Olivier Grouillard

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Last updated: 15-February-2002


Biography

Before Formula One Formula One After Formula One

Before F1
1981-84

Starts at age 14, becomes French F3 champ after winning in FRenault

In motor racing, reputations count for a lot and are hard to shake. F1 racers are often typecast into certain driving styles, and interestingly most of the time they live up to the stereotypes. Some drivers are looked upon particularly favourably, others not so. Pay-drivers, of course, have come in for a deserved shellacking over the years, but one man who epitomised Grand Prix infamy better than most was the fast, talented, but also wild and uncompromising Olivier Grouillard from Toulouse.

A kartist from the age of 14, the Frenchman competed in the Volant Elf (the Elf Racing School championship) in 1981, before progressing to Formula Renault in 1982, winning the title. The following year he was picked up by the prestigious ORECA team to race a Martini Mk 39 Alfa Romeo in French F3, where he duly came 4th with 73 points. Upgrading to a Martini Mk 42 in 1984, Grouillard fought a close tussle with Frederic Delavallade for the crown, and eventually vanquished his compatriot 108 points to 106.


Grouillard took 2nd fastest lap at the Donington round of the 1987 F3000 Championship.
Grouillard took 2nd fastest lap at the Donington round of the 1987 F3000 Championship.

1985-86

Startles in F3000; points in his first year, takes the lead at Mugello

It was enough to prompt a move into the inaugural season of F3000 in 1985. ORECA entered Grouillard in a March 85B Cosworth, and Olivier spent the year qualifying in midfield but driving some storming races, taking 6th at Estoril and 4th at Vallelunga and Pau. Only one retirement in eight races was a good advertisement for his reliability behind the wheel, and with 6 points he was equal 12th on the points table.

The next year he left ORECA and joined Formula Team Ltd, driving a Lola T86/50 Cosworth. The combination only had enough funds to do four rounds, but in his first outing at Mugello, Grouillard started from 9th, burst up into the lead, and looked good for victory before letting it slip and dropping to 4th by race end. A 6th place at the Osterreichring saw him score another point, and at season's end, despite his limited participation, he was equal 13th on 4 points.

1987

Dalmas does the trick as Olivier has his ups and his downs with ORECA

A return to ORECA for 1987 should have seen him rise up the F3000 grid, but in his March 87B Cosworth he undid all his previous consistent form with a woefully unpredictable season. Where he qualified well he would race poorly; where he qualified poorly he would drive like a bat out of hell in the races. He started 2nd at Le Mans Bugatti and 4th at Birmingham, but DNQed at Spa. He was disqualified at Vallelunga and fell off the track at Enna and Imola.

He set 2nd fastest lap at Donington, but over the whole of the race had slipped from 9th on the grid to 12th at the finish. But through all that, he scored a 4th at Pau and 6th at Birmingham to record 4 points once again, although this time it was only good enough for 17th in the final standings. Worse still, he had been completely upstaged all season by his ORECA team-mate, Yannick Dalmas, who had started racing in F3000 later than Grouillard, but who before 1987 was out was already behind the wheel of an F1 car.


1988 was Olivier's best year in F3000, taking 3 poles, 2 wins, a 2nd and a 3rd.
1988 was Olivier's best year in F3000, taking 3 poles, 2 wins, a 2nd and a 3rd.

1987-88

Stunning end of season run in F3000, but clashes left him 2nd overall

In 1988 he moved again, this time to the GBDA Motorsport team to race a Lola T88/50 Cosworth. Now regularly on the pace in qualifying, he started the year with 5th at Jerez and 3rd at Vallelunga, and in the final six races had a run of 3 poles, 2 wins plus fastest laps at Le Mans Bugatti and Zolder, a 2nd at Enna and a 3rd at Dijon. However, his season copybook was blotted by 4 accidents. Without those, he would have scored more than his 34 points, and possibly challenged for the title instead of coming 2nd.

Adding some variety to his racing career, in 1987 and 1988 he had also raced in works BMW touring cars, driving in the European Touring Car Championship, not without moderate success. This included a trip down under to race in the Bathurst 1000km classic in 1987, where he shared an M3 with Winni Vogt and Altfrid Heger, starting 16th and finishing 12th, but 8 laps down on victor Peter Brock. Throughout 1988, he also campaigned an M3, but this time alongside ex-F1 star Jacques Laffite.

