Jacques Laffite Q&A

Jacques Laffite enjoyed a long and distinguished career in grand prix racing before a crash at the start of the 1986 British GP forced his retirement. A late starter, he was already 31 when he made his F1 debut for Williams in 1974, but he really made his name when he joined Ligier in 1976. Apart from a two-year spell back at Williams, Jacques spent a decade with the French team, and in a golden period from 1979-81 he won six grands prix and challenged for the World Championship. After quitting F1 he has never stopped racing, appearing in touring cars, Porsches and occasionally at Le Mans. Now he is a popular F1 pundit with French TV channel TF1. Adam Cooper spoke to 'Happy Jacques' about the past, present and the future

Jacques Laffite Q&A

Q: How are you enjoying life as a TV commentator?

"I enjoy it because I'm there watching the cars, the people, seeing all my friends. It's a nice job for me. It's not easy, but at least I know what I'm doing. It's much easier to do that than to do like Prost, for example. I prefer my job! Apart from TF1, I'm working with Mobil in France, and I'm doing some advertising for other companies. I'm very busy."

Q: Are you racing anything this year?

"Maybe they will give me a Porsche for the French GP meeting, or I'll do the Formula France single-seater race there, like last year. I didn't do any ice racing this winter because my wife had twin babies, so it was difficult to leave every weekend. Normally I planned to do the Chamonix 24 Hours, but I lost my mother three days before, so I stayed at home. Unfortunately it's really difficult for me to race now, because F1 is every 14 days. There are a lot of dates that clash. But I tested the Ferrari 333SP sportscar for TF1 the other week."

Q: Do you miss driving?

"Yes, I miss it. But I'm nearly 57, so it's difficult to find somebody to give you a car. Maybe I will do the Paris-Dakar next year, or ice racing, but I will do something. I only stopped F1 because of my accident in Brands Hatch, but afterwards I still raced in touring cars, DTM and everything. If I was not working with TF1 sure, I would do a series."

Q: Would you race historic cars?

"I'm not interested in old cars. Firstly it's not your car, the cars are very expensive, and secondly if you have any problem with them also it's dangerous. If you compare these cars with modern cars, they are so different."

Q: Some drivers stop F1 and stay away from racing. Can you understand that?

"I don't know why. I think if you love racing, you cannot stop. If you ask me if I would drive a little Formula France I would say yes, even to do the championship, why not. I love driving!"

Q: What do you think of F1 in the year 2000?

"It's fantastic. They have so much money, and they can work in many directions. It's interesting for the teams, for the engineers, and also for the drivers, because you learn a lot. The cars are fantastic and the technology is exceptional. It's always been difficult to win, with or without money. To win you need to have a good driver, good engineer, good mechanics. All that is the same - the only difference is now you have more money, more people, more testing, more time spent on working for sponsors. It's really a job now! In my time it was a pleasure to drive, but now it's a job for the drivers."

Q: What do you think of Michael Schumacher?

"I don't know Michael very well, but when I speak with him he seems clever. He's quick, strong and he makes all the team around him. And he will get better and better because he's still young. The future for him will be fantastic."

Q: Why are there no young French drivers in F1?

"Because the politics in France - with Renault and Elf - have changed. We don't spend a lot of money in France for young drivers. There are a lot of drivers around. However, I still believe that even if we think they are good, they have to prove it. They are good, but I don't know if they are good enough."

Q: Who do you rate of the up-and-coming F3000 guys?

"Franck Montagny. I've spoken with him very often, and I've tried to help him. I think he's very good, but he must prove it also. He has a good car and a good team, and he must win a race one day. If not, next year's he's out."

Q: What about Jean Alesi?

"I think Jean is really, really good. But he must have the possibility to prove it. When you are driving for Prost, the car is not so good, and also when you are driving for Sauber. Even when he was at Ferrari the car was not so good! But every time he has the possibility to do something, he does it, so I think he's very good. He takes his chances every time, like Michael."

Q: Are you surprised that Alain Prost is struggling?

"It's difficult for him. He's a four-time World Champion and he won 51 GPs, and everyone thinks about that always. It's difficult to work in that position. There is Alan Jenkins, there is John Barnard, there are good mechanics. They have everything. You can say what you think about the engine, and they do have some problems, but it's not bad. The big problem for Alain is always to find the money to go on and go on."

Q: What's the best memory from your racing career?

"My best souvenir is not when I was in F1, but when I was in Formula Renault and F3, working on my car. I was trying to be the best, on my own, with one mechanic, travelling around France. I was really working for racing at this time. Afterwards when you are in F1 you are a driver, you
are involved, but not like I was in F3 and Formula Renault."

Q: What about the times when you had a winning F1 car with Ligier?

"Like I said before, you have to prove that you can do something with a team. I stayed with Ligier for a long time, because I fitted in very well in this team, and I could work like I wanted to. Maybe we sometimes lacked money, but I did something with the team, you know. When I left the team to go to Frank Williams in England, the team didn't work at all, and when I came back, they started to work again. So I did my job, I think!"

Q: Finally you mentioned your twins - what's it like being a father again?

"Now I have five children. I have two girls of 22 and 20, after that I have Pierre who was born two years ago, and in December we had Paul and Josephine. It's a lot of work, not only for my wife, but also for me. I have to think about the future, and I need to work a lot! But I'm very happy. It keeps you young."

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