CONSTRUCTORS: LIGIER (EQUIPE LIGIER)
Name: Ligier (Equipe Ligier)
An orphan, Guy Ligier began his working life as a butcher's assistant. He saved enough money to buy a secondhand earth mover and went into the construction trade, making a fortune in the late 1950s and early 1960s as France built its motorway system. Having played rugby for France, Ligier was competitive by nature and with money he was able to embark on a motorsport career. He started out racing motorcycles before trying Formula Junior in an Elva-DKW. He then switched to sportscar racing with Porsche models and eventually in 1966 tried his hand at F1 with a Cooper-Maserati. This was followed in 1967 by a Brabham-Repco. Neither was very successful and in 1968 Ligier teamed up with Jo Schlesser to run a pair of McLaren Formula 2 cars. After Schlesser was killed Ligier retired from racing and announced his intention to build sportscars at his headquarters in Vichy. He hired a young engineer called Michel Tetu, who was working at Charles Deutsch's Automobiles CD. Tetu designed the Ligier JS1 - the JS designation was in honor of Jo Schlesser - and fitted with Cosworth engines the cars were both raced and sold to the public. The Ford engines were later replaced by Maserati engines - the Italian sportscar maker being owned by Citroen at the time - and for a period Ligier cars were distributed through Citroen dealerships. In 1971 Ligier and Patrick Depailler drove a Ligier JS3 sportscar at Le Mans.
At the end of 1974 Matra decided to quit competition and sold its racing operations to Ligier. He convinced the French government-owned cigarette company SEITA (which owned the Gitanes brand and had sponsored the Matra sportscars) to support him. A Ford-engined Ligier sportscar finished second at Le Mans in 1975 but by then Ligier was intent on F1 and used a group of ex-Matra engineers - led by Gerard Ducarouge - to design the first F1 car. The JS5 had a Matra V12 engine and a huge air intake. The car was tested by Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Jacques Laffite and it was Laffite who landed the drive for 1976. At the Italian GP he was on pole position. The following year, using the JS7 - a revamped version of the original car - Laffite won the Swedish Grand Prix, the first Frenchman driving a French car, powered by a French engine to win a World Championship GP. The JS9 followed in 1978 but Laffite scored only a couple of podium finishes and it was decided in 1979 to switch to Cosworth engines. Ligier also decided to expand to two cars and hired Patrick Depailler to partner Laffite. Ducarouge, Paul Carillo and Michel Beaujon designed the ground-effect Ligier JS11 and Laffite won the first two races of the year, in Argentina and Brazil. Depailler then won the Spanish GP and the team seemed to be on course for the World Championship. But in the mid-season rivals Ferrari, Brabham and Williams caught up. Depailler put himself out of action in a hang-gliding accident and replacement Jacky Ickx was never on the pace. The team slipped to third in the Constructors' title.
Ducarouge revised the car for 1980 and the JS11/15 was driven by Laffite and Didier Pironi. In the mid-season the cars were dominant with Pironi winning in Belgium and being unlucky not to win in Monaco and Britain as well. Laffite won in Germany and the team ended the year second in the Constructors' title, although Pironi upset Ligier by signing for Ferrari.
Midway through 1980 Ligier was approached by Talbot which was keen to revive the famous car brand and he agreed to sell part of the team to them. A plan to use BMW turbo engines failed and the team was left with only the venerable old Matra V12 engines. Laffite was to have been joined by Jean-Pierre Jabouille but Jabouille was recovering from leg injuries and eventually found he could not be competitive and retired. Patrick Tambay took over the drive. The Ligier-Matra JS17 enabled Laffite to win twice and finish fourth in the World Championship but the departure in July of Ducarouge after a dispute with Ligier marked a turning point for the team. Jabouille was pushed into a management role.
Keen to make an impact in America, Talbot asked Ligier to hire Eddie Cheever in 1982. Beaujon and Herve Guilpin revamped the JS17 into "B" designation but after the team was banned from using rear skirts the car was not effective and at the end of that year both Laffite and Cheever departed. Talbot had been taken over by Peugeot and was withdrawn from F1.
Without much money Ligier struggled. Guilpin and Beaujon designed the Cosworth-engined JS21 and the team had its first composite chassis built in England by Advanced Composites. Jean-Pierre Jarier was hired as number one driver and Raul Boesel became second driver thanks to his backing from Cafe do Brasil. The team failed to score a point.
That autumn Ligier, looking for an alternative to F1, reached agreement to build an Indycar for Mike Curb. Shortly afterwards he used his connections with the French government - established during his road-building days - to secure a supply of Renault turbo engines for 1984. He also hired young aerodynamicist Henri Durand. The team hired Andrea de Cesaris and Francois Hesnault to drive the JS23 and backing came from government companies Elf-Antar and Loto, the national lottery. The JS23 was used as a base for the Indycar but this was a flop, Kevin Cogan failing to qualify on the ovals. As Curb did not deliver the money promised the team was closed down.
