Former Grand Prix driver Bertrand Gachot – whose F1 career was rudely interrupted with a prison sentence – is celebrating his 49th birthday today!
An outwardly confident and utterly determined driver, Bertrand assiduously built his career to achieve his goal of becoming a front-runner in Formula 1, but his hopes came undone when he was jailed for assaulting a London cabbie with a CS gas canister.
He was a cosmopolitan mix of Belgian, Luxembourgeois and French, and actually raced under Belgian, French and European Community flags over his racing career.
Trained in karting never to cede a corner (even if it meant he crashed), Gachot developed a reputation as a tough and uncompromising racer.
An ace driver in British Formula Ford, he won the 1985 1600cc title, and the 2000cc title the following year after a season-long stoush with Mark Blundell.
His success propelled him into the frontline West Surrey Racing team in the British F3 championship in 1987, finishing runner-up to Johnny Herbert, after another tear-long battle.
Formula 3000 was next up (he finished fifth overall), and he signed a deal to join the new Onyx Grand Prix team in 1989. It was an unhappy year, and he was sacked before the end of the year after making critical remarks about the team to the press.
He took his sponsorship to the Rial team for the rest of the season, and then threw his lot in with the little Coloni team in 1990, which was running Subaru-badged engines. It was an unmitigated disaster, and he failed to qualify for a single race.
His big break came with Eddie Jordan’s brand-new F1 team, and its new Gary Anderson-designed 191 chassis proved a sensation. He claimed his first points’ finish with fifth at the Canadian Grand Prix, and set the lap record at the Hungarian Grand Prix before he was sent to Brixton Prison, thereby allowing a certain Michael Schumacher to debut with the team at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The rest, as they say, is history… although Bertrand did co-pilot the rotary-engined Mazda with Johnny Herbert to win that year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
Gachot successfully appealed his conviction, and he was back on the grid at the season-ending Australian Grand Prix, this time with the Larrousse team, with whom he remained for the 1992 season.
With no F1 drive in the offing for 1993, Gachot dabbled in IndyCar racing, but returned to the F1 grid with the new Pacific team for the 1994 season, as a driver and shareholder.
His hopes of a successful return were dashed when it was quickly discovered that the PR01 chassis was a dreadful car with the structural rigidity of a paper bag and reliability to match. After the Canadian Grand Prix, he failed to make the qualifying cut for the rest of the season.
With the 1995 grid shrinking to 26 cars, Pacific was at least guaranteed a hope of making the grid. But the PR02 proved little better, and towards the end of the season, Betrand stepped aside so pay-drivers Délétraz and Lavaggi could have a go.
Incredibly, the Pacific team had been a winner in virtually every other category in which it had competed, and the team’s completely hapless plight was as surprising as it was sad. At the end of the year, the team followed fellow tailenders Simtek into liquidation, and Bertrand’s F1 dream was over.
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.
[Images via AutoBlog, Enter F1, ESPN F1, F1-Facts, F1 Nostalgia, Foto Community, LAT]