Former F1 driver Bertrand Gachot – who until the Bahrain Grand Prix, when Jérôme d’Ambrosio joins the F1 grid, is the last Belgian to start a Formula 1 race – is turning 48 today.
Gachot is perhaps most famous for unwittingly launching the F1 career of Michael Schumacher, when he was jailed before the 1991 Belgian GP for assaulting a London taxi driver with a CS canister. The vacancy left in the Jordan was filled by Schumacher – as the German’s career would be launched into the stratosphere, Gachot’s went into freefall.
After a successful career in the junior categories, Luxembourg-born Gachot made his F1 debut for the Onyx and Rial teams in 1989, the former being run by the eccentric Belgian millionaire Jean-Pierre Van Rossem. He was dropped by Onyx in the autumn after Van Rossem objected to remarks Bertrand had made in criticism of the team to the Belgian press.
After several months in the wilderness he returned to F1 in 1990 with Coloni, who were campaigning with Subaru-badged engines. This was an unmitigated disaster, and the dispirited Gachot never qualified for a race.
Somehow, he talked his way into a drive with the new Jordan team in 1991. He showed well and recorded a fastest race lap in Hungary along with two points’ finishes. That summer, he won the Le Mans 24 Hours, sharing a Mazda with Johnny Herbert and Volker Weidler.
But then came the jail sentence…
His sentence served, Gachot tried to rebuild his reputation with the Venturi Larrousse team (below) in 1992, but his only result was a 6th place at the Monaco GP and two separate race collisions with his team-mate Ukyo Katayama.
Out of F1 in 1993, Gachot returned to the fray the following year as a driver and part-owner of the Pacific team. The 1994 PR01 had the structural rigidity of a paper bag: he failed to finish each of the few races he qualified for. The 1995 season was moderately better, but Pacific was woefully underfunded and he stepped back to make way for the pay drivers to prop up the team’s budget until the end of the year.
Gachot faded away from motorsport completely after an aborted crack at Le Mans in (of all vehicles) a Ssangyong sportscar. He subsequently turned his attentions to selling the Hype energy drink, and he now runs the company entirely.
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