A well-to-do French driver whose entire stint in F1 was almost exclusively spent with mid-grid French-run or supported outfits, Philippe started competitive motor racing only once he had finished his national service, and it took him several seasons apiece to graduate through the ranks of karting, Formula Renault and Formula 3.
Despite his slow rise through the open-wheel ranks, he shot to prominence with a sparkling performance alongside the Andrettis – Mario and son Michael – at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and this fast-tracked his passage to F1. His debut came in 1984 with the hopeless Skoal Bandit RAM outfit, with whom he spent two anonymous seasons and had a number of big crashes.
He dropped down to Formula 3000 and returned to the top-tier in mid-1986, joining Ligier after Jacques Laffite’s career-ending accident. He picked up a point before signing full-time with the new Larrousse concern in 1987. He stayed there for three seasons, proving to be very quick – if not decidedly erratic, discourteous when being lapped, and still capable of some enormous accidents. Things didn’t improve with another stint at Ligier in 1990, although any hopes of decent results were stymied by next to no development on what was a terrible car.
A period spent sports car racing saw Philippe return to winning once more, and he made another comeback to F1 in 1993, again with Larrousse. His Peugeot connections saw him nominated as Peugeot’s test driver with McLaren in 1994, subbing for the banned Mika Häkkinen at the Hungarian Grand Prix. He had one more race with Larrousse at the end of the season and looked likely to continue with the outfit into 1995 until it collapsed.
Perhaps realising that his best days were well behind him, Philippe left F1 for good. He later tried his hand (briefly) at politics, while his motorsport connects also saw him turn to motorsport commentary while he contested the odd ice race and the Paris-Dakar Rally. Today he runs a karting school in Magny Cours and also runs his own GT racing team.
|Full Name:||Philippe René Gabriel Alliot|
|Born:||27 July 1954, Eure-et-Loire (FRA)|
|First GP:||1984 Brazilian Grand Prix|
|Last GP:||1994 Belgian Grand Prix|
|Wins:||0||Best Finish:||5th||Best Qualifying:||5th|
|1978||French Formula Renault Championship, BP Racing, 1st overall|
|1983||European Formula 2, BMW France Martini 001, 10 races, 4 points, 12th overall
24 Hours of Le Mans, Porsche Kremer Racing 956, 3rd overall with M. Andretti & M. Andretti
|1984||Formula 1, Skoal Bandit RAM Hart 02, 113 races, Not Classified|
|1985||Formula 1, Skoal Bandit RAM Hart 03, 13 races, Not Classified|
|1986||International F3000, ORECA March Ford 86B, 6 races, 1 wins, 9 points, 9th overall
Formula 1, Ligier Renault JS27, 7 races, 1 point, 18th overall
|1987||Formula 1, Larrousse Calmels Lola Cosworth LC87, 15 races, 3 points, 17th overall|
|1988||Formula 1, Larrousse Calmels Lola Cosworth LC88, 16 races, Not Classified|
|1989||Formula 1, Equipe Larrousse Lola Lamborghini LC88C/LC89, 15 races, 1 point, 26th overall|
|1990||Championship, Team Engine Model, 14 races, Not Classified|
|1991||World Sportscar Championship, Peugeot Talbot Sport 905, 6 races, 1 win, 3rd overall|
|1992||World Sportscar Championship, Peugeot Talbot Sport 905, 4 races, 2 wins, 3rd overall|
|1993||Formula 1, Equipe Larrousse Lamborghini LH93, 14 races, 2 points, 17th overall
24 Hours of Le Mans, Peugeot Talbo Sport 905, 3rd overall with M. Baldi & J. Jabouille
|1994||Formula 1, McLaren Peugeot MP4/9 & Larrousse Ford LH94, 2 races, Not Classified|
You’d had a rather slow and late entry to motorsport, but your career suddenly took off with a fine third place at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1983, sharing the Kremer Porsche with Michael Andretti and former F1 champion Mario Andretti. How important was that result and what was it like to work alongside a driver as successful as Mario?
