Jean-Pierre Jabouille 1942 – 2023

It is sad to have to report the death of another top driver from Formula 1 in the 1970s, with the news that France’s Jean-Pierre Jabouille has died at the age of 80. He was an accomplished engineer in addition to being a quick driver.

He came from an unusual background, having studied modern art at the Sorbonne for a brief period before deciding that he was better suited to motor racing  after he took part in the celebrated Mont-Dore hillclimb in the Auvergne.

He was at the wheel of his own Alpine road car and that convinced him to enter the new Renault 8 Gordini series in 1966, and to race a Mini-Marcos in 1000km races in Paris and at Monza. Jabouille prepared the cars himself, helped by a friend called Jacques Laffite, who would later become his brother-in-law when the pair married the Cottin sisters, Geneviève (Mme Jabouille) and Bernadette (Mme Laffite).

Jabouille, who was often nicknamed “Jelly Baby” by the English who struggled with his name, then moved on to Formula 3  in 1967 with a Brabham and soon began to make an impression. A year later he had an ex-factory Matra F3 car and by 1969 had been taken on by the Alpine-Renault team to race in Formula 3.

In the years that followed he represented Matra in F2 and sportscars. When Matra quit competition at the end of 1974, Jabouille and another longtime racing friend Jean-Claude Guenard got hold of an Alpine A367 Formula 2 car and reworked it as the Elf 2J (the J being for Jabouille) and with funding from Elf, Jean-Pierre won the European F2 Championship. He had made his F1 debut the previous year with an Elf-funded outing for Tyrrell at the French Grand Prix, but after his F2 title he was taken on by Renault to develop the first F1 turbo engine. It was a long job but, in the summer of 1979, Jabouille broke through, giving Renault its first F1 win at the French GP at Dijon-Prenois.

The elegant Frenchman scored another victory in Austria in 1980 but by then he had been eclipsed by his faster team mate Rene Arnoux, who benefitted from Jabouille’s set-up skills.

He was on the way out at Renault by the end of the year but signed a deal to race for Ligier Matra, alongside his brother-in-law Laffite. Sadly, at the end of the 1980 season he had a big crash in Canada and suffered serious leg injuries that would leave him with a permanent limp. He was not fit at the start of 1981 and his car was driven in the first two races by Jean-Pierre Jarier. After that he failed to qualify in Argentina and it soon became clear that he was no longer competitive and he announced his retirement and stepped back into a management role with the team. He was replaced by Patrick Tambay. Further operations followed in the course of the next 18 months and at the end of 1983 he tested a Ligier-Cosworth, although by then he was in charge of the Ligier CART team, which aimed to take the team to the Indy 500, as Renault was then the owner of the American Motors Corporation (AMC). The project never really got off the ground.

He then drifted away from Formula 1 and ran a restaurant in Paris, while racing for Peugeot in the French Touring Car Championship. He developed a strong relationship with the company and was a member of the Peugeot sportscar team at Le Mans in 1992 and 1993 before retiring (again) to take on the role the head of Peugeot Sport boss, replacing Jean Todt. He headed the company’s F1 engine programme (with McLaren) until January 1996 when he was replaced. He then established his own sportscar team with Jean-Michel Bouresche and ran Ferrari sportscars with some success and before switching to run Philippe Alliot’s Force One Racing team.

In recent years he has often demonstrated his old Renault F1 cars, a reminder of his greatest days…

18 thoughts on “Jean-Pierre Jabouille 1942 – 2023

  1. Thanks for sharing. I will always remember watching (delayed) coverage of the 1979 French GP. Very fitting, Jean-Pierre won.

    My condolences to his family and friends.

  2. JP-J was one of the leading lights when I first became aware of F1!
    I recognised him as a driver as a Mr Renault…
    Ok so Arnoux was quicker, but so was Pironi too (probably) in the Le mans cars a couple of years earlier.
    I always looked upon him as a ‘name’ in the sport.

  3. Thanks for the summary Joe. I was at Silverstone in 77 and we’ll remember the sound of the whistling teapot. A heck of a weekend really, with David Purley’s crash and Villeneuve’s debut as well.

    1. My thanks & appreciation of Joe’s piece.
      I was also at the 1977 British GP weekend and echo your comment with a wry head-shaking smile of its portents in retrospect.

  4. Thanks Joe, many fond memories of JP in F2 and F1 – in the heydays of French style, innovation and all round coolness. A nice guy.

  5. Very sad news. An integral part of the birthing of the mad F1 turbo era which really caught my attention as a little lad. Could it be said that F1 career was severely hampered due to his determination and dedication to help Renault in development of the EF1 engine? Did this ever come up in interviews with him Joe?

    1. No, I only spoke with him in Peugeot days and I think once in Supertourisme. I was still at school when he was in F1!

  6. In 1980, the Jabouille/Arnoux qualifying record was 9-5. I doubt that many people would agree that Arnoux was the superior driver.

    1. Jabouille was quick, but his weakness was racing wheel to wheel. He could win from pole but not race through the field. The results bear this out

  7. If he had not suffered from such poor mechanical reliability (which was not his fault), his racing record would look much better. He would have been a worthy world champion.

    1. When you watch through the marvels of timternet you see that is true for a number of drivers in that era and before, look at Chris Amon for example. But that was the sport in those days, “to finish first, first you must finish.” No we know who is likely to win (as in 1 of 4 drivers generally) unless the weather intervenes. That’s progress I guess.

  8. Wow, his F1 breakthrough was when most would be hanging up their helmet. Sad that his finest day was overshadowed by the mad dash for second, but record books will always reflect the reality, a Frenchman in an all French outfit won that day at Dijon-Prenois.

    That golden age of Elf production line is getting old now. Just a minor point on 1978, he may have driven in the winning car (I don’t know if he did) but is not credited, the two car team of Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jaussaud are credited as winners.

    From this obituary he sounds like he was a real character, rest in peace

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