Jean-Louis Schlesser

Born:
12th September 1948 (Age 71)
Nancy, Lorraine
Nationality:
French
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Jean-Louis Schlesser was the leading sports car driver of his era and twice world champion. However, it is for his only Formula 1 appearance that he is best remembered.

He replaced an ill Nigel Mansell for the 1988 Italian Grand Prix on the day before his 40th birthday. It had been a perfect season for McLaren so far with Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost having won every race. The Brazilian was securely in the lead at Monza when he went to lap Schlesser’s Williams FW12-Judd at the first chicane on the penultimate lap. The cars touched and both were eliminated to hand Ferrari a surprise win. While Senna had lost a certain victory, Schlesser had written his F1 epitaph.

Family background and early racing career

Jo Schlesser’s nephew was raised in Morocco and followed in his uncle’s footsteps after completing his military service. His racing career began to take shape when he graduated to Formula 3 in 1976. He drove a private Chevron B38-Toyota two years later and tied Prost as French F3 Champion despite not winning a race. He continued in the category afterwards as well as competing in national touring cars and international sports cars.

His debut at Le Mans came in 1981 when Schlesser joined Jean Rondeau’s local outfit but it was a tragic event for team-mate Jean-Louis Lafosse was killed in the third hour. However, the GTP Rondeau M379CL-Ford of Schlesser, Jacky Haran and Philippe Streiff raised spirits a little by finishing second overall.

Initial Formula 1 attempt

Despite endurance racing becoming increasingly important to Schlesser, he continued in single-seaters and drove a Maurer-BMW in six European Formula 2 races during 1982 without scoring a point. He began testing for Williams at the time and tried to graduate to F1 in 1983. Sixth in the non-championship Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, his RAM March 01-Ford was not competitive and Schlesser failed to qualify for the French GP a week later.

He joined Tom Walkinshaw Racing to win the 1985 French Touring Car Championship with a Marlboro Rover 3500 Vitesse. Schlesser was also part of the team that returned Jaguar to the World Sportscar Championship at that year’s Mosport Park 1000Kms in an event marred by the death of Manfred Winkelhock. The Jaguar XJR-6 of Martin Brundle, Mike Thackwell and Schlesser finished an impressive third amid the gloom that day.

Leading Sauber Mercedes in sports cars

Apart from his Monza mishap, it was leading the Sauber Mercedes sports car team that defined his circuit racing career. He joined the Swiss/German outfit in 1987, won the opening race of 1988 and ended that year as runner-up behind Jaguar’s Brundle. He dominated the world championship in 1989 and 1990 – winning the title in successive seasons with co-driver Mauro Baldi sharing in that latter triumph. However, Sauber endured a disappointing 1991 and withdrew to prepare for its forthcoming F1 entry.

Schlesser made his debut in the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1984 and the event – and rally-raids in general – became a new focus to his career. That was as a driver/manufacturer of Schlesser dune buggies from 1992. He scored outright victory in the event in 1999 and 2000 but F1 historians are most apt to remember a collision at Monza as the highest profile moment of Jean-Louis Schlesser’s career.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1991 World Sportscar Championship
Team Sauber Mercedes
8 0 2 0 7th 45
1990 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Team Sauber Mercedes
9 7 6 6 1st 49.5
1989 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Team Sauber Mercedes
8 1 7 5 1st 115 (127)
1988 Deutsche Rennsportmeisterschaft 1st -
1988 F1 World Championship
Canon Williams Team
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1988 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Team Sauber Mercedes
10 7 9 4 2nd 208 (259)
1988 Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft
AMG Mercedes
2 0 0 0
0% win rate
28th 21
1987 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Team Sauber Mercedes
1 1 0 0 47th 4
1987 World Touring Car Championship
Alfa Corse
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
27th 70
1986 World Sports-Prototype Championship
Silk Cut Jaguar
9 0 0 0 20th 22
1985 World Endurance Championship
John Fitzpatrick Racing
Tom Walkinshaw Racing
3 (1) 0 1 0 0
1985 French Touring Car Championship 1st -
1984 World Endurance Championship
Joest Racing
1 0 0 0 0
1983 F1 World Championship
RAM Automotive Team March
0 (1) 0 0 0 0
1983 World Endurance Championship
John Fitzpatrick Racing
1 0 0 0 93rd 1
1982 European F2 Championship
Maurer Motorsport
8 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1982 World Endurance Championship
Team GS Sport
1 0 0 0 0
1981 World Endurance Championship
Jean Rondeau
2 0 1 0 112th 20
1981 European F3 Championship
ORECA
14 0 1 0
0% win rate
7th 18
1980 World Championship of Makes 2 0 0 0 2
1980 European F3 Championship
Marlboro Racing France
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1979 World Championship of Makes 3 0 0 0 4
1978 European F3 Championship
Chevron Racing Team
KWS Motorsport
Jean-Louis Schlesser
6 (2) 0 0 0
0% win rate
20th 3
1978 French F3 Championship 1st -
1977 World Championship of Makes 1 0 0 0 0
1977 European F3 Championship
KWS Freiheit Racing Team
4 (1) 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1976 European F3 Championship
Team Modus
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
21st 1