It’s something I will always remember very clearly because I had some great times. That year was a turning point for my career.
At the time, I raced in Formula 2 and I was given the chance to race in Mario and Michael Andretti’s team. They were already stars in the USA who’d arrived to take part in the Le Mans 24 hours and I was a young newcomer and it was great for me to work alongside two high-profile stars.
We finished third! Mario Andretti watched me carefully and this race became a launching pad for something great. Perhaps it was this third place at Le Mans which allowed me to go into Formula 1 in 1984, but ever since I’ve been friends with Mario Andretti.
You moved into the big league in 1984, being signed to the RAM-Hart Formula 1 team. How did the opportunity come about to join Formula 1 and what were your initial impressions of the team and the car?
I was just finishing a season of Formula 2 where I had mixed results as I was racing a new car, the Martini. Although it was promising, we never got the results we wanted.
The RAM team had an American sponsor who’d just got going in Europe and at the time French drivers were much sought after. As I was French and in the Martini Marlboro team, which was a good team – even if it was with a new car – I was chosen to partner Jonathan Palmer.
The team was underfunded and the car’s engine was not very powerful, which saw you qualify at the rear of the field. You rarely saw the chequered flag on account of reliability issues and several accidents. Was this a tough baptism to Formula 1?
Obviously, when you’re in your first Formula 1 season you don’t really know what to expect. The car was a disaster but nevertheless the whole thing was a great experience for me as I would never have believed that I could become a Formula 1 driver.
The 1985 season was no better. You only finished one race as the RAM’s reliability was again poor, and there was no F1 drive at the start of 1986.
I had this first season in the team which wasn’t a great success, but I signed for a second season with them because they were very ambitious and they’d taken on a good engineer, Gustav Brunner, who was creating a fantastic car, especially in his chassis design. He later went to Ferrari, who let him show the extent of his talent.
I was chosen over Palmer, which was very gratifying but unfortunately that year we had a turbo four-cylinder engine built by the Hart group. It was a disaster and broke down in every race. I had a great team mate, Manfred Winkelhock, who was sadly killed later that year. In all, it was a year to forget.
After two years of Formula 1, I decided to return to Formula 3000 because I couldn’t see any other opportunities.
Your move to Formula 3000 with the ORECA team saw you take a win at Spa-Francorchamps. Shortly after, you received a call-up to join Ligier’s F1 team in the mid-year after Jacques Laffite broke his legs. Ligier had been competitive in 1986; how did the team compare with RAM?
I was lucky enough to race in the ORECA team run by Hugues de Chaunac who I knew well because I’d raced with him for a few years in Formula 3. When he asked me to join him, I was very pleased to do so.
I was lucky because I managed some good results and in particular, I won a race at Spa-Francorchamps when all the Formula 1 guys were watching.
It was a bit like the Le Mans 24 Hours with Mario Andretti. It relaunched my profile, as a few days later Jacques Lafitte had an accident at Brands Hatch which ended his career and so I replaced him mid-season.
I had a very good car and during the first practice sessions at Hockenheim – after not being in Formula 1 all season – I was fifth-fastest! So it was a fresh start for me in Formula 1 and it launched me for the next few years.
You kept pace with team-mate René Arnoux and picked up a point with sixth place at Mexico. How important were your performances to rebuild your F1 career?
The Ligier JS27 was an exceptional car which performed extremely well on all circuits. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same specification engine as my teammate, René Arnoux.
Sometimes I had problems with the engine and didn’t manage to finish races even though on a pure performance level (despite the second-rate engine) I was often faster than him, which I was very pleased about.
This team performed extremely well at that time and it was the best Formula 1 team I’d been with before my brief time at McLaren in 1994.
This was an important result to sustain your F1 career, and you were approached to join the brand new Larrousse-Calmels team for 1987…
I got on well with Gerard Larousse and Didier Calmels, who had decided to leave Ligier and create their own Formula 1 team.
