Features - Interview
SEPTEMBER 1, 1992
Out of the limelight: Jean Alesi
BY JOE SAWARD
Jean Alesi hasn't been in the headlines much in the last recent months. The sensation of the 1990 season in the dramatic trend-setting Tyrrell 019 was signed by Ferrari at a time when the famed Scuderia was coming apart at the seams. Today everyone is talking about Michael Schumacher while Jean battles to get Ferrari back up to speed.
"It really is a completely different team," he explains. "Right from the big boss to the guy who does the tyres. At the moment, the result is about the same. We are qualifying the car from the third to the fifth rows and the best result we have had was third in Barcelona. That is not good enough.
"People are doing their best and we have only one car. What we did last year was a mistake. We changed from one car to another too quickly. We really did not understand what had happened with the old car and the new car had the same problems. This year we are starting from nothing, but what is important is to concentrate on this car and fix the problems.
"We are testing all the time to try to understand the car and know every problem and, at the same time, make different things to develop the car: we have a transverse gearbox, which improves the weight distribution. Maybe we will soon have new front suspension geometry.
"We are doing many kilometers and for a young driver like me it's not bad. Anyway, you cannot stay at home with a bad car in the back of your mind. You can go on holidays when you have a winning car and all the team is doing development. But not now."
And what about F1's young hope. Is he still feeling young despite the pressures of Ferrari.
"Of course," he says. "I am not as young as I was two years ago, but nor am I Alain Prost or Ayrton Senna. I am still young. A new generation. I am in the oldest F1 team and I don't have much experience."
Partnering Alain Prost in 1991 must have helped?
"Oh yeah," says Jean. "I was very lucky to work with Alain. I followed him, saw the way he worked and I learned a lot from him. To be honest, although we are team mates and working together I am not learning anything from Ivan Capelli. I am still learning with Niki Lauda, because he is exactly like Prost but is not driving any more."
What does Lauda actually do at Ferrari?
"He joined us because Luca di Montezemolo (the Ferrari president) asked him to give advice," explains Jean. "He is doing that; following the team; looking at other teams; seeing if they are better organized. If Niki has some ideas, Montezemolo will try and do them."
And what about being a Ferrari driver and the pressures that involves?
"Well you cannot go shopping or to a restaurant without problems," he admits. "Everyone wants your autograph. They ask you why the car is no good. You are under the microscope all the time and sometimes it is too heavy. That is specially true in Italy. In Switzerland, where I spend all my free time, I have a very quiet life."
Jean is far from quiet at the race tracks. With Prost leaving Ferrari, Jean found himself thrust into the role of team leader. He has not disappointed and is still as fiery - and exciting to watch - as ever. He is incredibly hungry for his first GP win. He is always pushing right to the limit and he remains fiercely competitive, as witnessed in Imola in the two incidents with Martin Brundle in qualifying and Gerhard Berger in the race.