The closure of the Renault Sport team at the end of that year was a boost for Ligier as he was able to re-acquire the services of Gerard Ducarouge and Michel Tetu, and Laffite returned from Williams to partner de Cesaris. The Ligier-Renault JS25 enabled Laffite to collect 16 points but de Cesaris was fired having scored only three points. He was replaced at the end of the year by Philippe Streiff, who finished third behind Laffite in Australia. The team ended the year sixth in the Constructors' Championship.
For 1986 Tetu designed the Renault-engined JS27 and Laffite was joined by Rene Arnoux. In July Laffite broke both his legs in an accident at Brands Hatch and had to be replaced by Philippe Alliot. Despite this the team finished fifth in the Constructors' Championship. At the end of the year Renault stopped its engine supply and Larrousse departed to set up his own team. A switch to Alfa Romeo engines went wrong when the Italian company pulled out of F1 and the JS29 had to be fitted with Megatron (ex-BMW) engines. Arnoux was joined by Piercarlo Ghinzani but they scored only one point between them and the promising Durand departed to join Ferrari.
With the new normally-aspirated regulations due to come into force in 1989 Ligier decided to switch to Judd engines for the 1988 season. Tetu designed a curious JS31 which had a fuel tank between the chassis and the engine. It did not work and he was fired. That year the team relocated to the government-funded facility at Magny-Cours. With plenty of money still coming in, Guy Ligier decided to hire foreign engineers to design the 1989 car and hired Richard Divila, Ken Anderson, Andy Willard, Paul Crooks and others. The team signed a deal to use Cosworth DFR engines but the JS33 - Ligier's first in-house composite chassis - was thrown together in a hurry and Arnoux and Olivier Grouillard scored only three points. Divila, Beaujon and Claude Galopin developed the car in 1990 for drivers Alliot and Nicola Larini but they scored no points. Ligier once again used his government connections to secure Renault engines but not until 1992 and so in 1991 he did a deal for Lamborghini V12s. Frank Dernie was hired to be technical director and Thierry Boutsen and Erik Comas were signed to drive. The Ligier-Lamborghini JS35 was not a success and Divila and Galopin were fired. Dernie began hiring a new engineering team including Loic Bigois from Toulouse; Gilles Alegoet to head research & development and Maurizio Nardon from Ferrari. Soon afterwards Ducarouge rejoined the team.
The 1992 season was to be a rebirth for the team. World Champion Alain Prost tested the car but declined to drive it unless Ligier parted with a share of the team. This he refused to do and so Boutsen and Comas remained. There were a few minor points finishes but a dejected Ligier was upset when he was booed by the crowds at Monaco and he decided to sell 21% of the team to Cyril de Rouvre in the midseason. At the end of the year he sold another 69% and retired from F1 to build a new business empire in natural fertilizer.
De Rouvre hired British drivers Mark Blundell and Martin Brundle and Ducarouge designed the JS39. The drivers scored several third places and the team finished fifth in the Constructors' Championship. In the autumn several rival teams began to look at buying Ligier to get hold of the Renault V10 engine supply in 1994.
De Rouvre disappeared from the scene at the end of the year when he was arrested and during the winter the team was sold to Flavio Briatore. The JS33 was developed in "B" form by Ducarouge and Eric Bernard and Olivier Panis were hired to drive. They scored only one good result with Panis second and Bernard third at the German GP. At the end of the year it became clear that the Renault engines were to be switched to Benetton in 1995 and that Tom Walkinshaw - Briatore's partner at Benetton - was to be switched into the team. He brought Dernie back as technical director. The 1995 season was a disjointed one with Briatore appointees being replaced by Walkinshaw's men and then switched again. Panis, Brundle and Aguri Suzuki all drove the Ligier JS41 - a Benetton copy - and between them they scored 24 points, enough to give the team fifth place in the Constructors' Championship.
Walkinshaw's attempts to buy the team were blocked by Guy Ligier and when he was unable to complete the deal in the Spring of 1996 Walkinshaw quit the team, taking Dernie to Arrows instead. Briatore's men took control again with Andre de Cortanze being appointed technical director. A few weeks later Panis won a remarkable victory at Monaco but it did little for the team's overall performance that year.
Bigois designed the Mugen Honda-engined JS45 for the 1997 season while contracts were agreed for Panis and Mugen nominee Shinji Nakano. A few weeks after the car was unveiled it was announced that Briatore had sold the team to Alain Prost. The cars ran that year as Prost-Mugen Honda JS45s but at the end of the year the history of Ligier in F1 came to a close.
In 2004 it was announced that Guy Ligier had bought control of Automobiles Martini and he began building new racing cars in 2005, with the emphasis being on Formula 3.