Jean-Denis Délétraz

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Last updated: 8-October-2003


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Before F1

Bizarre displays provided the paddock some light relief

Meet Swiss driver Jean-Denis Délétraz, born in Geneva, unfortunately regarded as one of the least impressive drivers in Grand Prix history - despite some success outside of F1. In his three GPs in 1994-95, at the height of an infamous pay driver era, he was the man who found himself caught up in such a whirlwind of bizarre incidents, below-par performances and bad press it was hard for the often too-serious world of F1 not to have been at least slightly amused by it all.

The undeniable truth is that, for whatever reason, Délétraz simply wasn't competitive at the wheel of a Grand Prix car. In all honesty his results reflected somewhat poorly on himself, although his recent GT racing results have redeemed him, and displayed his true talent. But still, most pundits would wonder, for example, whether or not the Winfield School of Driving at Paul Ricard is justified when in the same sentence it names Délétraz alongside Rene Arnoux, Jacques Laffite and Alain Prost as being among their former graduates...


2 wins in Formula Ford, and 3rd overall in French FFord denotes talent

To be fair, though, the early part of Délétraz's career did have promise. Coming 2nd in the 1983 Volant Avia driving school event at La Chatre, he raced Formula Fords in 1984 and 1985, taking 2 wins and 5 podium places. In 1985 he was 3rd overall in French FFord 1600. He then raced in French F3 in 1986, using an unusual Swica/Alfa Romeo chassis, but good results were sorely lacking. In a Ralt/VW he dabbled in French and British F3 in 1987 without success.

Through all this, there was little doubt that Délétraz was well-moneyed. Or at least, he was supposed to be. The number of stories about him failing to pay up, whether true or not, are numerous. Tom Prankerd tells us that at one stage in his F3 days, his mechanics blockaded his red road-going Ferrari 512BB as a protest against unpaid sponsorship. Legend has it that Délétraz got around the problem by turning up at the next race with a different team, and his Ferrari painted powder blue instead!

Délétraz drives his sickly coloured Lola, with Mandrake sponsorship, to a podium finish at Le Mans in F3000, 1988.
Délétraz drives his sickly coloured Lola, with Mandrake sponsorship, to a podium finish at Le Mans in F3000, 1988.


Back to back podiums in F3000 before he buys himself FIRST

In 1988, Délétraz did a single sports car event in a Porsche 962C at Brands Hatch alongside Giovanni Lavaggi and Antoine Salamin, placing 7th. But his main focus that year was to race in F3000, first with Sport Auto Racing and then GDBA Motorsport in a Lola T88/50 Cosworth. Amazingly, despite 3 DNQs and 3 accidents, he scored consecutive podium 3rd places at Le Mans Bugatti and Zolder to place equal 13th overall with Pierre-Henri Raphanel on 8 points.

However, in 1989 he failed to score any points at all in his FIRST Reynard Judd 89D, his best being a 9th at Dijon. In 1990, he acquired FIRST, and in his 5 outings in F3000 in a Reynard Cosworth 90D managed 2 DNQs, 2 smashes, and a 7th at Donington. In 1991, he himself had three more entries in a Reynard 91D, once again for little by way of good results. Partly due, no doubt, to legal action from the other driver in the team, Giovanni Bonanno, which saw the team impounded at one stage by an Italian court!


Heads to French Touring Cars; his mechanics protest at no pay

In a desperate bid to revive his career, he scratched around for some drives in the French Touring Car Championship in 1992 and 1993, but results of note weren't particularly forthcoming. For 1994 he managed to land a works Seat drive, but unfortunately this wasn't much good against the rampaging Peugeots and Opels. His best result being 5th at Nogaro, he finished up 13th overall in a season when he was usually more standard than stunning.

However, in 1993, during a Porsche Supercup race, Tom Prankerd tells us that the money issue apparently reared its ugly head again, and there was a re-occurrence of the 'mechanics picket' problem, when his crew blocked the track and would not let him out for three laps until he paid them their overdue wages from his F3000 days! Seemingly, it was not the first time Jean-Denis had perhaps defaulted on payment, and going by alleged events during his short-lived F1 career, it wouldn't be the last, either.

Formula One

Out-performs Mimmo's Simtek on his Grand Prix debut

One can probably safely assume, though, that he wasn't just making up the fact that he had a solid amount of sponsorship money to offer to prospective employers. It was money that looked particularly attractive to the Larrousse Ford F1 team as it headed towards its doom at the end of 1994. As any team in dire financial straits will tell you, loyalty is nothing in F1, and cash is everything. And so for the final round of the year in Australia, out went long-serving stalwart Erik Comas, and in came Délétraz.