They offered me a three-year contract in a new team – which of course came with all the difficulties that a new team entails!
But they were three fantastic years. If you can turn your passion for racing into a career, it’s great; but the results we’d hoped for just didn’t come. So in 1989, we brought in a new engine which was a Lamborghini, designed by Mauro Forghieri, formerly with Ferrari but we also had a few problems with this one. I really enjoyed my time with the Larousse tam even if the results were disappointing.
You returned to Ligier in 1990, right at the point where Larrousse had the most competitive season in its history and Ligier struggled to get points. What were the fundamental problems you encountered at Ligier this time around?
During my 3 years with Larrousse, I worked with a number of team mates, some of whom had great talent, but I was always quicker than them.
Michele Alboretto had joined in mid-1989 and I beat him in every event even though he was rated as one of the greatest to have raced with Ferrari. The fact that a far less experienced driver, like myself, was ahead of him led Ligier to ask me to join them in 1990.
However, that year they had barely updated the 1989 chassis, so we just didn’t get the results we wanted. We managed only a few good results here and there.
The greatest disappointment was Monaco, where I was on track to get third place, but a few laps before the finish the transmission gave out. Despite the lack of points for me, I still look back at it as a great year with a team I really liked.
There was no race seat in Formula 1 for you for the next two years, but you were signed by Jean Todt to join Peugeot’s sports car programme. You enjoyed success with Peugeot and, paired with Mauro Baldi, you won three races in 1991-2 as Peugeot swept to the World Sports Car Championship. How important was this success?
The 1990 season with Ligier made me realise that I never had been in the right team with the right car, the right tyres at the right moment.
Although I could have stayed in Formula 1, I wanted to take up the Peugeot challenge. This was a huge effort led by Jean Todt, which proved to be probably the best years of my life.
In 1991, 1992 and 1993 I took part in the World Championships and especially the Le Mans 24 Hours (which I didn’t win – I came third, even though I was on pole position twice with the Peugeot 905). I won lots of other races and it was a great time. I got on really well with Jean Todt and had an amazing run with the Peugeot 905.
You returned to F1 with your old team, Larrousse. How much had the team and the sport changed in the two years you had been away?
So I’d shown what I could do in sports cars, and Larrousse asked me back into Formula 1 for the 1993 season after a few years away.
I also re-signed with Peugeot, staying with them for the World Sports Championship, notably for the Le Mans 24 Hours. So I re-signed for a season in Formula 1 where, once again, the car was not up to the hoped for performance as the budget was not on a par with the first rate teams.
So it turned out to be a somewhat disappointing season. Fifth place at San Marino was a rare highlight.
Peugeot opted to join McLaren for 1994, and after a long wait to see if you would get the race seat, McLaren offered you the test driver role while Martin Brundle got the seat. This must have been disappointing for you?
Despite my connections with Peugeot, I was rather disappointed that Ron Dennis chose Martin Brundle over me for the second seat.
In fairness, however, I did understand his choice. I was nearly 40 and approaching the end of my career; Martin Brundle was younger and, of course, English.
That McLaren wasn’t one of its best cars either, and the season was disappointing for the team.
McLaren was the most accomplished F1 team you’d worked for. But the 1994 season was tough for the outfit, with countless technical failures and infighting between McLaren and Peugeot. What were the biggest problems McLaren and Peugeot were facing in that ill-fated partnership?
Both Peugeot’s and McLaren’s performances were limited that year. This was due to a number of factors: Peugeot was entering Formula 1 with a new engine; McLaren didn’t have the best chassis.
Furthermore McLaren already had an eye on a Mercedes engine deal, which was clearly being felt within the Peugeot team. When there isn’t total osmosis and commitment within a team, the effect is detrimental and the results bore that out.
