Bertrand Gachot is a European former racing driver who recorded 47 starts in Formula One Grand Prix races between 1989 and 1995, scoring no wins or podiums. The highlight of his racing career was the overall victory at 24 hours of Le Mans in 1991, together with Johnny Herbert and Volker Weidler in the revolutionary Mazda 787B prototype.
Driver with a European nationality
We mentioned Gachot as a European driver because he had an interesting story when it comes to nationality. He was born in Luxembourg on December 23, 1962, as a son of a French European Commission official and a German mother. As a Luxembourger by birth, he initially competed with a Belgian FIA Super Licence, despite carrying a French passport. From the 1992 season onwards he changed that and used a French license.
Gachot himself was saying that he feels very much as a European. He was showing that feeling with his helmet design that looked exactly like the European flag.
Two Formula Ford titles early in a career
Gachot began his racing career at the age of 15, competing with go-karts. In 1983, he attended Winfield School, a well-known racing school in France and then he switched to Formula Ford after that.
In 1985, he won the Formula Ford Euroseries. Next year, he became the British Formula Ford champion, driving for Pacific Racing, the team in which he returned later in Formula One.
British Formula 3 runner-up in 1987
In 1987, Gachot joined West Surrey Racing in the British Formula 3 championship, finishing as the runner-up behind Johnny Herbert. The next step was the Formula 3000 International with Spirit Racing. He scored two podiums and finished 5th in the points.
Two unsuccessful attempts at Spa 24 hours
In 1988, Gachot participated for the first time in an endurance race, driving Texaco Eggenberger's Ford Sierra RS 500 in the Spa 24 hours race. He was sharing the car with Gianfranco Brancatelli and Didier Theys, but they didn't finish the race.
Gachot returned to Spa in 1989, sharing the Moneytron's Ferrari 500 Mondial with Keke Rosberg and Harald Huysman, but they weren't classified at the end of the race. In 1989, Gachot also participated in one race of the World Sports Prototype Championship, driving the Porsche 962C for Richard Lloyd Racing at Nurburgring, finishing in 11th place together with Steven Andskar.
Formula One debut with Onyx
The season of 1989 was a year of Gachot's debut in the Formula One. He was hired by a newly formed Moneytron Onyx team alongside experienced Stefan Johansson. The team was well-funded but its ORE1-Ford car was not competitive, so Gachot didn't reach the starting grid in the first six races and he failed to pass pre-qualifying session.
His first F1 race was the French Grand Prix in July at Circuit Paul Ricard. His teammate Johansson surprisingly scored points, finishing fifth, Gachot was 13th due to engine problems at the end of the race. Later in the season, Gachot qualified for four more races (UK, Hungary, Belgium and Italy), finishing only the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 12th place. After twelve rounds, Gachot was fired and he joined the Rial team for the final two races of the season, failing to qualify in Japan and Australia.
1990 - sixteen qualifying failures with Coloni
For the 1990 Formula One season, Gachot joined Italian Coloni team. The team was using Subaru's flat-12 engine with Gachot as the only driver in the #31 car. The engine was overweight and underpowered. Subaru withdrew in the mid-season. Coloni switched to Ford's V8 engine but results weren't better, Gachot didn't reach the grid in both races.
Sensational Le Mans victory with Mazda 787B
In July 1990, Gachot debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans, driving for Japanese Mazdaspeed. He was driving the #202 Mazda 787 together with Johnny Herbert and Volker Weidler. They retired after 148 laps due to electricity problems.
A year later, the same crew returned with an improved Mazda 787B, powered by rotary Wankel engine. The #55 car was just 12th in the qualifying, but the crew overcame reliability issues which struck the rivals and they won the race ahead of three factory-entered Jaguar XJR-12s. It was the first Le Mans victory for the Japanese manufacturer.
Scoring F1 points with Jordan
The season of 1991 was also the career-best for Gachot in Formula One. He joined 7Up Jordan Grand Prix team to drive the #32 Ford-powered car, alongside Andrea de Cesaris in the #33 car. Gachot was finishing the races regularly, scoring his first points at Canadian Grand Prix, where he was fifth.
He added more points by finishing sixth at the British and German Grand Prix races. At the Hungarian Grand Prix, he was ninth but he set the fastest lap.