With such a modest racing CV, not much was expected of the Swiss newcomer, and the F1 community hardly gave him any notice, in a year when 46 men no less, including a monotonous raft of pay-drivers, took part in Grand Prix racing. So there was some mild surprise in the paddock when Délétraz qualified his car 25th, two seconds slower than David Brabham ahead of him, but just ahead of the better-rated Domenico Schiattarella in the Simtek.

Délétraz was lapped on lap 10 of his GP debut, in Australia 1994.
Délétraz was lapped on lap 10 of his GP debut, in Australia 1994. Picture from 8w.


Hits top speeds in the pitlane, but not on the track

However, the race was a different matter altogether. Having been passed by more aggressive Schiattarella by the first corner, he began to progressively fall away from the field, taking an overly conservative approach. He was, as Autosport put it, "staggeringly slow", to the point where he was lapped by Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill on lap 10. In nine laps, he had already fallen behind by some 80 seconds. Maybe, by constantly being lapped by the leaders, it was a way of giving his sponsors some exposure!

Ironically, it was certainly cause for some mirth when he was called in on lap 37 for a stop-go penalty for speeding in the pit lane after his first pit stop - his third speeding penalty of the weekend! Suffice to say, he never got the hang of the pit lane speed limiter. But after his second pit stop, the downshift on his gearbox began to falter, and eventually his Grand Prix debut ended on his 57th lap, by which stage he had already been lapped ten times.

Hear Dr. Jonathan Palmer not being very complimentary about Délétraz's F1 debut at Adelaide.

"Yes Délétraz, really, here having no business in Formula One. And demonstrating it there: he's spending all of his modest effort, frankly, keeping the car on the road."

(MP3 format, 308k, 20 secs)


GT racing yields some decent results: 5th at Le Mans, 3rd at Zhuhai

Not a few people in the paddock who had the nous to ponder such matters were questioning whether or not Délétraz truly merited a place in F1. It came as no surprise when Délétraz found himself back in the wilderness by the start of 1995, and he escaped to sports car racing, the BPR Global GT series in particular, driving a McLaren F1 GTR BMW for Fabien Giroix's team. It must be said that it was ultimately in sports cars that Jean-Denis found his true niche.

Combined with the efforts of his team-mates Giroix and Olivier Grouillard, he managed to come a very honourable 5th at the non-championship Le Mans 24hrs in his McLaren F1 GTR. Délétraz then had another Global GT start at Suzuka with Giroix and Tomiko Yoshikawa, but the car crashed, and before the year was out he came a fine 3rd at Zhuhai with Giroix, scoring a hefty 20 points in the process.

JDD gave his sponsors plenty of exposure around the Adelaide circuit.
JDD gave his sponsors plenty of exposure around the Adelaide circuit.


Cash strapped Wiggins calls JDD back to F1

But quite incredibly, during 1995 the allure of Délétraz's sponsorship dollars saw another F1 team come knocking. When Giovanni Lavaggi ended his stint with Keith Wiggins' Pacific Ford outfit, cash-strapped and, like Larrousse previously, in its death-throes as well, Délétraz was called in to fill the seat for the last five races of the year. There is no point denying that finance was almost entirely the reason Jean-Denis was chosen, but that certainly didn't stop our man from having great expectations:

"I am very happy to be returning to Formula One and we will work hard together to make this a competitive end to the season. Although the Pacific team is quite small, they have a lot of motivation and I think everyone knows that Keith Wiggins is determined to make strong progress in Formula One. For me it is a good opportunity to gain more Formula One experience, and to develop a programme which hopefully will lead to my participation in the 1996 Formula One World Championship."


Roebuck not impressed as times are disqualified

Quite a bit of PR-speak there, one suspects, and up and down the pit lane not much was expected of Délétraz's return to Grand Prix racing at the Portuguese round. And unfortunately he did little to change the cynics' opinions. On Friday qualifying at Estoril, he let the revs drop too low at the uphill double-hairpin complex and stalled the car right on the racing line. He needed the marshals to push-start him, and for that his times for the day were disqualified.