Formula One
1989
Ligier

Hitches a ride with unsettled French team, inside top 10 at Imola but DNQs still abound

After his fairly impressive performances in 1988, though, slick-haired Olivier was picked up the Ligier F1 team to replace the disgruntled Stefan Johansson as team-mate to the mercurial René Arnoux. But by this stage Ligier was no longer the team it once was, beset by internal bureaucracy, without a strong engine in the Cosworth DFR V8, but with an old ex-March gearbox and a JS33 chassis which was difficult to set up and which only got heavier as the season progressed.

Yet at the start of the season there seemed to be some hope. Grouillard had qualified 22nd in his first race at Rio, and finished a fine 9th. He then overcame a few spins in wet practice at Imola to qualify a sensational 10th, but when mechanics worked on his car while the race was stopped for Gerhard Berger's horrific shunt, Olivier was duly disqualified. He again started well inside the top 20 at Monaco and Mexico, finishing 8th in the latter, and DNQs at Phoenix and Montreal could be forgiven in the light of that.

1989

Outpaces René, but something is rotten in the state of Ligier

From 17th on the grid at Paul Ricard, Grouillard then drove brilliantly in spite of tyre and gearbox problems to salvage 6th and his first ever World Championship point. Add that to Arnoux's 5th in Canada, and things seemed to be looking up. But in typical Ligier style, things only got worse. The truth was that Arnoux was being outpaced by his rookie team-mate, such that the team in effect made his decision to retire at the end of the season. That did little for team morale.

Grouillard, feeling confident and cocky, and most of the time determining the JS33's set-up, now began voicing his opinions on what was wrong with the team, which no doubt irked volatile team boss Guy Ligier. In the second half of the season, Grouillard was a persona non grata in the team, and his performances waned. After finishing 7th at Silverstone and qualifying 11th at Hockenheim, he failed to make the grid in Hungary and the writing was on the wall.


Things looked good at Imola, 1989, as Olivier soldiered through wet practice to take a brilliant 10th on the grid!
Things looked good at Imola, 1989, as Olivier soldiered through wet practice to take a brilliant 10th on the grid!

1989-90
Osella

Adios Olivier in Adelaide; Grouillard takes the FA1M into pre qualifying

In the last six races he never once cracked the top 20 on the grid, and added another DNQ in Portugal. A harmless spin followed by a heavy crash in the teeming Adelaide rain was an appropriate way for Olivier to end the season, one in which he had begun to build a reputation as a fast, if hard-headed, racer. Although his one point placed him equal 26th in the World Championship, there was never any question that by year's end he was on his way out of the French national team.

His replacement for 1990 was Italian driver Nicola Larini, and Grouillard found a lifeline by taking Larini's old seat at the little Osella team, which had scaled back to a one-car operation, although that meant that he had to pre-qualify at every race. The attractive little FA1M contender, designed by Alessandro Tomaini, was in fact the previous year's car, and despite the reliable Cosworth V8 and Pirelli's good qualifying tyres, the car suffered a fundamental problem of a lack of structural rigidity.

1990

Takes brilliant 8th grid spot at Phoenix, but it all end in tears with Foitek

Ironically, it was this very feature which allowed the car to shine on the idiosyncratic Phoenix street circuit. After breezing through pre-qualifying, in first qualifying proper he was an amazing 8th quickest, unheard of for an Osella, ahead of both Williams, Nigel Mansell's Ferrari and Alessandro Nannini's Benetton. When rain washed out second qualifying, Grouillard's best-ever grid position was assured.

The fairytale didn't extend into the race, though. At the second corner he chopped across the bows of Riccardo Patrese's Williams, taking off the Italian's nosecone, and on Pirelli's less-impressive race tyres he steadily dropped back, and was eventually taken out in a collision with a driver even more maniacal than himself, the Swiss pilot Gregor Foitek. At the following race in Brazil, where Grouillard started 21st, he was eliminated in yet another collision, this time with veteran Arrows driver Michele Alboreto.


What comes around goes around - Grouillard in the dirt at Interlagos in 1990, having been punted off by Michele Alboreto.
What comes around goes around - Grouillard in the dirt at Interlagos in 1990, having been punted off by Michele Alboreto.

1990

Plenty of finishes, DNFs, DNQs and DNPQs while ol' Nige gets fist wavingly angry

By round three at San Marino, an upgraded FA1ME was introduced, but it did little to improve Osella's fortunes. He retired having started 23rd at Imola, before failing to make the grid at Monaco, but after that succeeded in coming home 13th and 19th in Canada and Mexico, having started a fabulous 15th in Canada. The French GP was the first one where he didn't pre-qualify, and this began a horror run which also saw him DNQ in Britain and Germany (in both cases by one spot only), and also DNPQ in Hungary.

