“Ruining” Ron Dennis’ life
In September 1988, Frank Williams called upon Jean-Louis Schlesser (born 12 September 1948) to deputise for an unwell Nigel Mansell at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The French driver was working as a test driver for Williams since 1983, and was very successful in sports car racing.
He had gained his first taste of Formula One in early 1983 when he bought a drive in the RAM team’s March-RAM 01-Cosworth, for the non-championship race of champions, where he finished 6th (out of 13 entrants). One week later, at the French Grand Prix, in the same car, at Paul-Ricard, he failed to qualify.
At Monza, Schlesser qualified 22nd, and thus made his Grand Prix debut the day before his 40th birthday! In the race, he worked his way up to 11th, when in the closing stages, Senna in the lead, came up to lap him for the second time. Going into the chicane at the end of the start-finish straight, the French driver went wide, locked his brakes, and his left front wheel hit Senna’s right rear, sending the McLaren spinning with a broken suspension.
This collision and the retirement of Senna, prevented the McLaren team, so dominant, from winning all 16 races of the 1988 season… Later, Schlesser apologised.
When 25 years later, McLaren chairman Ron Dennis, known for his relentless quest for perfection, was reintroduced to Jean-Louis Schlesser, he said: “This is the man who ruined my life and our perfect record back in 1988.” Schlesser responded saying that “what happened that day at Monza kept you hungry…”