A hero in the eyes of many Ferrari fans – despite never driving for the marque – Jean-Louis Schlesser is celebrating his 63rd birthday today!
A nephew of the late F1 driver Jo Schlesser, the Frenchman made his sole Grand Prix start at the wheel of a Williams Judd at the Italian Grand Prix, substituting for the unwell Nigel Mansell. The race was made memorable for race-leader Ayrton Senna colliding with Schlesser at the first chicane trying to lap him with just two laps to run, which led to an emotional Ferrari 1-2 just weeks after Enzo Ferrari’s death. The media have continued to joke that Schlesser enjoys an honorary lifetime membership with the Scuderia as a result of this incident!
Schlesser is certainly not a driver without talent. He co-shared the 1978 French Formula 3 title with Alain Prost and placed second in the 1981 Le Mans 24 Hours, before he unsuccessfully attempted to qualify a RAM March at the 1983 French Grand Prix.
The mid-1980s saw Schlesser compete in touring and sports cars, winning the French touring car title in 1985 and representing the TWR empire in sports cars and the British touring car scene.
In 1988, he joined the Sauber Mercedes sports car team, finishing runner-up in the World Sportscar Championship in 1988, before taking back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
He sampled F1 power on more time, test driving Sauber’s prototype chassis in the lead up to the Swiss team’s F1 debut in 1993.
However. it is in cross-country rallying where Schlesser has really made his mark. After making his debut in the Paris-Dakar rally in 1984, he was a regular competitor from 1989 onwards, and designed and launched his own Schlesser buggy in 1992.
In his own cars, he won back-to-back Paris-Dakar rallies in 1999-2000, and also won five consecutive World Cross Country Rally titles between 1998 and 2002.
[Images via F1 Nostalgia]