Now this happened simply because Délétraz was driving too slowly; whether this was because of inexperience with the car, too conservative an approach, or the fact that he was just plainly struggling, is not known. Regardless, this particular event moved the hardened press corps so much, the straight-talking Nigel Roebuck proclaimed that Délétraz made Lavaggi look "like Nuvolari". Strike one.

Jean-Denis back on duty in F1, this time for Pacific.
Jean-Denis back on duty in F1, this time for Pacific.


Would have qualified 22nd in F3000 support race

Saturday qualifying saw him beset by gearbox problems, and while he kept on talking about making 'progress' as he learnt the car, he ended up qualifying the Pacific dead last, over 12 seconds slower than pole-sitter David Coulthard, more than 5 seconds behind the cumbersome Fortis and almost 7 seconds away from his own team-mate, Andrea Montermini.

His time would have only qualified him 22nd for the F3000 support race. Now, whatever problems Délétraz and the team may have been having with what was admittedly a dog of a car, one can't deny that there was something quite disappointing about that. To add further insult, when the usually-polite Damon Hill was asked for his opinion of Délétraz, he was quoted as saying: "Let's hope he breaks down early in the race." Strike two.


Lasts just 14 laps before left arm cramp

Sadly, Délétraz wasn't making any friends as more and more people overlooked what good results he may have had in other categories and wrote him off as an inept F1 pilot. But perhaps they weren't totally unjustified. After three laps, Délétraz was already 40 seconds behind, and he was lapped after only seven tours. This led Roebuck to scathingly describe Jean-Denis' performance as a "very special interpretation of Grand Prix driving".

Eventually, Délétraz retired after 14 laps with cramp in his left arm. It came as a surprise to himself, especially when it was the first time in his career that he had to retire with a physical problem. But while Estoril's sweepers are undeniably demanding with heavy G-force loadings, it came as a surprise to the rest of the paddock that his cramp was in his left arm, when Estoril was a clock-wise circuit where the right arm does more work. Strike three.

Délétraz locks up his Pacific PR02's front left tyre.
Délétraz locks up his Pacific PR02's front left tyre.


Subject of a beautiful slow-mo replay in Germany

And so the circus came to the European GP. After the horrors of Estoril, it came as a pleasant turnaround that Délétraz was more on the pace at the Nurburgring, for one does not like to see a driver humiliated. In Friday qualifying he posted a time only 9.1 seconds slower than Coulthard who was fastest, a second behind the Fortis and just over 3 seconds adrift of Montermini. Rain meant no improvement was possible on Saturday, although he did tangle with a Tyrrell after a misunderstanding.

In the race, Délétraz toured slowly around at the back, and actually finished in 15th and last place, a notable achievement, albeit 7 laps down. In one moment of glory he was even able to pass Mark Blundell's McLaren for position, but only because the Englishman was struggling around on slick tyres in the wet. At another stage during the race, Délétraz was also the focus of a lovely slow-motion replay ... largely because he was wedged in a raging battle between Schumacher, Hill and Gerhard Berger. One takes the publicity whenever you can get it!

Hear Murray Walker commenting on Jean-Denis' antics at the Nurburgring in 1995.

"And what is Délétraz doing? Does't matter what he's doing!"

(.MP3 format, 148k, 3 secs)


"What IS Délétraz doing?" ask Murray

Apart from that, there was another moment of apparent levity when on one particular lap, having just been lapped by Schumi's Benetton, as he approached the slow Veedol Chicane before the pits, Délétraz began to twitch his car from side to side as he reached the braking area. He then proceeded to lurch to the inside of the track and twitch some more, almost running over a cone on the inside of the corner before continuing on his merry way.

This happened to be captured for posterity by the cameras, and it prompted legendary BBC commentator Murray Walker to ask incredulously "And what is Délétraz doing?" Although such twitching is normally the sign of a puncture or some other mechanical problem, Délétraz's quotes after the race pointed to a rather trouble-free run en route to the chequered flag. If so, then exactly what he was up to remains a mystery!

Everything was a bit of a blur for Délétraz  - just 2 races and he was replaced by Bertrand Gachot.
Everything was a bit of a blur for Délétraz - just 2 races and he was replaced by Bertrand Gachot.


Gachot returns when Katsumi was denied his license

Still, Délétraz was happy to finish the event, and said that "we have now to make progress in Japan and Australia". But when the championship hit Aida for the Pacific GP, Bertrand Gachot was back in the Pacific car, and Délétraz's F1 tenure was over. Wiggins had actually intended to place Japanese driver Katsumi Yamamoto in the car, but after they couldn't get a superlicence for him, rather than turning back to Jean-Denis they elected to plonk Pacific shareholder Gachot back in instead.

