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Remembering Jean-Paul Driot: Passion Racer

Allan McNish recalls his former team boss and recent competitor, the late Jean-Paul Driot…

Photo: Formula E

To his drivers and indeed all employees he was never a distant or feared ‘Le Patron’ or merely ‘the Boss’.

Because Jean-Paul Driot, who passed away at 68 last weekend, was a racer just like they were.

One of several impressive attributes Driot, or simply ‘JP’ as he was known, always displayed was his unending competitive spirit and a deep passion to win.

Whether this was displayed with a bit of knowing bombast, a display of impressively animated gesticulation or the occasional scolding of an inquisitive journalist (an impressive hairdryer, I can assure you) it was impossible not to respect Driot for his directness.

The fact that he has been one of the leading independent lights of not only French motorsport but the sport in general for the last thirty years marks him out as a special character in modern day motorsport.

His achievements and vision are well documented and some of them appeared in the sad news of his passing last Sunday.

However, it was his lack of pompousness and a tendency to be direct which endeared him to many over the years, whether you worked with him, for him or as a competitor against him.

Motorsport was much more than just an expensive hobby or a labor of love for Driot who made good on his skill as an oil trader largely in the 1980s and ’90s.

Those who drove for DAMS or e.dams over the years talk of Driot in affectionate tones because more often than not he was a father figure.

One of the youngsters he took under his wing in 1990 and 1991 was an ambitious and talented young Scottish driver called Allan McNish who embarked on a two-year stint in International Formula 3000 with DAMS.

“Jean-Paul was never shy in telling you what he thought,” McNish told e-racing365 last week.

“He had the capability to put an arm around you when needed but on other occasions he gave you a hell of a kick up the backside.

“All this was part of giving the right environment to be competitive and to deliver results but you had to go with Jean-Paul because everything he put in to his team he expected just as much effort from you in return.”

While occasionally fierce, Driot’s personality also had a committed humanitarian side as well.

This was never highlighted more than when in his first race for DAMS at Donington in April 1990, McNish suffered a horrifying accident which tragically witnessed the death of a spectator.

“Relationships and friendships come and go in this business don’t they,” says McNish, who is pictured below with former DAMS F3000 engineer and current Nissan e.dams tech chief Vincent Gaillardot.

“But his human side with his drivers usually stood the test of time I feel. Donington was a really hard time, perhaps the hardest in my life but he [Driot] was there for me.

“If I’m honest I don’t think I really appreciated the support from him behind the scenes until much later. There’s no question to it that he had some fine traits on a human level there and those are the things I really remember fondly.”

Although DAMS was very much a French squad with largely French partners and French employees, Driot was a man of international sensibilities.

He even lived within a mile of McNish in 1990 via renting a house in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, UK.

“He had a wider view of the world, perhaps more so than other team bosses, and he understood what made racing drivers tick I think,” recalls McNish.

“From that point of view he was very good as someone to look up to for kids like myself, because that’s all I was then. I was green as grass, but JPD really helped me to mature and understand this racing business.”

“So it will be these things more than anything on the circuit we achieved or experienced together because these are the personal ones.

“On a professional level, and this will sound a bit strange, but if anyone was going to win the first race in New York last month and it wasn’t us [Audi] then I was really pleased it was them [Nissan] because we knew it was a very difficult time for the team.

“I can tell you now that he got a lot of text messages from people in the paddock that Saturday night saying ‘well done.’

“I bet he really loved that.”

Photo: Formula E

Sam Smith is e-racing365's Formula E Editor. A 20-year veteran in motorsports media, including press officer roles in both the FIA Sportscar Championship and at Lola Group, Smith is a well-known face in the Formula E paddock, where he served as series editor for Motorsport.com from 2014-17. Contact Sam

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