OCTOBER 10, 2001
Alesi announces he will retire from F1
Formula One veteran Jean Alesi has announced that Sunday's Japanese grand prix at Suzuka will be his 201st and last as he will be retiring after twelve seasons in the sport's most senior category.
The 37-year old Frenchman had hoped that he would be able to remain with the Jordan team to which he transferred from the rival Prost squad in the middle of the current season.
Alesi's retirement will undoubtedly take some of the fizz out of the formula one business for he radiated an almost child-like passion for the business of driving racing cars. Sadly, after a brilliant debut in formula one for the now-defunct Tyrrell team in 1989, the popular driver from Avignon never quite realized his potential and scored just a single grand prix victory during his long career.
That memorable event came at Montreal in 1995 when Alesi's Ferrari swept past the checkered flag to win the Canadian grand prix. It was a deeply emotional moment for Alesi whose car carried the same race number twenty-seven which had been the late Gilles Villeneuve's race number during much of his time at Ferrari and after whom the Canadian circuit was named.
Alesi originally came to prominence when he won the Formula 3000 championship for Jordan in 1989 before switching to the Tyrrell team. The following year he stunned the entire paddock at Phoenix when, during the US grand prix, he jousted wheel-to-wheel with world champion Ayrton Senna's McLaren-Honda, forcing the Brazilian ace to dig deep into his reserves to see off this impudent youngster.
Alesi finished second on that occasion and was also runner-up to Senna at Monaco. In 1991 he joined Ferrari alongside Alain Prost and remained there until the end of 1995 when he and his team-mate Gerhard Berger moved across to Benetton together.
Still very quick, but always inconsistent, Alesi never again harnessed that race-winning edge. His emotional volatility often put him at odds with Benetton team principal Flavio Briatore, perhaps never more than when, in the heat of battle, he forgot to come in to refuel during the 1996 Australian grand prix and consequently rolled to a halt out on the circuit.
Briatore was apoplectic, reducing Alesi to tears in the subsequent verbal showdown. But such lapses of concentration were all part of Jean's charm and his popularity remained undimmed. The news that Jordan have replaced him the 26-year old Japanese driver Takuma Sato, winner of this year's British formula three championship, in order to strengthen their links with engine suppliers Honda will be a disappointment to Alesi but not real surprise. It also spells the end of Britain's Justin Wilson's hopes of taking the second seat alongside Giancarlo Fisichella next season.