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The Five Best Drives of Jean Alesi

Jean Alesi was one of the leading drivers of F1 during the early and mid-1990s. The French-Sicilian was driving for Ferrari and Bennetton during these years.

He was hailed as a great talent, but unfortunately he never really became a serious title contender throughout his career. Still, despite not getting close to winning the ultimate prize of F1, Alesi put in some stunning drives, moments that are worth remembering even decades after his retirement.

1992 Spanish GP

The 1992 season was dominated by the William Renault-Mansell combination. Such was the dominance of the Williams team that on a normal day, nobody was able to get anywhere near their drivers.

Reigning world champions McLaren and Ayrton Senna were left in the dust, but even the Benetton cars were much more competitive than Alesi’s Ferrari.

The Spanish track at Barcelona was always a track that suited the aero efficient cars of F1, and 1992 was no exception. Mansell with his slick Williams, with its advanced electronics, easily took pole from Schumacher and Senna. Alesi only qualified a lowly 8th, even behind his teammate, and a whopping 2,5 seconds behind Mansell.

Had the race been dry, no doubt Ferrari would not have stood a chance against the Williams, McLaren and Benetton cars. Luckily for Alesi, rain came to his rescue.

In the wet conditions, he looked much more competitive than in the dry and was relatively able to keep pace with the faster cars. He made a wise strategic gamble during the race when he pitted for fresh tyres, whilst his rivals decided to do the whole race on their initial set of tyres. Alesi initially dropped back thanks to his time loss in the pits, but as the rain intensified in the closing stages of the race, he was catching up and passing the cars ahead of him. With two laps to go he was already 4th and quickly closing on 3rd place man Senna, when the Brazilian crashed out.

In the end, Alesi finished the race in 3rd. A great achievement with a car that was markedly slower than that of three other teams on the grid.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Alesi could have joined Williams instead of Ferrari for the 1991 season.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True

1990 Monaco GP

Alesi greatly impressed Ken Tyrell after he made his F1 debut in the middle of the 1989 season. Tyrell instantly signed the young driver who was impressing the whole paddock for the 1990 season. Alesi repaid the faith of Ken Tyrell by putting in some superb drives at the beginning of the 1990 season.

One of these drives was at the Monaco GP. The Tyrell car was a very nimble car with an engine that had good driveability, but as the Ford was only a V8, it lacked the power of the V10 Honda or the V12 Ferrari. As a result, Alesi was unable to get anywhere near these cars on tracks where engine power was important.

Monaco was not such a track, and Alesi excelled in the streets of Monte Carlo. He qualified his Tyrell third on the grid, only behind Senna and Prost, but impressively ahead of their teammates Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell.

Alesi had a good start to his race when he passed Prost in the first lap, but unfortunately for him his overtake was cancelled by an accident between Prost and Berger. Prost was more careful after the second start and defended another attack from Alesi.

Still, despite failing to pass his great rival, Alesi was able to keep up with the Ferrari man and easily maintained the third position from Berger.

Alesi moved up to second when Prost was forced to retire with a battery problem, and he maintained second until the end of the race, scoring a very impressive podium.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

Scroll to Continue
  1. Alesi had two podiums in the 1990 season.
    • False
    • True

Answer Key

  1. True

1995 Japanese GP

Alesi had a quite consistent 1995 season overall. He struggled in the qualifying sessions and was more often than not slower than his teammate Gerhard Berger, but he generally had the measure of Berger during the races. The Ferrari was a decent car too, but they were usually slower than the Benettons and Williamses.

Just like in 1992, wet conditions allowed Alesi to shine. Alesi put in a strong performance in qualifying to get 2nd place on the grid behind Michael Schumacher.

The race started in wet conditions, but the drivers quickly entered the pits to change for dry tyres. Before he could make his stop for dry tyres Alesi received a 10 second stop and go penalty for a jump start which dropped him to the middle of the grid. Not much after receiving his penalty, Alesi switched to dry tyres and started to carve his way through the field.

In less than 10 laps he went from 15th to 2nd and was the only man who was capable of keeping race leader Michael Schumacher insights. He was running a close second when an engine failure forced him to retire from the race, robbing him of his reward for a great performance.

1990 Usa Gp

The United States GP was the opening race of the 1990 season. An unexpected rain on Saturday meant that the order of the grid was decided by Friday’s qualifying session. Pirelli surprised everybody with their soft qualifying tyres, which allowed them to put 5 cars in the top 10.

New McLaren driver Gerhard Berger took pole position, while Alesi started from an impressive 4th.

Alesi was very aggressive at the start, and by the end of the first lap was leading the race from Berger and Senna. Senna got by Berger 9 laps later when the Austrian made a mistake. The Pirelli tyres which Tyrell was using were unknown tyres for the Goodyear runners, so during the first third of the race, Senna was happy enough to bide his time and follow Alesi from a distance. He gradually clawed back Alesi’s lead and made his move on the 34th lap, but an aggressive Alesi repassed Senna on the very same lap.

Senna tried again on the next lap, and this time foresaw Alesi’s attempt to repass him. After Senna got by, he gradually pulled away from Alesi and cruised home to a victory.

Despite failing to win the race, Alesi had no reason to be disappointed, as he got the best of the package he had and finished second after a superb drive.

1995 European GP

The 1995 European GP was in my opinion, the best drive of Jean Alesi’s career.

In the dry qualifying session, the Ferrari’s were way off the pace of Schumacher and the Williamses, Alesi was even beaten by his teammate Berger.

Rain once again came to the help of Ferrari, and in the damp conditions, Ferrari made the gamble of starting the race on dry tyres, whilst most of the grid opted to start on intermediates. The Ferrari’s initially dropped back, Berger a lot more than Alesi, but as the track began to dry up, Alesi took the lead after the rest of the grid went to the pits for dry tyres.

On the drying track Alesi opened up a huge lead from the following pack, and at one point, he was leading by 45 seconds. Still, as the track dried, it became obvious that the Ferrari was no match for the followers in the dry conditions. To make matters worse, Ferrari committed a tactical gamble by fueling up Alesi heavily when he went to the pits, while his followers were a lot lighter, which allowed Schumacher to close up to him.

With 15 laps to go, Schumacher once again entered the pits for his last stop. When he exited the pits, he was quite a way behind Alesi, but he was on a much fresher set of tyres and in a faster car. As Alesi got bogged down in traffic, Schumacher closed up to him and passed the Ferrari man with two laps to go.

Despite failing to win the race, Alesi still put in a sensational drive in a slightly inferior car, and it was thanks to his incredible wet weather driving capabilities that the Ferrari was capable of fighting for victory.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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