If Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly find themselves partners at Alpine in 2023, they will put an end to more than twenty-eight years of waiting. The last Grand Prix where a French duo was at the wheel of a French single-seater dates back to the last race of the 1994 season, in Australia, with Olivier Panis and Franck Lagorce at Ligier. But the latter had only arrived in this bucket for the last two races of the season.
At a time when the carousel of drivers never stopped turning, especially not during the season, it was another Frenchman, Éric Bernard, who had started the year with Panis. Since then, Prost Grand Prix and Renault, which became Alpine last year, have not had two French drivers in their ranks at the same time.
To find traces of two Tricolores playing a full season in a blue-white-red car, you have to go back five years earlier, in 1989, with Olivier Grouillard and René Arnoux at Ligier for a difficult exercise, which ended with three points and only the 13th place among manufacturers. During this period (1988 then 1989), Yannick Dalmas and Philippe Alliot started the season together at Larousse each time, but Dalmas, ill (legionellosis which was only diagnosed in 1989), could not finish either exercise.
1980, the golden year of French duos
Before that, Arnoux was associated with most of the most successful 100% French seasons. In 1981 and 1982, he was aligned with Alain Prost at Renault. In two years, Prost had amassed five victories (plus 5 podiums) while Arnoux had won twice (plus three podiums). The diamond brand had taken third place among the manufacturers each time.
Arnoux, already him and already at Renault, had also had two seasons in a row with a French teammate, Jean-Pierre Jabouille. The two had enjoyed victory (two each and three additional podiums for Arnoux) between 1979 and 1980. Injured in a leg in Canada during their second season together, Jabouille missed the last Grand Prix that year (he will retire at the start of the 1981 season) but had not been replaced.
Didier Pironi (left) and Jacques Laffite (right) surround Guy Ligier in 1980. (L’Équipe)
1980 is also the year when Ligier shone with Didier Pironi and Jacques Laffite. As with Renault, the two drivers had experienced the joys of victory (one each) and podiums (four additional each), bringing Ligier to second place in the constructors’ standings (behind Williams), Renault contenting itself with fourth place.
This golden year with four French GP winners and in the top 8 of the World Championship on French single-seaters came exactly ten years after Matra, Jean-Pierre Beltoise (2 podiums) and Henri Pescarolo (one podium), had achieved such a 100% blue-white-red association for the first time in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship.
Jean-Pierre Beltoise (newspaper in hand) and Henri Pescarolo (next to him) in 1967. (L’Équipe)