- Where Are They Now?
F1's journeymanAndrew Marriott March 9, 2010
He drove in 136 grand prix for eight different teams, escaped death in a serious helicopter crash in 1994 and was once a stunt double for Robert Di Niro. These days, however, Jean-Pierre Jarier has swapped the race track for an olive grove in South West France.
Despite narrowly missing out on a first F1 victory on several occasions, now at 63 he has few regrets. His olive harvest is big enough to sell some of the pressings and even, he laughs, claim government subsidies. He keeps in touch via Facebook and sells a small range of Jean Pierre Jarier branded clothing, towels, and watches.
The son of a hotelier from the Paris suburb of Charenton, Jarier started his racing career riding a small motorbike. He soon realised four wheels were better than two and persuaded his family to buy him a racing Renault Gordini.
His rise through the motorsport ranks was meteoric. He started out in Formula Renault and was quickly spotted by the oil company Shell, which paid his way into French Formula 3 in 1970. Third place in the series was good enough to see him promoted to Formula 2 the following year and, convinced he had potential, Shell placed him in a rented March F1 car for the Italian Grand Prix the same season. A brake problem masked what was a very respectable drive, but luckily for him, his performance didn't go completely unnoticed.
March was impressed, not only by his skill but also because he had a sponsor, and the following year he went back to Formula 2. But his early season results weren't up to expectations and the deal collapsed after just a handful of races. His career appeared to be in ruins but March still had faith in him, and in 1973 it signed him to a joint F1 and F2 campaign. Against the big boys the car proved hugely unreliable and he failed to finish a race, but in F2, with BMW power, it was a completely different story. He won the first two rounds of the European championship, crashed in the next two and then reeled off a string of victories and took the title.
In 1974 he was signed by Don Nichol's well funded UOP Shadow team to race alongside American Peter Revson. The season didn't start well, with the new team-mates colliding in the opening race of the season in Argentina and Jarier retiring in Brazil. Then tragedy struck during testing at Kyalami, when the charismatic Revson, an heir to the Revlon cosmetic fortune, experienced a suspension failure and was killed.
Jarier was able to lift the team with a third place finish at Monaco and a fifth in Sweden. He continued at Shadow for the next two years, starting 1975 with pole position at both the opening South American races. In Argentina a part broke on the warm-up lap but he led in Brazil until the fuel metering unit packed up. From then on, bar a fourth place in Spain, the team never rediscovered its front-running pace and the following year saw no improvement.
In 1975 he drove for another new team ATS, run by German after-market wheel magnet Gunther Schmidt. Jarier described him as "the craziest man I ever met in racing, always changing his mind". Not surprisingly it was a poor year, although "Jumper", as he was now known, did win a couple of sports car races in an Alfa Romeo alongside co-driver Arturo Merzario and finished second at Le Mans with Vern Schuppan in a Gulf Mirage. Despite his differences with the team, Jarier remained at ATS for a second year. Unfortunately it wasn't any better.
Jarier rowed with Schmidt for the final time at the German Grand Prix and left the team, his career seemingly in tatters. But then Ronnie Peterson was killed at Monza and Colin Chapman signed Jarier as a stand-in for the final two races of the year. Back in a competitive car he was sensational. At Watkins Glen he set fastest lap and was running in third place when the Lotus 79 ran out of fuel four laps from the end. In Canada he started from pole, dominated the race but retired with an oil leak.
However, for the following season Chapman opted for Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann. Jarier, his career revived, signed for Tyrrell. Over the next two seasons he was a regular points scorer and bagged a couple of podiums in 1979. But from then on, with Ligier in 1981 and 1983 and Osella in between, he was no longer a front-runner. His final grand prix was at Kyalami in 1983, but by then he had a reputation as a "blocker" and particularly incensed James Hunt in the commentary booth on the odd occasion.
But Jarier didn't hang up his olive green helmet for good, he continued to race for the next 20 years or so in the French Supertourisme Series, the BRP Global GT series, the French GT Championship. He also won the Spa 24 Hours in 1993 and competed at Le Mans until 1999.
His career was one that ultimately flattered to deceive but for over a decade he was very much a part of F1. What would have happened if Chapman had signed him for 1979? "Sometimes I think about that," he says. "But I am still here and I am still enjoying life, that's the main thing". These days he's a slightly plumper "Jumper", but he still loves motor racing with a passion and his olive oil is of the very highest quality.
Andrew Marriott is a freelance Motorsport commentator and journalist