Jacques Laffite’s Formula 1 career was long and relatively successful. With a count of six Grand Prix wins, all with Ligier team, he was a first Frenchman who won the Grand Prix race driving a completely French car.
Started career as a mechanic
He was born in Paris, on November 21, 1943 and started his racing career quite late. Laffite worked as a mechanic and when he was in his late twenties, he has started to drive in smaller racing series. The success was quick, and Jacques won the 1972 French Formula Renault championship title. The following year he moved to Formula 3, and took the championship with ease.
First race victory in Formula 2 and debut in Formula 1
In 1974, JacquesLaffite debuted in both Formula 2 and Formula 1, what was usual for that time. With March team, he won one race in Formula 2 and later in the season got a chance to test himself in Formula 1, at the German Grand Prix with Iso Marlboro team, managed by Frank Williams. He stayed with Williams for another season and finished as a runner-up at Nurburgring. But Williams was in big financial difficulties and by the end of the season Laffite without a seat in Formula 1. Luckily, he was still active in Formula 2 where he became European champion. At the same time, the Frenchman helped Alfa Romeo win a World championship title for Makes, driving alongside Derek Bell, Arturo Merzario, and Henri Pescarolo.
Driving an FW02, 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix
From 1976, Laffite competed in Formula 2, but only in selected events, as he secured a full-time deal in Formula One, with a new French team Ligier. The first year with a new squad was pretty good. He scored three podium finishes to take 7th place in the Drivers’ championship. In 1977, for the first time in his career Lafitte won a Formula 1 race. After a bit disappointing performances in the seven races, he superiorly won the Swedish GrandPrix at Scandinavian Raceway in Anderstop.
Jacques celebrates victory at Swedish Grand Prix
With that triumph, Laffite became the first Frenchman to win an F1 race with a French car powered by a French Engine. By the end of the year, he managed to reach the podium only once. It happened at the Dutch Grand Prix, where he lost the race to Niki Lauda by 1.8s. At the end of the season, he was 10th overall, and that was a huge step backward in regards to the previous year, but with a victory in Sweden, Laffite confirmed that he definitely had the abilities to be a competitive racer.
Jacques Laffite was Formula 1 title contender in 1979, the best year in his career
During the season of 1978, Laffite was in stable form. He scored points in seven races, with a third-place finish in Spain and Germany as the season highlights. In 1979, Jacques drove probably his best season. He won the opening two races in Argentina and Brazil, turning attention by many and immediately becoming a title contender. Unfortunately, the rest of the season wasn’t as good. He failed to finish four of the following five races, and until the end of the year, Jacques had another four retirements. In a meantime, he finished third in Germany, Austria and Netherlands.
In a famous blue-white Ligier, 1978 Monaco Grand Prix
Interestingly, after finishing third at Dutch Grand Prix, Laffite was second in the Drivers’ championship, only eight points behind Jody Scheckter. With three races remaining, he still had a good chance to win the title, but he failed to finish any of them and had to settle for the fourth place overall.
Fourth in the Drivers' championship three-time in-a-row
He achieved the same result in the next two years. The start of 1980 was marked by retirements from three races and one 2nd place in South Africa. The Frenchman later improved, took the German Grand Prix and had three more top 3 finishes. In 1981, Jacques again started poorly, but at the end of the season again managed to get back in shape and prove his worth. He won the races in Austria and Canada, and the latter proved to be his last triumph in Formula 1. For the third time, Laffite was 4th in the Drivers’ championship, but only six points behind the championNelson Piquet.
Video - Jacques Laffite driving a Ligier-Matra (1978)
Hard crash after equaling Hill's record
He stayed in Formula 1 for another five years, three with Ligier and two with the Williams. Despite some good performances, especially with Ligier in 1985 and 1986, Laffite never was near the top of the standings at the end of either season. At the 1986 British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch, Jacques started his 176th Grand Prix and equaled the record held by Graham Hill for over 10 years. Sadly, early in the race, he had a hard crash in which he injured his ankles badly. Farewell from Formula 1 wasn’t nice, but this wasn’t farewell from the racing for the Frenchman.
Jacques Laffite's Ligier after crash at Brands Hatch
TV commentator and a golf enthusiast
In 1987, he appeared in the World Touring Cars Championship races and some other minor touring cars events, as well in the ice racing events and rally-raids. In the 1990s, he became a TV commentator for Formula 1 races at the French TF1 network. Jacques Laffite is also a huge golf enthusiast and one of the owners of Dijon-Bourgogne Country and Golf Club.