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[Finished] Case #5 : Jean Alesi


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#1 Rich

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Posted 15 January 2001 - 02:20

JohnB has brought to the Atlas F1 court his plaint concerning the case of Jean Alesi. After a spectacular entry into Formula One, Alesi was widely tipped to become a successful superstar driver. He has since continually failed to fulfill the vast potential that many saw in him. Is Alesi's long-term lack of success a tragic case of bad luck and unfortunate timing, or were his own actions solely responsible for his lack of success?

This case has been accepted for hearing by the court, and arguments will be heard by all interested parties as of February 11th 2001 and for a period of 10 days.

The residing judge is Rich. Arguments and evidence on the subject can be posted in this thread as of the opening date and for as long as the hearing is open. A decision on the case will be posted up to 7 days after hearing is closed, ie not later than February 28th 2001.


Judge's Preamble :

In this case, the Prosecution will attempt to prove that bad luck and poor timing are the major factors which determined Alesi's lack of success. The Defence will argue that Alesi's own actions and shortcomings are the major factor. This is a long-standing debate, and a wealth of anecdotal and statistical evidence exists for use by both sides. Good luck.

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#2 pRy

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Posted 12 February 2001 - 11:31

Ladies and Gentlemen of the court, I would like to present to you, Jean Alesi's overall results history in Formula One, based on the teams he has driven for, and his overall position in the Drivers World Championship, along with his points accumulation for each year.

1989 : Tyrrell-Ford , 9th in Drivers WC with 8 Points
1990 : Tyrrell-Ford , 9th in Drivers WC with 13 Points
1991 : Ferrari , 7th in Drivers WC with 21 Points
1992 : Ferrari , 7th in Drivers WC with 18 Points
1993 : Ferrari , 6th in Drivers WC with 16 Points
1994 : Ferrari , 5th in Drivers WC with 24 Points
1995 : Ferrari , 5th in Drivers WC with 42 Points, 1 Victory
1996 : Benetton-Renault , 4th in Drivers WC with 47 Points
1997 : Benetton-Renault , 4th in Drivers WC with 36 Points
1998 : Sauber-Petronas , 11th in Drivers WC with 9 Points
1999 : Sauber-Petronas , 15th in Drivers WC with 2 Points
2000 : Prost , 22nd in Drivers WC with 0 Points

From the above statistical information, one may conclude that Jean Alesi has driven for two World Championship winning teams during his carear.

Unfortunately, with both Ferrari and Benetton, Jean drove for the teams at the wrong time.

With Ferrari, he left the team some two years before they began to realistically challenge for World Championship success. With Benetton, Jean joined the team after they had two very successful years, that saw them win the World Championship with Michael Schumacher.
Unfortunately that year also marked the year Michael left the team, and a drop in their success level followed immediately. Jean had moved to a World Championship winning team, just as they began to drop in form.

Ferrari began a gradual increase in form from 1996, with Michael Schumacher, Jean Todt and Ross Brawn at the team, their fortunes began to increase, leading upto them being able to challenge for the World Championship on a constant basis.

Had Jean Alesi joined Benetton earlier, prehaps to partner Michael Schumacher, we may have seen him have more success in 1994 and 1995. However, Michael Schumacher, renound for his ability and preference by his teams, may have blocked any run by Alesi at either Benetton or Ferrari in the last 7 years, should Jean have found himself at either team at the "right time".

#3 John B

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Posted 12 February 2001 - 16:22

Thanks Rich,

To start, here's my commentary on the first crucial element of Alesi's career, the decision to sign with Ferrari for the 1991 season.

After running as high as second in his debut in France 1989 ALesi really caught many people's eyes by dueling with Senna for the lead at the 1990 USGP. Throughout the rest of that season, there was considerable speculation where he would sign for 1991. Several teams were interested in his services most notably Ferrari and Williams.

His decision to sign with Ferrari was, in retrospect, viewed as a great "might-have-been" of the mid-1990s, as in what if he had signed with Williams, which despite not winning the titles after an indifferent start blossomed into clearly the strongest car for the rest of the season and launched a dominant era running through 1997.

But in the context of the 1990 season, Williams and Ferrari were not equal choices. Ferrari was on the rise, having been increasingly competitive in 1989 and contending for the 1990 title in Prost's hands, including several outright defeats of Senna/McLaren. Williams picked up occasional wins with Boutsen and Patrese, but was not in Ferrari's (and McLarens) league at the top. Admittedly, there is a key extra consideration: the role of Prost and his political skills in any team. However, it's not unrealistic to think that Alesi could have benefitted from Prost's experience in his first Ferrari years and then taken charge when the Prof moved on (or as it turned out, was sent packing ;) ) So on the first piece of the puzzle, I would not blame JA for his actions.

