Features - Interview
AUGUST 1, 1991
The return of Gerard Ducarouge
BY JOE SAWARD
Gerard has been France's top Formula 1 engineer since the mid-1970s when he designed the Ligiers which challenged for the World Championship with such drivers as Jacques Laffite, Patrck Depailler and Didier Pironi. In 1981 Ducarouge left Ligier after Guy Ligier had one of his famous explosions. Since then the team has not won a race and for the last 10 years Ligier has been trying to get Ducarouge back.
Time and again Ducarouge has refused Ligier's offers time and again, saying that all the money in the world would not entice him back to the team. He could live, he said, without the money - and without the pressures of being a top Frenchman in what is, in effect, the French national team.
The nice thing about Gerard Ducarouge is that, despite having made a great deal of money in F1, he has not lost his appetite for the sport. He is, above all, an enthusiast and his joy at working in F1 is contagious. His reputation these days is as one of the best motivators in the business. Certainly Ducarouge's influence on the success of the Larrousse team has been formidable. The team finished sixth in last year's Constructors' World Championship, but since then outside influences have forced the team to its knees.
"I always thought that we would solve the sponsor problem," he says. "So we could achieve what we wanted to do with Larrousse. We wanted to make it a real Formula 1 team which would have the the possibility to build the chassis, the chance to do more research, designing with the CAD system and so on. With these we would be racing by ourselves rather than having to rely on Lola. Unfortunately, it has been far more difficult than we thought.
"I have to say that Gerard Larrousse has been very impressive the way he has been trying like hell to solve the situation: to find sponsors. He has fought harder than I have ever seen before to find people to help him carry on.
"When I joined Larrousse, I took a chance instead of other offers I had. It was something new, Gerard was a very good friend and I said: "Why not try the challenge of a small team?"
"With the budget we had, we managed to finish sixth in the World Championship. That was not that bad. It was not fantastic, but it was a year ahead of the programme we had in mind. Unfortunataely we have since passed through a lot of disappointment. We were unable to secure Lamborghini engines this year and our main sponsor had to stop. Then we had that silly FISA business. All these things meant that we started this year with almost no sponsorship.
"To make F1 in a good way you need a lot of money. You have to knock on the doors of big organisations which normally decide their publicity money in October for the following year. When you arrive in March and try to find money it is harder and harder. Gerard has tried like crazy and I have a lot of respect for him but it is very difficult. Gerard is not the only one in trouble. That shows how hard it now is to put together a reasonable budget.
"I care about the people who are doing a good job and I I have always thought that jumping from the boat would make it even more difficult for Gerard. I waited until the latest possible minute to make my decision. I could have taken the decision many months ago, but I was thinking it was good for me to continue with Larrousse if everything was nicely together. As soon as I knew that his sponsorship was sealed and signed I knew that the team was safe to carry on. Michel Tetu is a very clever engineer. He will do the job, no problem at all.
"Last week we had discussions again and unfortunately Gerard was not able to promise me any future plan which would guarantee that we would be a real F1 team with a drawing office and a test team and a windtunnel whatever. This is what is really needed now. F1 is getting harder and harder, needing more and more engineers. I am sure that Gerard will carry on fighting to find money, but for me there was not the point of the year to change teams. I cannot wait to December to discover we are in a situation where the money is not there. Gerard and I have no problems at all together. We are still good friends. Unfortunately I had to make the choice."
But why Ligier and the pressure?
"For next year Guy has something very strong already established. He has a fantastic technical team under Frank Dernie. They have all the research facilities, with the windtunnel working already and a good budget which is secure for three years. There are 130 or 140 people and - of course - the Renault engine which is now the best. It is a challenge for me."
"I have a good life in the South of France with Larrousse. I do not need the money. The problem is that living in the sunshine does not make a happy man. There are many nice places to live in the world. I went to Norwich when I worked with Lotus and I had a fantastic time. I would not say that Norwich is the best place to live in Europe but I had a good time, living in a little town and all that. It was special and I enjoyed the collaboration with Lotus I tried my best. You cannot do better. I was very happy there. Then I went back to the south of France. Now I will go to Magny-Cours and there will be less sunshine, but plenty of action - and a far bigger challenge.
"Where you live does not make you happy. You need to do well in your job and take on the challenges to make you happy when you are at home. I prefer to do what I can to get cars higher up the grid. It's as simple as that.
"Facing such a challenge it is a pleasure for me to be able to work with Frank Dernie. He is a very very clever engineer. We complement each other and I cannot think of a single reason why we cannot work very closely together trying to win.
"Guy made me many approaches and in the end I was convinced it was a good challenge to do. I said "Why not?"."
"It won't be like 1979. In those days the team had 30 people. These days things are completely different. You need a strong team with clever people working together. All race teams need leaders and I think probably there is no doubt that Frank is a fantastic leader in all the theoretical things. He is a very strong engineer which, in a lot of respects, I am not, but maybe I can bring to the team something else in the field of race operations. I think it going to work very well. No doubt about it."