Giovanni Alesi (known as Jean Alesi) was born on June 11th, 1964, and has enjoyed a long and relatively successful career in motor racing, most notably his 12 years in Formula One, 5 of which were with the Ferrari team.
Alesi was born in Avignon in France, although he is of French-Sicilian descent. His desire to race has been with him from an early age, and although rallying was Jeans initial love, he progressed to single-seaters in the late 1980s, winning the French Formula 3 title in 1988. The following year, Alesi won the Formula 3000 (now called GP2) crown after beating his great rival Erik Comas. His 1989 campaign saw Jean tie on points with Comas, but Alesi was awarded the title because of better points finishes.
1989-1990: Debut With Tyrrell
Alesi’s Formula 3000 exploits earned him a drive with the Tyrrell Formula One team in 1989, and Jean debuted at the French Grand Prix in front of his home crowd at the Paul Ricard circuit. This inaugural race for Alesi saw him finish a magnificent fourth, and earned him the opportunity to continue with Tyrrell for the remainder of season while simultaneously competing for the Formula 3000 title.
1990 was Jean’s first full year in Formula One, and his infectious and lovable personality was an instant hit, both with fellow drivers and the media. The first race of the 1990 season was to cause quite a stir though, as Alesi drove his under-powered Tyrrell into the lead for the first 30 laps. He ran ahead of Ayrton Senna until he eventually had to concede. Jean still managed second place, but all everyone could talk about were those first 30 laps. Jean also claimed another second at Monaco that year, and it wasn’t long before teams up and down the grid were clamouring for his services for 1991.
1991-1995: The Ferrari Years
Ferrari won the battle for Jean, and he partnered the then most successful driver in Formula One and fellow Frenchman, Alain Prost. However, although Ferrari were enjoying a good period of winning, 1991 saw the turning point in the team, and a disastrous season, and Jean’s childhood dream of driving for The Scuderia soon evaporated.
Jean had been offered a drive for Williams in 1990, but he allowed his heart to make the decision, and that decision would haunt him for a long while. As Ferrari lost momentum, Williams were enjoying resurgence, and the British team went on to win five constructors titles while Jean was chasing them in a slower Ferrari.
Alesi’s time at Ferrari saw him claim his maiden (and sole) victory at the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix – a moment that everyone in Formula One enjoyed with the little French-Sicilian. Jean’s account of his final lap describes his tears being pulled from his face and splashing on the inside of his visor as he braked the car into the corners. Alesi also gained the respect and admiration of the tifosi while he drove for Ferrari. The tifosi being the hardened Ferrari fans who support the Italian team through thick and thin. Few Ferrari drivers have claimed the fan’s hearts, Gilles Villeneuve being one of only a handful of others.
However, in 1996, and with Michael Schumacher signed to Ferrari, Jean left the team to seek pastures new. And with his maiden victory behind him, decided again to go to a team that was riding a high of championship wins – Benetton.
1996-1997: The Benetton Years
Unfortunately for Jean, the Benetton team in 1996 were much like Ferrari in 1991. Although the team had taken both titles in 1995, the move of Schumacher and key personnel from Benetton to Ferrari meant that life was about to become difficult for the Anglo-Italian team. Another lull in performance saw Alesi struggle to gain points, and although long-term team mate Gerhard Berger managed a win in Germany, the car was considered to be a handful. Internal politics and struggles saw Alesi depart from Benetton in 1997 on less than happy terms, and Alesi moved to midfield teams to see out the remainder of his Formula One career.
1998-2001: The Twilight Years
Sauber enjoyed having Alesi on-board. Both were experienced and mature, and they worked well together. However, former team mate Alain Prost had just bought the French team Ligier and was in the process of forming a completely French team – the lure was too much for Alesi and he signed. The Prost team did have some success, but it was short-lived as financial difficulties forced the team to close its doors only a few years after they had opened. The dream of driving for the all-French squad disappeared and Jean moved on to Jordan – a team that gave him his Formula 3000 break in 1989. His time at Jordan was also less than great, and although Alesi’s fiery determination earned him respect, the results just didn’t happen.
2001-2006: The DTM Years
At the end of 2001, Alesi said goodbye to Formula One and moved to the German Touring Car Championship. Jean managed a race victory in DTM, but he eventually retired in 2006 after his final positions in the standings started to decline.
Outside of motor sport, Jean enjoys wine-making and owns a vineyard close to his Avignon home. He is married to Kumiko Goto and has three children.