Unfortunately, back to work now.....:)[p][Edited by John B on 02-13-2001]

#4 RJL

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Posted 13 February 2001 - 00:15

This is just a small point pRy, but didn't Michael Scumacher get stripped of all his points in '97? If so, doesn't that mean that Alesi finsished third in the WDC, not fourth?

#5 mtl'78

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Posted 13 February 2001 - 18:01

Jean Alesi: In my opinion, he is one of the three or four most talented drivers of the 1990's. His faults are there for all to see, and they contributed largely to his lack of success, however, even a purely statistical analysis yields telling results. Over the course of his career, Jean has fared very well against his teammates, the only one he was consistently slower than was none other than Alain Prost, who in 1991 IMO, was at his best. Here's how it breaks down:

1989
Alesi vs J. Palmer -Tyrell
Qual: 4-2
Race: 4-0
Points: 8-1

1990
Alesi vs Nakijama -Tyrell
Qual: 15-1
Race: 11-5
Points: 13-3

1991
Alesi vs Prost -Ferrari
Qual: 2-14
Race: 7-10
Points: 21-34

1992
Alesi vs Capelli -Ferrari
Qual: 15-1
Race: 12-4
Points: 18-3

1993
Alesi vs Berger -Ferrari
Qual: 9-7
Race: 10-6
Points: 16-12

1994
Alesi vs Berger -Ferrari
Qual: 10-6
Race: 8-8
Points: 24-41

*Alesi had 5 consecutive DNF's (3 while 1st or 2nd) while Berger scored 18 points and his win in that stretch.


1995
Alesi vs Berger -Ferrari
Qual: 6-11
Race: 10-7
Points: 42-31

1996
Alesi vs Berger -Benetton
Qual: 13-3
Race: 12-6
Points: 47-21

1997
Alesi vs Berger -Benetton 14 races counted (Berger missed 3)
Qual: 7-7
Race: 6-8
Points: 36-33* * adjusted total, actual total is 27. I took GB's points per race average and extraoplated a 17 race season. GB benifited 6 pts, while his replacement, Wurz, actually scored 4.

1998
Alesi vs Herbert -Sauber
Qual: 11-5
Race: 10-6
Points: 9-1

1999
Alesi vs Diniz -Sauber
Qual: 12-4
Race: 11-5
Points: 2-3

2000
Alesi vs Heidfeld -Prost
Qual: 10-7
Race: 11-6
Points: 0-0

This totals up to:
Qual: 114-62
Race: 108-68
Points: 243-182

Take out Alesi's season against Prost and it looks like this:
Qual: 112-48
Race: 101-58
Points: 222-148

I think this demonstrates that Alesi was more than a capable driver. He was a special talent, able to dominate his teammates over 10 years. We all know about his outragous bad luck. I belive he's DNF'ed out of 4 or 5 leading positions in his career, and at least 10 times when he was 1st or 2nd. Alesi's ultimate fault is his loyalty. He stuck with Ferrari through their recent competitive nadir, and made his biggest mistake in joining a Benetton team on a steady decline since 1995. After that fiasco, he's been cast aside to teams like Sauber and Prost, while contending teams look to the future. Alesi is past his prime, that's for sure, but he's still the most natural wet weather driver out there IMO. What he's been capable of doing in terrible cars is stunning. His wet weather technique is to let it all hang out, the car twisting and twitching madly all the way around a circuit. In this way he reminds me of Gilles Villeneuve. GV drove his Ferraris in wet weather the same way. His 2nd in wet Qualifying at Magny-Cours and A1 ring in '99 at the hands of a Sauber no less are a testament to that.

For that reason, I say Alesi would have been more than able to win a WDC in either Williams' of '94 '96 '97, Ferrari's of '99 and '00 and the Maclarens of '98 '99 and '00. Wether he would have beaten his teammates is up for debate, but looking at his career, he almost always ended up on top, so at the very least he would have been close...

#6 Mumbler

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Posted 14 February 2001 - 08:15

Does this court have the verdict of "not proven", as in Scottish law? If ever there was a case that had that appearance to me, then this is it. Most surely a bit of both sides comprises the answer.

He has never been in the truly dominant vehicle, and in F1 this has been the kiss of death to winning races for many years. Can any driver have a greater ratio of podiums to wins? Many of them gained from positions on the 2nd or 3rd row. What more could you do against superior vehicles in the 1990s?

At the same time I would sum JA as "he had the full six pack, but lacked the little plastic thing to hold it all together". He has undoubtedly produced inspired pieces of driving, at the same time I have watched and wondered "What are you trying to do?" I would consider this a classic case of Gallic flair. I suspect that this column will eventually fill with many examples of both his flair paying off, and failing him. He has a certain "Je ne cais pas" which on occasions pays off for him and on others costs him dearly.

Not proven?

