola. Jones and Tambay finished fourth and fifth in Austria in what was a rare highlight of a frustrating season – the Australian’s last in F1. He left Europe having won 12 of his 116 Grand Prix starts as well as the 1980 World Championship.
Life after Formula 1
As well as working as a television commentator for Australia’s Channel Nine, Jones starred in the country’s competitive V8 Supercars touring car series from 1990. He finished as runner-up in 1993 after winning three times with a Glenn Seton Racing Ford Falcon EB – only beaten in the standings by Seton himself. Jones formed his own team in 1996 but soon sold out and he continued in the series as an occasional star driver until 2002.
Further racing endeavours included being Australia’s seat holder for the 2005 A1GP World Cup of Motorsport but a planned return to the cockpit in the Grand Prix Masters for former drivers was scuppered by his lack of fitness. Gritty and uncompromising behind the wheel, Alan Jones continues as a respected and opinionated media personality in Australia.