Features - Interview
NOVEMBER 1, 1993
BY JOE SAWARD
Jean-Pierre Jabouille is back in Formula 1. In the late 1970s he was one of the stars of the sport but after a huge accident in Canada in 1980 which left him with two badly broken legs he drifted away from Grand Prix racing, unable to drive F1 cars competitively. He did a bit of racing in France and ran a restaurant in Paris.
Now he is back as the boss of Peugeot Talbot Sport, McLaren's new engine partner.
"When we announced that Peugeot was coming to F1 I said that the choice of a team would be a technical decision," says Jabouille. "I visited different teams and I consider the most professional at all levels to be McLaren. After that it was necessary to negotiate with Ron Dennis. That was not easy because it is a risk for him to commit himself when all we have right now is a wooden model of an engine. What brought us together was the desire to perform well. It does not matter who supplies what we must do is be the fastest and the best together."
Jabouille admits that it was lucky for Peugeot that a team of McLaren's calibre was open to offers of an engine deal.
"Sure it was lucky. But they had quite a few opportunities. I know Chrysler was interested and they had won races with Ford, but they chose the unknown option with us."
If McLaren is taking a risk, Peugeot too is putting its reputation on the line.
"It is a big risk," says Jabouille, "but since I joined Peugeot Talbot Sport we have taken a succession of risks, but they have been calculated risks. We are going to have to work quickly and get the best results we can as soon as we can. I think it is a good gamble.
"Larrousse would have been an easier option. In the first year we are going to have some small problems. We've never done F1 before as a team. It would have been easier to start with Larrousse, but I thought about it a lot and decided that it would create a lot of problems in the longer term. I had the opportunity to go into partnership with McLaren, so I went for it, eh voila!"
And what about the drivers. Who will drive a McLaren-Peugeot alongside Mika Hakkinen?
"There are currently only two top stars in F1. Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. One is at Williams, the other at Benetton. There are also the two Ferrari drivers but they are contracted. After that the rest are about the same sort of level. Maybe Rubens Barrichello is good, we'll see. We will pick a driver on performance, but we are not going to get around to drivers until later, maybe in December, something like that. It will be a collective decision."
So there is no demand for a French driver?
"What we need is a driver going in the same direction as Peugeot and McLaren. If it is a French driver it would be great."
If nationality is not important, what about experience?
"If you look at the regulations as they are today with limited running in practice and qualifying it is a handicap if a driver has never seen a track before. We cannot have a driver like that. It is obligatory that we have a driver who is currently in F1."
A driver with Renault experience perhaps?
"No, that does not interest us. We have our own ideas. We will go our own way."
But the fight with Renault is going to be war.
"That's life, isn't it?" he says. "I don't think you can say it is going to be a war. Peugeot needed to continue in the sport. We will continue in touring cars no matter what happens, but sportscars are finished. Le Mans is finished. We cannot do anything in rallying. So the only thing left is F1. Renault is there. They are French and they are at the top. I reckon that Peugeot's decision to enter F1 is very brave because in the immediate future there are going to be setbacks because Renault is the World Champion and they have five years of F1 experience with atmospheric engines. It is going to be tough."
But, as Jabouille knows, it will not be impossible. Sixteen years ago he was the driver of the yellow Renault 'teapot' turbo as the French manufacturer struggled to make it work. In 1979 he won the first victory for a turbocharged F1 car. he understands the challenge of F1, even if things have changed.
"I love F1," he admits. "Whatever you are doing you have to be the best, whether you are a driver or an engineer, whatever. That is the challenge and the fun. We can go into other forms of motorsport without much competition and we can win, but what is the motivation in that?
In F1 there is competition - at an international level. You have to prove yourself to be the best or at least to be able to keep up with the best.
"That is the motivation."