French drivers in the French Grand Prix 15 Jul 2006
Following Fernando Alonsos third place for Renault in Magny-Cours qualifying, a home victory for the French team on Sunday does not look out of the question. A win for a home driver, however, is far less likely. Only Super Aguris Franck Montagny will be flying the nations flag - and even that wasnt a sure thing until earlier this week.
Sixty-seven Frenchmen have competed in Formula One racing, with success on home soil a regular occurrence, thanks to legendary names such as Prost, Arnoux and Jabouille, all of whom made the race their own.
Jean Pierre Jabouille was the first Frenchman to clinch a home victory in 1979. His win was Renaults first Formula One triumph, and team mate Rene Arnoux also scored their first fastest lap on his way to third place in the same race.
Prior to Jabouilless landmark victory, several of his countrymen had come close to French glory. Eight years earlier, in 1971, Francoise Cevert scored his first podium at Paul Ricard. Cevert, driving for British team Tyrrell, came from seventh on the grid to finish second behind team mate Jackie Stewart. He was again runner-up in 1973, this time losing out to Lotuss Ronnie Peterson. And three years later another French driver, Patrick Depailler came second for Tyrrell at Paul Ricard, behind James Hunt.
Renaults follow-up French Grand Prix in 1980 was uninspiring. Jabouille retired with transmission problems whilst the other Renault car, driven again by Arnoux, was fifth. Australian driver Alan Jones eventually won in his McLaren, but French fans did not go completely disappointed. Didier Pironi was second for French team Ligier, whilst team mate and countryman Jacques Laffite started on pole and finished third.
By 1981, Renault were back on form and won in France for the second time - this time with the legendary Alain Prost at the wheel. Prosts team mate Arnoux also repeated his 1979 pole position, but only managed fourth in the race. After twice failing to win his home race from pole, Arnouxs luck finally changed in 1982 when he beat Prost by two-tenths of a second. The last place on the podium was occupied by yet another Frenchman, Pironi, who had started for Ferrari on pole. In 1984 Ferrari also gave French success to Patrick Tambay, who took pole position and second in the race.
Prost would go on to win a total of six French Grands Prix during his career. His two Renault triumphs were followed in 1988 and 1989 with victories for McLaren. In 1990 he was first again at Paul Ricard, this time driving for Ferrari. And in 1993, more than ten years after his first French success, Prost won for Williams before retiring at the end of the year having won his fourth and final world title.
It is important to win your home Grand Prix and this was a race I did not want to lose, he said after his 93 success. It is one of my best wins in terms of my own feelings.
A brief lull in home French success followed Prosts departure, but during the mid 1990s Jean Alesi seemed to momentarily pick up where his compatriot had left off. In 1996, he was third at Magny-Cours for Benetton behind the Williams of Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. However, the next two years Alesi struggled to find pace in France - he was fifth for Benetton in 1997 and seventh for Sauber in 1998, now driving for Sauber.
But in 1999, Alesi, still with Sauber, secured a surprise second place on the grid. Up until France, Alesi and Saubers season had been blighted by mechanical problems, and although the Frenchman eventually spun-off whilst running third, his qualifying performance was a definite high for the team.
Since then French fans have been waiting patiently for another French driver able to emulate the likes of Alesi, Prost or Jabouille. This weekend they will have to be content to cheer on Montagny and hope that he can score an unlikely points finish in his final race outing for Super Aguri.