#7 John B

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Posted 15 February 2001 - 19:04

Now I'd like to address perhaps the strongest argument against Alesi's driving, results with Benetton in 1996.

All are familiar with the 1995 season. In the hands of Schumacher, the Benetton/Renault combination was formidable, winning 9 races (11 as a team, counting Herbert) and wrapping up the title two races before the finale, adding the WCC. During the year Ferrari made the blockbuster offer to MS and he left to drive for Ferrari in 1996. Bennetton responded by getting Alesi and Berger under contract, the two of them moving together from Ferrari. Ironically Alesi and Schumacher were involved in two memorable late-season battles at Nurburgring and Aida. At the Ring Alesi was brilliant early but lost the win to MS in the final laps, and at Aida he put on an inspired show in the rain, coming through the field to second despite making 2 pit stops in 30 laps, before the Ferrari broke. In early 1996, Flavio Briatore proclaimed he would take bets that Alesi would beat the Williams to the 1996 titles.

The hard facts are, while defending their titles in 1996 Benetton was not able to pull off a single victory. The only time they came real close was at Hockenheim, and it was Berger who lost a win to luck while Alesi trailed Hill home in second (Alesi could have won Monaco, but only led after Hill and Schumacher were out). This was not a case like Williams 1998 or Williams 1988, when fortunes were dictated by engines, for Renault powered Hill and Villenuve to 12 wins and the WDC/WCC. Some say that Schumacher's style of setting up cars was not condusive to Alesi or Berger. But at what point does the driver accept some responsibility for making a car work for him? Interestingly, it seems the years with Benetton were lacking the insipirational performances seen in 'inferior' Tryells at France and Phoenix, Saubers on the front row, Prosts at Monaco, and Ferraris at Aida.

#8 Pascal

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Posted 18 February 2001 - 16:33

I wish to warn the Court that what is about to follow is purely from memory, so any correction is welcome.

From what I remember of the 1996 pre-season testing, Jean Alesi was able to make some pretty good times with the 1995 title-winning Benetton. The car was obviously fast, but was also very difficult to drive at the limit, as admitted by Michael Schumacher himself. And while the French driver could obviously adapt pretty well to the unique characteristics of that chassis, his Austrian teammate couldn't. In fact, I seem to remember that Gerhard Berger crashed pretty badly with the B195 when he first drove it...

So even before their driver line-up had been confirmed for 1996, the Benetton team started to work on their car's drivability. The obvious answer was to make the chassis less sensitive to minute changes of setup, and one way which was chosen was to slightly lenghten the wheelbase while keeping the same suspension layout. This obviously changed dramatically the way the car behaved on track, and comparing the 1995 chassis with its successor is therefore a bit pointless.

Another factor of importance was the fact that all of the sudden, Benetton engineers were confronted with sometimes conflicting technical feedback from their drivers. During the Schumacher years, most development work was made by, and for, the German champion. With his departure at the end of 1995, the team was put in the more classic situation of having two drivers of equal status. Because of that, they had to learn how to make a synthesis of their technical demands, and that may ultimately have been the biggest shortcoming of the Anglo-Italian team in 1996.

So, while Alesi joined what was in effect a top team at the beginning of 1996, he may not have been in a position to do much better than he did during his two seasons working for Benetton. Would he have joined the team with a rookie teammate, things might have been different since he would have had enjoyed the same kind of status Michael Schumacher did the years before. But the team never could adapt to losing their star driver, and is still struggling nowadays to get back to their former level of excellence.

#9 RJL

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Posted 22 February 2001 - 02:00

John B,

I guess its my turn to step in & defend Jean. I admit that I have a bias here, as he is one of my favourites. I like him because he is spectacular to watch and so clearly on the limit. here goes...

I have to disagree about the Benetton years. I don't think that Alesi lacked that extra spark that he had shown earlier in his career. When I think back to those years, I recall Alesi having several excellent races and a series of unbelievable starts. IMO he was the best starting driver in the field. everyone was commenting on it at the time.Benetton had not recovered from the loss of Michael Schumacher, the undisputed "best driver in the world." If memory serves me, I think that Michael took a couple of very key personell with him to Ferrari when he left, further weakening the team. So, Alesi arrives at this somewhat depleted team where he is expected to be Michael Schumacher. Well he is not. Neither is anyone else on the grid for that matter. IMO, the team was already on its way down before Jean's arrival.

