It is with sadness that we must write of the death of former F1 driver and team owner Guy Ligier. He died on Sunday at the age of 85.
An orphan, Guy first made his name in rugby, and even represented the French national team in the 1940s before he hung up the spiked boots and opted for a pair of racing boots instead.
Determined to continue making a success of himself after he retired from rugby, Guy pooled all of his funds into buying a bulldozer and ventured into the construction industry. He earned enough money to begin dabbling in motorsport on the side, first in motorbikes, and then single-seater racing in Formula Junior Elva.
By the 1960s, Guy was competing in sports cars with Porsche, and even contested a handful of Grands Prix in privately-entered Cooper Maserati and Brabham Repco machinery. The venture wasn’t particularly successful, and he picked up a single championship point at the 1967 German Grand Prix in his twelve race starts.
In 1968, Ligier decided to enter into a partnership with Jo Schlesser, and the duo bought a pair of McLarens to run in Formula 2. Tragically, Schlesser would be killed in the 1968 French Grand Prix at wheel of a Honda, and Guy decided he’d had enough and retired from competition.
Ligier instead decided that team ownership was his thing, and hired Michel Tetu to design a production sports car, dubbed the JS1 (the JS moniker was used on every chassis model produced for Ligier, as a tribute to his friend Schlesser).
With the company being built up in sports car racing, Ligier purchased the assets of Matra Sports and ventured to Formula 1.
The team’s debut occurred in 1976 with the irrepressible Jacques Laffite at the wheel. Over the following years, the team’s profile grew as the likes of Laffite, Patrick Depallier and Didier Pironi achieving race-winning success.
Despite the outfit’s promising start, the light blue cars were an easily-recognised presence on the Formula 1 grid for the next two decades, although the team never recaptured the giddy heights it enjoyed in its early years.
It was often accused of squandering the generous resources it was given. The French national support largely came about on account of Ligier’s close association with the Mitterand government, who encouraged many of its government owned companies to put their stickers on the blue machines.
Ligier was as uncompromising a team principal as he was on the race track or rugby field, and capable of the most spectacular tantrums when he was in his stride – that’s when he wasn’t quaffing down champagne and escargot in the team’s hospitality unit.
He eventually sold a majority stake in the team in the early 1990s to Cyril de Rouvre, and the team continued to operate under the Ligier moniker until the entire operation was sold at the end of 1996 to Alain Prost, who renamed it eponymously.
The team continued for a handful more years on an inexorable slide to the back of the grid, before collapsing in a mountain of debts at the end of the 2001 season.
Images via ESPN F1, F1 Rejects, L’Equipe and The Cahier Archive