Alesi: ‘When you raced against Senna, it felt like he was talking to you’


Jean Alesi, former Formula 1 driver of Ferrari, among others, looks back on his career. The Frenchman tells how he started his racing career and how different that is compared to today. He also talks about the revolutionary changes he experienced during the period that he participated in the premier class of motorsport.

“My father picked me up from school and then I could go karting,” Alesi told Drive Experience’s Davide Cironi. ‘I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a racing driver.’ Alesi’s racing career eventually started in the R5 class, as the Frenchman did not have enough money to enter for every race class. The rally class offered him a solution. “I’ve been driving the R5 since I was eighteen. In the past you had to have a driver’s license for this, but nowadays that is no longer necessary for racing classes. I had a little longer to be a kid.’

Alesi: ‘Safety was an important topic’

The former Ferrari driver explains that with the results and the money he made in the R5 races, he was able to re-register for the next races. Then Alesi moved to Formula Renault to really start his career in Formula 3. “My first Formula 3 victories came in 1986. The following year I won seven times and took the championship. Then I switched to Formula 3000, which is now Formula 2.”

After a few years in Formula 3000, Alesi made the switch to Formula 1 and joined the Tyrrell team. Many changes were made to the car in his time. ‘Safety was an important topic. More and more things came to mind. “There was a lot of room for the designers to make their car different from the rest. It also became possible to shift gears via the steering wheel, which was a big improvement.’ Many things that were new for the Frenchman at the time are now indispensable in Formula 1.

Alesi sees changes in Formula 1

Alesi eventually ended up at Ferrari and those were the best years of his career, according to the former driver. He took on Ayrton Senna during that period and the Frenchman loved fighting the Brazilian. “When you raced him, it felt like he was talking to you. He never made mistakes and he was unpredictable, racing with him was really crazy.”

Alesi drove the V12 engine in his day and according to him it made an iconic sound. Today, Formula 1 cars are a bit quieter and have lost some of their character. “Sometimes people say to me that half of the Grands Prix are boring these days, but I think that’s really nonsense. That was also the case in my time. The strategies, the overtakes and the battles are all still there, but it’s a little more complicated now. Everyone now has the same kind of tires and almost the same engines.’

The development of Formula 1 cars remains of great importance according to the 57-year-old Frenchman. “Formula 1 has an image that it is very polluting, but some people don’t know that they use hybrid engines. Everything that is used in Formula 1 cars will eventually be used in normal cars,” Alesi concluded.

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