Additionally, the Williams team (and Damon Hill in particular) had found their feet and became clearly the dominant team of 96. If you compare the Williams results between 95 (the year MS won the WDC for Benetton) and 96 you'll find that in 95 Damon & David Coulthard scored 69 & 49 points respectively for a total of 118 but in 96 Damon & Jacque Villeneuve score 97 & 78 points for a total of 175. They pretty much steamrollered the field, as I recall. So how did Alesi do in 96? Four seconds, four thirds, two fourths, and a sixth for a total of 47. He had Monaco won, as you said, but the car broke. All this while the Team Principal (Flav) was blasting him in the press at every opportunity. This is not the way to get the best out of your driver. I think Flav never got over the fact that he lost Michael and that his once great team was desitegrating. In Alesi's second year, 97, he scored four seconds, one third, three fitfths, and two sixths for a total of 36 points. By this time Flav was making life so difficult that he left for Sauber. What have Benetton done since he left? Nothing, they have just gone further down hill. Has any driver outscored Jean's totals since his departure? I don't think so. Incidently, I believe Jean has given Sauber better results than anybody before or since. Twice on the front row, once on the box (all in the rain- that great equalizer that lets the driver's skills come to the fore).

If you look at Alesi's record, you find that the guy has logged sixteen second place finishes and fifteen fourth place finishes along with that maiden win. That means he's stood on the box 32 times! Things like this don't happen by coincidence. Yes he only has the one win, but he also has 267 laps led. What does this tell us? Perhaps the cars have let him down while leading. How many times? Perhaps a half dozen? As stated above by mtl'78, Jean has dominated every one of his teammates throughout his lengthy career apart from one Alain Prost. And they were teammates when Alain was at the top of his game & Jean was just starting out. Jean's years at Ferrari were wasted: the cars were stinkers. Alain Prost was fired for saying so. During his tenure at Ferrari, Jean was stopped due to mechanical failure 37% of the time! (79 starts 29 failures). Think of how reliable Schumacher's Ferraris have been these past several seasons. Think of who Alain Prost has driving for him now.

I think it's unfortunate that Alesi has become unfashionable because he can still do the business. Plug him into a decent car today and he would be a regular visitor to the podium once again.

You know I wonder what would have happened if Jean had gone to Williams (they wanted him) instead of Ferrari in 91. Williams probably wouldn't have needed to get Nigel Mansell or Alain Prost out of retirement to win championships in their completely dominant cars. Also Damon Hill's championship year might have been Jean's. Maybe Villeneuve's too. Had JA made the Williams decision instead of Ferrari in 91, we probably would all view him very differently as a multi-time world champion instead of a "might have been". The guy knows how to win championships. He was International F3000 Champion (with Eddie jordan, who rates Jean very highly) before entering F1. Eddie Jordan said of Jean, "If I have one regret it is that I haven't worked with jean in Formula One, because I honestly believe that I could have turned him into the World Champion that he should have been." Compliments don't come much higher.

Incidently, there are two great Alesi articles in the Atlas F1 Archive: Jean Alesi, Unfinished Business (Volume 7, Issue 3) & Jean Alesi: The Wrong Time & Wrong Place. Most of my stats came from these. Anyone interested in Alesi (whether you love him or hate him) should look at these. Thanks everone who managed to get to the bottom of this post!

#10 Rich

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Posted 22 February 2001 - 17:27

Thanks for your contributions all, this hearing is now closed as per the Court schedule. Judgement will be posted within seven days.

#11 Rich

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Posted 06 March 2001 - 17:44

Preface

After a spectacular start to F1, which saw him duelling with Ayrton Senna McLaren while driving an inferior Tyrrell, Jean Alesi was hailed as a future superstar, a driver who would almost certainly become WDC when Prost, Senna, Mansell and Piquet retired, if not before. Since those halcyon days, Alesi's career has been a travesty. As the most experienced driver currently in F1, he has just one win to his name - the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix. Did Alesi himself blow his chances, or did Fate deal him the worst hand it could conjure up?

Verdict

The AtlasF1 Court is an adversarial court, which relies on strong arguments from both Prosecution and Defence for balanced cases. In this instance, it appears that the Defence is a no-show.

To summarise the arguments set forth above, it appears that Alesi's single biggest career mistake was believing that Ferrari offered him a brighter future than Williams, way back in 1990. In that season, Ferrari were runners-up in the Constructors Championship, Williams placed 4th, some 53 points behind. With multiple WDC Alain Prost leading the Ferrari effort, it is not surprising that Alesi chose the Scuderia over Williams. The Court finds it reasonable that Alesi made what appeared to be the correct career decision at the time.

Regarding his 1996 effort with Benetton, it was clearly not the same team which had won the Constructors and Drivers Championships in 1995. Michael Schumacher had left for Ferrari, closely followed by the Benetton brains trust of Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne. Any team would be shattered by defections of that magnitude.

While Alesi has often made mistakes which cost him podium positions and possibly even wins, that is par for the course with every F1 driver. It is the Court's finding that the major negative effect on Alesi's career was the hand of Fate, which put him in the right car, but invariably at the wrong time.

The court finds for the Prosecution.