Although Yamamoto was also very much an unknown, it would have been interesting to see whether or not he could have fared any better than Délétraz did. As an aside, it demonstrated just how Euro-centric superlicence requirements were. But the question remained: why had Pacific let Jean-Denis Délétraz go? We'll let Wiggins explain: "He was defaulted on payment and on ability alone we are not prepared to keep him."

After F1

Once again goes GT racing, top 10 finishes galore

Needless to say, Délétraz never got his chance to participate full-time in F1 in 1996. But, for all his ungraceful dawdling in F1, it would be unfair not to give him his dues and recognise his achievements in sports cars from 1996 onwards. And so in that year he found refuge again in the BPR Global GT series, and more specifically in Fabien Giroix's team, sponsored by Franck Muller Watches. In a McLaren F1 GTR shared with Giroix and Didier Cottaz, Délétraz was 2nd at Monza and 4th at Jarama.

For Le Mans, Giroix and Délétraz were snapped up by defending champions Kokusai Kaihatsu Racing, and shared another McLaren F1 GTR with Maurizio Sala, but the car retired with engine problems. Back in his own car, Giroix then partnered Délétraz and Ratanakul Prutirat to a 5th and 7th at Suzuka and Zhuhai. These results gave him 80 points and joint 11th overall (with Giroix) in the BPR series, and joint 14th overall (with Cottaz) and 48 points in the BPR European championship.


A fine 2nd at Laguna Seca; 8th at Le Mans for Zakspeed

1997 saw the Giroix outfit switch to Lotus Elise GT1s for the FIA GT championship after the demise of the BPR Global GT series, and Délétraz stayed around to drive the yellow machines. All year Giroix and Délétraz shared the same car, although Prutirat did show up once for the race in Helsinki. Result-wise, things were pretty bleak, not helped by mechanical problems, and the pair failed to qualify at Le Mans. But in the Supreme GT race at Laguna Seca, they did finish a fine 2nd.

1998 was a quiet year and for the most part Délétraz was out of a drive, the somewhat wasted expense of Giroix's team running the uncompetitive Lotuses the previous year taking its toll. However both Jean-Denis and Fabien were picked up by Zakspeed to try to pre-qualify a Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1-98 at Le Mans, but they didn't make the race. Zakspeed kept them for the race at Suzuka, though, where they were joined by veteran Armin Hahne, and they finished 8th.

Délétraz drove with Calderari and Bryner in the ISRS in 1999. Here he is racing at the Nurburgring.
Délétraz drove with Calderari and Bryner in the ISRS in 1999. Here he is racing at the Nurburgring.


Ice racing vs tennis stars; a season of ISRS for Autosport Racing

That year, Délétraz also tried his hand at ice racing in the unique Chamonix 24hr event, as part of the Andros Ice Racing Trophy, sharing a Foca Volt Peugeot 306 with Pierre Bennehard. He came up against ex-F1 stars such as Arnoux, Laffite, and even Nigel Mansell, and rallying stars such as Ari Vatanen and Jean Ragnotti, as well as tennis star Henri Leconte. Délétraz and Bennehard, though, did not score enough points during the event to finish in the top 14.

Then in 1999, Délétraz participated in the International Sports Racing Series, joining Enzo Calderari and Lilian Bryner in a yellow Autosport Racing Ferrari 333SP in three races, coming 8th at Donington and the Nurburgring. However, maintaining his ties with Giroix, at the end of the year the two of them finalised the deal to take over the reborn FIRST team to run the new Ferrari 550 Maranellos in the 2000 FIA GT championship.


Trouble at FIRST as they ready a new the Ferrari Maranello

When the 2000 FIA GT season came around, there were rumours of a disagreement between Giroix and Délétraz as to operations within their FIRST Racing team. They stayed together but it was not a smooth year, as they withdrew their brand new Ferrari 550 Maranello from the Monza and Silverstone rounds of the FIA GT Championship, preferring to concentrate on developing the car which they hoped to have ready by the fifth round at Budapest.

At Valencia the car made it only 14 laps before retiring, and at the return to Monza it lasted only 9 laps. There have been further failures to finish at Zolder and Brno, and at the Lausitzring they were once again a no-show. At the final race of the year at Magny-Cours, the car failed to complete a single lap after transmission problems. Clearly this was a case of a car in its developmental infancy and experiencing the teething troubles to go with it.