He bounced back to qualify in Belgium, Italy, Spain and Australia, again missing out by only one place in Portugal and Japan. At Spa he finished 16th, and in Australia 13th, but at Monza and Jerez retired with wheel bearing problems which had been recurring throughout the year. However, it was also at Adelaide that Mansell famously shook his fist at Grouillard right in front of the on-board cameras, cementing Olivier's growing reputation as being one of the least helpful drivers around when being lapped.

1991
Fondmetal

Things look bad for the FA1M-E90, but Olivier comes good in Mexico!

For the start of 1991, Osella's sponsor Fondmetal bought out the team, and the late Gabriele Rumi took over from Enzo Osella as team boss. Grouillard stayed on board, but the team reverted to Goodyear tyres. However, the new chassis was late, so for the first two races the team had to make do with the 1989/90 car, now called the Fondmetal FA1M-E90. Predictably, it was an absolute disaster, Grouillard nowhere near getting out of pre-qualifying at either Phoenix or Interlagos.

Despite the new car, the Fondmetal F1, three more DNPQs followed before an amazing turnaround in Mexico. There, Olivier lapped an incredible 1.8s only off pole-sitter Patrese, and started an unbelievable 10th, behind both Williams, both McLarens, both Ferraris, both Benettons and Stefano Modena's Tyrrell. He was ahead of both Jordans, the Honda-powered Tyrrell of Satoru Nakajima, and the languishing Lotuses of Mika Hakkinen and Johnny Herbert.


Olivier performed miracles in Mexico, 1991, taking his unfashionable Fondmetal to a spellbinding 10th spot on the grid.
Olivier performed miracles in Mexico, 1991, taking his unfashionable Fondmetal to a spellbinding 10th spot on the grid.

1991

Getting the car on the grid is half the trouble, a 10th at Spa his top finish

But sadly, all his good work came to naught when he was forced to start from the pit lane after mechanical problems, and despite ripping through the field in the early laps he succumbed to an engine failure on lap 14 after an oil line fractured. He also qualified in France, starting from 21st place before retiring with an oil leak, but not before he had again been somewhat uncooperative whilst being lapped.

After that it was back to the same old story of failing to pre-qualify (being forced to pack up on the Friday in Britain and Germany), and making it through to main qualifying (at the Hungaroring) but unable to get onto the grid. He then started 23rd at Spa, and came home 10th, a lap down, in his best result for over two years, before just creeping in at Monza in 26th and last spot, although his race there ended prematurely with another engine failure.

1991
AGS

Rumi and Olivier face off which sees Grouillard off to Tarquini's seat

Another DNPQ followed in Portugal, but not without drama. With only 7 minutes left in the session, and with the gearbox playing up on his Fondmetal, the team ordered him to take the spare and have a go in that. But Olivier bluntly refused, preferring to give his all in his race car. It was a gamble that didn't pay off, and an incensed Rumi sacked Grouillard by fax the Monday after, confirming it by letter a few days later. A distraught Olivier claimed in the press that ten years of his hard work had just gone down the drain.

Grouillard was replaced by Gabriele Tarquini, and the Frenchman immediately snaffled the AGS seat vacated by Tarquini for the Spanish GP. But it was little consolation. The French team was in its death throes, and the JH27 car was simply not up to scratch. In pre-qualifying, Grouillard was slowest of all, even behind team-mate Fabrizio Barbazza, and he never really had a hope. With only the two fly-away races left in Japan and Australia, the AGS team folded immediately.


Dumped by Fondmetal, Grouillard climbs into his AGS in Spain, 1991. It was nothing more than a one-race partnership.
Dumped by Fondmetal, Grouillard climbs into his AGS in Spain, 1991. It was nothing more than a one-race partnership.

1992
Tyrrell

Lifeline is thrown by Uncle Ken, no doubt a boost to Olivier's confidence

Olivier was now out of a drive, and seemingly without hope in F1. It came as more than a shock, then, when the late great Ken Tyrrell took him on in 1992 to drive the Ilmor-powered 020B chassis. Although he was renowned for being a shrewd judge of talent, few expected him to take on a man of Grouillard's contumacious reputation. What's more, he was the first driver chosen by Ken for 1992. Tyrrell then wanted Alessandro Zanardi for the other car, only to go for Andrea de Cesaris who brought more sponsorship money.

Even though de Cesaris had matured greatly in recent times, Tyrrell now had on their books two of the most reviled drivers of the time. But while de Cesaris put in competitive points-scoring performances throughout the year, boosting his stock in the F1 paddock, Grouillard did little to lift his reputation out of the doledrums. He tended to qualify in the midfield, his best being 12th in the season opener in South Africa, his worst being dead last on the grid in Canada.

