- August 24, 1964
- Not Active
Eric Bernard is a French former racing driver who recorded 45 starts in Formula One between 1989 and 1994, driving for three different teams (Larrousse, Ligier and Lotus). His best result was a podium at 1994 German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring, where he finished third.
After leaving F1, he spent rest of a career in sports car racing. His best result was the runner-up spot in the 1999 American Le Mans Series. At 24h Le Mans, he participated eight times, with a seventh place overall as his best result.
Winner of the Volant Elf competition for young drivers
Eric Bernard was born in Martigues, near Marseille. He entered karting competition in 1976, at the age 12. In the following seven years, he was pretty successful, winning four French titles. In 1983, he went to nearby Circuit Paul Ricard to attend a racing school. He won the main prize in the Volant Elf competition for young drivers, beating Jean Alesi and Bertrand Gachot.
A prize was a fully sponsored drive in the Formula Renault for 1984. He finished seventh in his debut season and then became a champion in 1985, winning six of twelve races.
Formula 3 runner-up, third place in Formula 3000
The next step was the French Formula 3 in 1986. Driving a Martini-Alfa Romeo for Ecurie Elf, he was fifth in the points in his first F3 season. Next year, in 1987, Bernard scored two wins and nine podiums to finish second in the championship, losing a title to Jean Alesi.
In 1988, Bernard progressed to the Formula 3000 International, joining Team Ralt to drive a Ralt-Judd. After five rounds, he moved to Bromley Motorsport to drive Reynard-Cosworth. With a second place at Dijon-Prenois, he finished ninth in the points. For the 1989 F3000 season, he joined DAMS team. He won at Jerez and added two more podiums, finishing third in the championship, behind Jean Alesi and Erik Comas.
Formula One debut at 1989 French Grand Prix
Step by step, year by year, Bernard made his way to Formula One. In summer 1989, he was called up to join French Larrousse F1 team for the French Grand Prix at Circuit Paul Ricard, as a replacement for Yannick Dalmas. Driving the #29 Lola-Lamborghini, he stopped three laps before the end, being classified as 11th.
Bernard started in one more race, at the British Grand Prix. He retired after 46 laps around Silverstone. For the rest of the season, he returned to F3000 commitments with DAMS team.
Two F1 seasons with Larrousse
Good results in the Formula 3000 secured him a full-time seat in Larrousse team for 1990 Formula One season, along with Japanese driver Aguri Suzuki. Bernard took his maiden championship point with sixth place at Monaco Grand Prix. Four rounds later, he finished fourth in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. He collected one more point by ending sixth at Hungaroring. With five points on his account, he was 13th in the championship standings.
Bernard stayed with Larrousse in 1991. The team switched to Cosworth engines, retaining Bernard and Suzuki as drivers. Bernard took only one point that year, finishing sixth at the Mexican Grand Prix. His season came to a premature end after an accident during practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, in which he suffered a broken leg.
Reaching F1 podium with Ligier
Bernard skipped 1992 season, signing for Ligier as a test driver in 1993. For the 1994 F1 season, he was promoted as a full-time driver, alongside rookie Olivier Panis. Driving the #35 Ligier JS39B-Renault, Bernard was outpaced by his younger teammate.
Bernard managed to score his maiden F1 podium at the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring, but despite that, he was sacked before the European Grand Prix at Jerez in October. Ligier hired Johnny Herbert as Bernard's replacement, so Bernard joined Herbert's previous team, Team Lotus, to drive at Jerez. He finished 18th. It was his last F1 race in a career.
Le Mans 24h debut in 1995
Having no deal for Formula One, Bernard turned to sports car racing in 1995. In June, he debuted at 24 hours of Le Mans, driving the #11 Courage C41-Chevrolet for Courage Competition. His co-drivers were Henri Pescarolo and Franck Lagorce. They retired after just 26 laps.
Next year, Bernard returned to Le Mans with Italian Ennea/Igol team, sharing the #45 Ferrari F40 GTE with Paul Belmondo and Jean-Marc Gounon. This time, Bernard's race lasted for 40 laps. During 1996, he participated with Ferrari F40 GTE in the Global GT Championship, scoring three podiums (Monza, Jarama, Zhuhai) to finish 8th in the points.
Bernard joined DAMS and Panoz Motorsports in 1997
For the 1997 season, Bernard joined Panoz Motorsports and their partner team DAMS to drive Panoz GTR-1 in different competitions (IMSA Championship, FIA GT Championship). In most races, his co-driver was Franck Lagorce. Bernard and David Brabham won the IMSA race at Laguna Seca.
At 1997 Le Mans 24h race, Bernard, Lagorce and Jean-Christophe Boullion contested in the #52 Panoz GTR-1. An oil leak stopped the car after 149 laps.
1998 - fourth consecutive DNF at Le Mans
In 1998, Bernard stayed with Panoz Motorsport and DAMS, continuing to drive a Panoz GTR-1 and scoring few class wins and podiums in the FIA GT Championship and US Road Racing Championship. In February 1998, Bernard debuted at Daytona 24 Hours, not finishing the race. At Sebring 12 Hours, he was fourth, together with Jamie Davies and Doc Bundy.
At 1998 Le Mans 24h, Bernard recorded his fourth consecutive retirement. This time, he was sharing the #44 Panoz GTR-1 with Christophe Tinseau and Johnny O'Connell. They retired with broken gearbox after 236 laps.
American Le Mans Series runner-up in 1999
For 1999, Bernard chose to stay with Panoz and it turned to be his career-best season in sports car racing. He even reached the finish line at 24h Le Mans, in the seventh place together with David Brabham and Butch Leitzinger. They were driving the #12 Panoz LMP-1 Roadster-S.
That car Bernard was driving also in the inaugural season of the American Le Mans Series. He won two races, the Rose City Grand Prix at Portland and Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, to finish second in the final standings of the LMP class. Panoz Motorsports won Team's championship title.
In 1999, Bernard also contested part-time in the SportsRacing World Cup, driving a Lola-Judd for DAMS. He won three times to finish ninth in the final standings.
Three seasons in the Cadillac Northstar project
In 2000, Bernard stayed with DAMS, but the team switched from Panoz to Cadillac Northstar project. Bernard was driving a Cadillac Northstar prototype both in the American Le Mans Series and SportsRacing World Cup, but without notable results. At Le Mans, the #3 Cadillac finished 19th overall, driven by Eric Bernard, Emmanuel Collard and Franck Montagny.
In 2001, Bernard participated in one race only, at Le Mans, not finishing the race in the #5 Cadillac Northstar LMP. He returned to ALMS in 2002, spending his last season with Team Cadillac. At 24h Le Mans, in his eighth attempt, he finished in 12th place, sharing the #7 Cadillac Northstar LMP02 with Emmanuel Collard and JJ Lehto. Bernard's last race was Petit Le Mans in October 2002, where he finished fourth.
Photos: lequipe.fr, supercars.net, cadillacclub.ch, Earl Cook,