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Friday favourite: The long-standing F1 team-mates who crashed Todt's car

They shared a team for 77 Formula 1 races, but Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger also shared some interesting off-track scrapes - including a crash in Jean Todt's Lancia 30 years ago

Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger wave to the crowd on the drivers' parade.

Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger wave to the crowd on the drivers' parade.

Ercole Colombo

The careers of Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger feel entwined, given their five Formula 1 seasons as team-mates and simultaneous moves from Ferrari to Benetton for 1996.

Berger rejoined Ferrari for 1993 after three years at McLaren, having previously spent three seasons at the Scuderia. Ironically, given the genial relationship that lay ahead, Alesi immediately viewed the arrival of Berger - by now an eight-time race winner as a big threat.

“I was shocked about this very bad season we had in 1992,” says Alesi. “But I was giving my maximum as always, to keep [morale in] the team up. When they signed Gerhard for ’93, he arrived as a doctor, you know, an experienced driver to fix the team, and that annoyed me a lot.

Gazzetta dello Sport reported all the details of his contract as number one driver, so I complained to Niki [Lauda] and he was super as always. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Jean, just ask for more money!’

“I said, ‘Niki, I don’t give a shit about money, I just want the same position and status as him in the team.’ So, he said he would talk to [Luca] di Montezemolo, and he came back the next day to tell me he’d arranged for me to be gifted an F1 car from 1992! I said, ‘Niki, that was not what I asked for…’ but it worked out OK.

“When we started work together on the track, I found Gerhard a very fair person, he was very straight. And this I liked. Of course, he was a great competitor, but he understood that this status as ‘number one’ was not really useful to him, so he never went to the team and demanded more testing or anything. We had equal treatment.”

Alesi was initially wary when Berger joined him at Ferrari for 1993

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Alesi was initially wary when Berger joined him at Ferrari for 1993

They started as team-mates in 77 grands prix from 1993 to 1997 (three years at Ferrari then both moved to Benetton in 1996 as Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine arrived). Between them they won three races, with Berger triumphing in Germany in 1994 and 1997 and Alesi’s sole career win in Canada 1995.

During their first season together, Alesi became all too aware of Berger’s penchant for practical jokes. And he found this to his cost when Berger pranked him one fateful day at the Fiorano test track.

“It’s a very popular story between our friends, because we have the Gerhard version and my version,” says Alesi. “My version is very easy: I was waiting in the office at the factory before I was due on track, and Gerhard was testing at Fiorano that morning. But they had to change the gearbox or something.

“I start like crazy, we came out of the factory and turned on to the roads to Fiorano. And at each corner I was doing, he was pulling the handbrake" Jean Alesi

“He came to the factory and when he saw me, he says ‘Jean, I have to make some phone calls but take me back to Fiorano later’ and I said ‘OK, no problem’. But I realised that I had no car at the factory. And the first car I saw was Jean Todt’s car. It was a brand-new [Lancia] Ypsilon 10 with a special colour, a special interior – he waited a long time for this car. So I took this one.

“Gerhard got in and put his seat maximum to the rear, put on his seatbelt, and said ‘You can push if you want’. You cannot say that to me, you know?! [laughs] I start like crazy, we came out of the factory and turned on to the roads to Fiorano. And at each corner I was doing, he was pulling the handbrake. The car was going up on two and three wheels and I was saying ‘Gerhard! Stop! Stop!’ And he didn’t, he just kept doing it.

“I was just making the last corner inside Fiorano, so I braked and again he pulled the handbrake and the car… I don’t think we have done it twice – instead of going to its side, the car went up over its nose and onto its roof!

“I had no seatbelt, so I ended up on my knees – I was lucky I wasn’t badly hurt. And Gerhard had his head down. I looked at him and started laughing so much. ‘This is Jean Todt’s car!’

Alesi and Berger both made the move from Benetton to Ferrari for 1996

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Alesi and Berger both made the move from Benetton to Ferrari for 1996

“We had to get out of the car through the back, the mechanics had run over to us – they didn’t know who it was to start with – and opened the trunk so we could get out. They said: ‘Are you crazy?! Are you crazy?!’

“I was bleeding a little bit from my head, Gerhard was OK because he had the seatbelt on. They put me in a small ambulance next to the airplane in Fiorano. The mechanics put the car back on its wheels and covered it up.

“And just as they pushed it to the side, right at this moment, arriving at the track were Jean Todt, John Barnard and Luca di Montezemolo. But they didn’t know and they didn’t see anything of the crash.

“Eventually they returned to the factory and that’s when they found out what had really happened. And they were really, really upset with me!” Jean Alesi

“Gerhard ran to the F1 car and put on his helmet. They started the car and he left while I was watching from the ambulance. I was peeking out of the window and could see Jean Todt looking at the times of Gerhard, and then he pitted.

“Jean Todt goes to Gerhard, and I could see that they were talking but I couldn’t hear what he said. I found out later that he said ‘Did you speak with Jean? Because he had an accident!’ Eventually they returned to the factory and that’s when they found out what had really happened. And they were really, really upset with me!”

For the record, Berger’s version is that they didn’t know whose car it was when they took it, but “Jean was driving like an idiot so I put the safety belt on and I said: ‘OK, you do what you want.’ And then I started playing with the handbrake…”

Todt was not so happy when he learned of his drivers' antics

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Todt was not so happy when he learned of his drivers' antics

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