1992

Suffered a fair share of mechanical gremlins, but otherwise it was a demolition derby season!

But his race performances were on the whole ordinary, and (in our opinion) nothing to write home about. Admittedly he did have his fair share of mechanical problems, including engine, clutch and gearbox problems, and he did finish 12th in Canada, 11th in France and Britain, and 8th in San Marino. But he spun into the wall in the rain in Spain, collided with Karl Wendlinger's March in Hungary, spun off on the opening lap at Spa, fell off the road again at Suzuka, and launched Pierluigi Martini's Dallara into the air at the first chicane in Adelaide.

Having said that, he did find that he was enjoying himself, calling Tyrrell the first really professional team for which he had driven. He was happy to learn from de Cesaris' experience, but remained unrepentant about his manners whilst being lapped. He claimed that the problem lay in the difference between the cars, which for the top guns accentuated the sense of being held up. He pledged that, if he ever got hold of a leading car, he would never criticise other drivers.


The rain in Spain saw Grouillard aquaplane (Barcelona, 1992).
The rain in Spain saw Grouillard aquaplane (Barcelona, 1992).

1992

Herbert and Collins wrathful but Olivier's media rep sees Ukyo in for 1993

Trouble was, other team bosses would never be prepared to give him a chance, and the example of the French GP in 1992 epitomised why. When the race was stopped because of rain and restarted, Grouillard blatantly jumped the restart. Eventually, he was hauled in for a stop-go penalty, but not before he had held up Herbert's Lotus, which was trying to lap him, for eight laps. After the stop-go, when rain began to fall again, Olivier spun three times, before eventually finishing 11th.

His antics in blocking Herbert cost the Englishman 5th place, and an irate Lotus team boss Peter Collins launched a scathing attack against the Tyrrell driver. With such a public record, Olivier had unfortunately become too much of a liability for any team to pick up. Even Tyrrell wouldn't keep him on for another year; for 1993, along with Yamaha engines came Ukyo Katayama to partner de Cesaris. Grouillard was out again, and this time out of F1 for good.

After F1
1993

Takes to IndyCars, following his nemesis Nige across the pond

In 1993, while Nigel Mansell was the big-name defector from F1 to the CART PPG World Series in America, Grouillard actually followed the World Champion across the Atlantic. Olivier had managed to arrange twelve drives with the Indy Regency team in a Lola T92/00, but as things turned out Mansell and Grouillard carried their contrasting fortunes over to CART. While Nigel walked off with the title at his first attempt, thank you very much, Grouillard very much struggled in the middle of the pack.

His first attempt was at the Indianapolis 500, where he failed to qualify, but thereafter he managed to get onto the grid in all his other races. He was fairly consistent and reliable too, to his credit, finishing eight of his eleven events between 11th and 20th. He only had one mechanical retirement at Michigan, but otherwise crashed at Belle Isle and collided with Arie Luyendyk at Vancouver. With points scores for 11th at Cleveland and 12th at New Hampshire, Olivier ended up 28th overall with a meagre four points.


Olivier failed to make the starting lineup for the 1993 Indy 500, but he had better results during his year in the US.
Olivier failed to make the starting lineup for the 1993 Indy 500, but he had better results during his year in the US.

1994

Back to Europe for the obligatory sportscar career including Global GTs and Le Mans

Unable to establish himself in America, he returned to Europe in 1994 to race sports cars in the BPR Global GT series. It was by no means the first time he had raced sports cars. In 1990 he had actually qualified a works Nissan R90CK, shared with Martin Donnelly and Kenny Acheson, in 5th for Le Mans, but gearbox problems prevented them from starting. The same year, in IMSA GTO competition, he had shared a Ferrari F40 LM with Jean-Pierre Jabouille to 3rd at Mid-Ohio, scoring 12 points for equal 29th overall.

In Global GTs in 1994, he came 16th at Paul Ricard in a Venturi 400 Trophy with Herve Poulain (4th in GT5 class), before driving 5 races in an Agusta Racing Team Venturi 600LM with Christophe Bouchut, scoring 2nd on the grid at Montlhery and finishing 5th at Vallelunga. He also raced at Le Mans in a Jacadi Racing Venturi 600LM with Michel Ferté and Michel Neugarten, but engine problems forced them to retire from the race.