Gachot's 'vacation' in a British prison opened a door to Michael Schumacher
He missed four races because he was imprisoned for two months in Britain due to an incident in which he sprayed CS gas at a London cab driver. His seat in the #32 car at the Belgian Grand Prix was filled by then-unknown German driver Michael Schumacher. Roberto Moreno was a replacement in two races and then Alex Zanardi stepped in for the remainder of the season.
Gachot was put in Brixton prison. The situation prompted a campaign of support named Free Gachot organized by a fellow Belgian racing driver Pascal Witmeur. This campaign involved flags, T-shirts worn by the racing drivers, graffiti in several locations of the Spa-Francorchamps track during the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix and prominent sponsorship on Witmeur's Formula 3000 car. An appeals court agreed that the sentence was far too harsh and Gachot was released after two months.
Moving to Larrousse after a prison
When he was finally released from prison, Gachot traveled to Suzuka to retake his Jordan seat from Zanardi but the team refused. Gachot joined Larrousse team for the last race of the season in Australia, replacing the injured Eric Bernard. He impressed the team enough to be offered the seat for the following season.
Gachot was driving the #29 Lamborghini-powered Venturi chassis in 1992, finishing only three races. The highlight of the season was his sixth place at Monaco Grand Prix, where he earned his last F1 point.
Fourth place at 1992 Le Mans 24h
Besides driving for Larrousse, Gachot participated for the third time at Le Mans 24h with Mazda. This time, his car was the #5 Mazda MXR-01 prototype. The crew was the same (Gachot/Herbert/Weidler) plus Brazilian Maurizio Sandro Sala. They finished 4th overall.
In 1993, Gachot's main job was to help Keith Wiggins to prepare his Pacific team for the Formula One entry. During the year, Gachot had a one-off appearance in the Indy Car World Series, driving for Dick Simon Racing at the Molson Indy Toronto and finishing 12th. He also participated in the Spa 24 hours together with Armin Hahne and Kazuo Shimizu, but their Honda NSX didn't reach the finish.
Shareholder of F1 team and driver at the same time
Gachot became the shareholder of the Pacific Grand Prix team and took the #34 PR01-Ilmor car for himself, alongside pay driver Paul Belmondo in the #33 car. In sixteen races, Gachot failed to qualify eleven times. In five races he entered, he didn't reach the finish.
Gachot stayed with Pacific for the 1995 F1 season, with the new PR02 chassis and Cosworth V8 engines. His new teammate was Andrea Montermini. After seven consecutive retirements, Gachot finally finished the race at Silverstone in 12th place. The team was short on cash so Giovanni Lavaggi and Jean-Denis Deletraz took Gachot's seat in six races. Gachot participated in the last three races and he finished in 8th place at the Australian Grand Prix. It was his last Formula One race. The team folded at the end of the season.
Two Le Mans participations with Honda NSX
While driving for Pacific in the Formula One, Gachot participated two times at Le Mans 24h with Honda NSX. In 1994, his partners in the #48 Kremer Racing's car were Armin Hahne and Christophe Bouchut. They finished 14th overall and 6th in GT2 class.
In 1995, Gachot was driving #47 Honda NSX GT1, together with Armin Hahne and Ivan Capelli. They retired after just seven laps due to clutch problems.
Le Mans attempt with his own team
In 1996, Gachot formed his own sports car team and he planned to participate at 24h Le Mans. The team had WR LM94 LMP2 prototype with SsangYong engine, which was a rare motorsport outing for the South Korean manufacturer. The car participated in the pre-qualifying session but did not qualify for the race. With the same car, Gachot participated in the Coupes d'Automne ACO, a 4-hour race held at the Le Mans Bugatti circuit in September of 1996.
Gachot finished a career in Japan
In 1996, Gachot also started his Japanese career, participating in three races of the Japanese GT Championship with FET Racing's Toyota Supra. His teammate was Tom Kristensen. He expanded his Japanese commitments to the full season in 1997, still driving Toyota Supra, sharing the car with Paul Belmondo.
In June 1997, Gachot participated at Le Mans 24h for the last time, together with Christophe Bouchut and Andy Evans in the Kremer Racing's Porsche 911 GT1. They retired after 207 laps.
Various business interests after a retirement from racing
After he completely retired from racing in 1998, Gachot focused on business. He was involved in presenting the high-energy beverage called 'Hype Energy', introduced in 1994. In 2000, he bought a brand. He also owns an F1 website.