For one last time, you drove for Larrousse at the following race in Belgium. Again you didn’t finish, but the team was in a dire position and would close just a few months later. It would be the end of your Grand Prix career at that point; how would you appraise your time in Formula 1 when you look back at it today?
Gerard Larousse asked me to join him for Spa where I managed a very good qualifying time but was rather lacklustre in the race. I may even have dropped out, I can’t remember [he retired with an engine failure].
If I look back over my career, I’d say the main thing I regret is not to have started earlier in the sport and not to have done go-karting first as well as other Formulas to get into the racing business earlier. I paid for this throughout much of my career.
Secondly, I should add that although I’m passionate about motor racing, it has always been only one of many passions – I love classical music, I love many other sports, I love motorbikes – I have taken part in the Paris-Dakar on a motorbike as well as in a car; I’ve done the Moscow- St. Petersburg- Beijing rally; the Moscow-Istanbul rally; I’ve done jetski racing and I continue to do lots of other challenging things.
After Formula 1, you raced in other championship categories and even set up your own GT Racing team, as well as served as a commentator. How has life after Formula 1 treated you? What have been some of the other highlights?
I returned to motor racing in 2002 when I created my own racing team and I still have a small team based in Magny Cours. I also went into business in France with a company that I built up and sold.
Above all, I now have the opportunity to spend time with my wife and children helping to bring them up as well as I can, giving them direction and motivating them so that they can cope with life’s challenges which are not so easy to deal with in France today.
Perhaps unfairly, you earned a reputation for some enormous accidents and being difficult to overtake or lap. What was the biggest accident of your Formula 1 career?
You asked me about accidents. It’s true, I’ve had a few, but I’ve never been injured in the least in Formula 1 despite the fact that I have a few spectacular crashes.
Perhaps the the most spectacular was in Mexico – you can still see it on YouTube. The car was completely destroyed. I hit a wall at speed. It happened on a Saturday but that didn’t stop me racing on the Sunday. If you see the accident on video, you wouldn’t imagine that I’d still be here to talk to you today. I was very lucky!
You’ve raced on large number of circuits around the world. What is your most favourite circuit at which you have raced and why?
I’ve probably raced on every circuit in the world. Some were more exciting than others. The best for me, not surprisingly, was Spa-Francorchamps, but I always liked Suzuka; I loved Mexico; I like Magnicourt; I liked Paul Ricard for the atmosphere and the surroundings in the south of France. There were lots of other circuits that I liked, especially those that were fast with long sweeping bends.
The smaller less exciting circuits like Hungaroring and the like were never my cup of tea. Obviously, an exception to that theme is Monaco, which for me was fantastic to race because being in the centre of town, racing on narrow roads and going up and down the hills was really exciting and created a very special event.
What is your opinion of Formula 1 today? Which driver or team has impressed you the most? Would you recommend changes to the rules to improve the caliber of competition?
As far as choosing a favourite driver, I must admit I would probably choose Fernando Alonso who is extremely talented, unerringly professional and at the height of his performance.
I’d also have to say Sebastian Vettel, but that’s easy to say, because he has been World Champion four times ad he’s still very young and has his whole career in front of him; but there’s also many others to choose from. In any case, I really admire all Formua 1 drivers – be it those currently racing or former drivers – because they are all Supermen.
If you ask me my opinion about Formua 1 today, I still find it wonderful. We have very challenging Grand Prix. The only thing that worries me sometimes is that decisions are sometimes taken rather arbitrarily with judges handing out penalties which I don’t always agree with and secondly, I’d limit the technical back up given to drivers as this takes the edge off races and means cars are too easy to drive.
Of course, we can’t really say ‘easy‘ because, considering the speed they’re going, they remain very difficult to drive, but I do believe there is too much technical assistance given to today’s drivers, given the complexity of the electronic support. I think we should reduce this back up so that from time to time it’s up to the drivers rather than the electronics to control the cars.
Images via Corbis Images, F1 Nostalgia, The Cahier Archive