1995-96

Joins Mach One, taking a fabulous tricolon of victories in the BPR Global GT series

The Jacadi connection extended into 1995, though, with Grouillard joining Fabien Giroix in a Giroix Racing Team Jacadi McLaren F1 GTR for rounds 4-6 of the BPR series, coming 5th at Jarama and 2nd at the Nurburgring. In the same car at Le Mans, where they were joined by Jean-Denis Deletraz, they managed a fine 5th place. But then Olivier departed, joining Mach One Racing to drive another McLaren with Andy Wallace in three BPR rounds, sensationally winning all three at Silverstone, Nogaro and Zhuhai.

With 91 points, Grouillard ended up 14th overall. Not surprisingly, he remained with Mach One for 1996, with Harrods coming on board as a sponsor, but things didn't quite go according to plan for him and Wallace. Four retirements in the first 5 BPR rounds were tempered only by victory at Silverstone, and a 6th at Le Mans (not part of the championship, and where they were joined by Derek Bell) 4th at Anderstorp, 3rd at Suzuka and 2nd at Brands Hatch weren't enough to stop the combination from dissolving.


Joined by Fabien Giroix and Jean-Denis Deletraz, Grouillard's 1995 Le Mans tilt was a great success, placing 5th in the 24hr classic.
Joined by Fabien Giroix and Jean-Denis Deletraz, Grouillard's 1995 Le Mans tilt was a great success, placing 5th in the 24hr classic.

1996

A bit of this and a bit of that, including wins in Lambo Diablos and a flirt with Japan

Forced to scratch around for drives again, Grouillard failed to qualify at Spa in a Friesinger Motorsport Porsche 911 GT2 Evo shared with Wolfgang Kaufmann, and at Nogaro, where he drove a BBA Competition McLaren F1 GTR with Jean-Luc Maury-Laribiere, he failed to finish. Despite this inglorious end to his 1996 BPR campaign, Grouillard had done enough to secure equal 8th in the standings, with 106 points.

Throughout 1996, Olivier also competed in other various events. David Rainier tells us that he competed at the Daytona 24hrs in a Monaco Racing Bugatti EB110 (a rare appearance for this famous racing make) with Derek Hill and Gildo Pastor Pallanca, but transmission woes forced them out. In the Philippe Charriol Supersport Trophy for Lamborghini Diablos, he won races at Anderstorp and Brands Hatch. And in the All-Japan All-Star event at Central, he came 7th in a SARD Toyota Supra with David Dussau.

1997-98

Scratches around in FIA and Japanese GTs, plus two unlucky Le Mans tries and a dud ISRS entry

After such a busy 1996, though, from 1997 onwards Grouillard's career has slowly wound down. He was entered 4 times in the FIA GT championship in 1997 in a Dave Price Racing Panoz GTR Ford, teamed variously with Wallace, David Brabham and Perry McCarthy, but little of note was achieved. He did one race in Japanese GTs, finishing 2nd at Suzuka in a SARD Toyota Supra with Masami Kageyama, which was good enough to earn him 20th overall with 15 points.

At the Le Mans 24hrs, Olivier drove in a Courage Competition C36 Porsche with Mario and Michael Andretti, but their car retired after 15 and a half hours. Grouillard returned to La Sarthe in 1998, this time in a La Filiere Courage C36 Porsche with Henri Pescarolo and Franck Montagny, where they managed a run-of-the-mill 16th. Apart from that, Olivier's only other entry in 1998 was in the International Sports Racing Series at Misano, but his Promotion Racing Courage C41 entry with Emmanuel Clerico and John Burton failed to turn up.


16th place was all Grouillard and his co-drivers Henri Pescarolo and Franck Montagny could manage at le Mans in 1998.
16th place was all Grouillard and his co-drivers Henri Pescarolo and Franck Montagny could manage at le Mans in 1998.

2000-01

A fine 6th in the ALMS followed up by a great 4th spot at the Le Mans 24hrs

It appears as though the year 2000 saw Grouillard make his last competitive starts to date, for the Pescarolo Sport team. In the American Le Mans Series, he drove a Courage C52 Peugeot with Clerico and Sebastien Bourdais, coming a respectable 6th at Silverstone. They were also entered for the Nurburgring round, but did not take part in practice. Then at Le Mans, after being 18th quickest on the test weekend, come race day they finished 4th, albeit 21 laps adrift of the 3rd-placed car, and 24 behind the winner!

In 2001 it looked as though he was set to rejoin Pescarolo Sport at Le Mans, to drive a new Courage C60 Peugeot. Along with Clerico and Didier Cottaz, they were 11th fastest on the test day, but when it came to the race, Grouillard had been replaced by Boris Derichebourg. For a driver who had often been in the headlines (albeit often for the wrong reasons), it seemes as though he has made a very quiet exit from the international motor racing stage.

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