The FIRST racing team had to withdraw from 2 rounds in 2000, to ready their new Ferrari. It performed poorly at Monza, lasting just 9 laps into the 500km race.
The FIRST racing team had to withdraw from 2 rounds in 2000, to ready their new Ferrari. It performed poorly at Monza, lasting just 9 laps into the 500km race.


VW fails at Le Mans in an ROC Reynard

Yet the experienced Délétraz was still something of a wanted man, and for the Le Mans 24hrs that year he was taken aboard by the ROC team, exchanging his troublesome Ferrari driving a Reynard 2KQ-LM prototype with a Volkswagen engine, sharing it with Ralf Kelleners and David Terrien. But the Telefonica-sponsored machine was an early casualty and failed to finish after an engine failure.

Licking their wounds after their difficult results in 2000, in 2001 Giroix and Délétraz decided to take a sabbatical and keep their Ferrari out of the FIA GT championship. Instead, they were thought to be working towards something else, possibly either an entry in the Porsche SuperCup, or the new German V8Star silhouette series. Even so, another Le Mans opportunity came up, again for the ROC team, in an updated Reynard 01Q-LM prototype still with a Volkswagen engine.


Joins Gene and Fabre for superb class victory at Le Mans

Paired with Williams tester Marc Gené's brother Jordi Gené, and ex-AGS driver and fellow F1 reject Pascal Fabre, Délétraz finished 37 laps down on the winning Audi, coming 5th overall and winning the LMP675 class, having outlasted their rivals, including the more favoured MGs. This led to a drive in the renamed Noel del Bello Racing team at the Sebring 12hrs in 2002, a round of the ALMS, but Délétraz and team-mates Christophe Pillon and Mark Smithson retired after 134 laps with engine failure.

But in the main, 2002 saw Délétraz return to the FIA GT championship, and back behind the wheel of a Ferrari 550 Maranello, this time for the BMS Scuderia Italia team, and alongside Andrea Piccini. After a 6th place at Magny-Cours and two retirements at Silverstone and Brno (where Tomas Enge also joined them), there followed a hat-trick of sensational victories at Jarama, Anderstorp and Oschersleben, the car having also started from pole at Jarama after Piccini had won the qualifying race.

On top of the GT world: Deletraz and Piccini on the podium celebrating their win at Jarama in 2002.
On top of the GT world: Deletraz and Piccini on the podium celebrating their win at Jarama in 2002.


Piccini and JDD blitzes the FIA GT, racking up 4 victories

Hopes were high for the Spa 24hrs, where Piccini and Délétraz were joined by Lilian Bryner and Marco Zadra, but after starting from pole again the car retired after 94 laps with engine failure. More engine problems sidelined the car at Donington, and at Enna Piccini and Délétraz were classified 20th despite having crashed out. But at the season finale at Estoril, once again from pole they dominated to take their 4th victory of the season, leaving them 5th overall in the standings with 41 points.

There was also another start at Le Mans, where Délétraz returned to the Noel del Bello outfit and their Reynard 2KQ Volkswagen, exactly the same car he had driven at Sebring. With Pillon once again, but this time partnered also by Walter Lechner Jr, Jean-Denis didn't have quite as great a run as he did the year before. But despite only finishing in 19th place outright, some 57 laps behind the winner, Délétraz once again took out the LMP675 class.


Taking sportscars by Storm, with four top-5 results

After their victories in the 2002 FIA GT championship, Piccini and Délétraz were quickly snapped up by the works Lister team to drive their easily-identifiable black Lister Storm in 2003. But in an amazing season opening that saw Thomas Biagi and Matteo Bobbi walk away with the first five rounds, Andrea and Jean-Denis only managed results of 4th, 3rd, 5th, 2nd and 13th. Heading towards Le Mans, Délétraz was set to drive for the Lister team as they debuted their Lister Storm prototype.

Délétraz even tested the car in early May with Jamie Campbell-Walter and Nathan Kinch, but come the actual 24hr race, Vincent Vosse had replaced Délétraz after a last-minute contractual dispute. The fracas saw Délétraz out of the FIA GT team as well, replaced by Belgian David Sterckx. After his late surge of sports car successes following the embarrassment of F1, Délétraz's career is at the crossroads again. On a personal note, Jean-Denis is married, and has one child.

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