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Ayrton Senna Special: Extra 2 - Gérard Ducarouge - Designer of Ayrton's winning Lotus (1986)

  • Published on 16 Apr 2019 19:00
  • comments 1
  • By: Fergal Walsh


Gérard Ducarouge was the designer of all the Lotus Grand Prix cars Ayrton drove. Ducarouge was born on October 3rd 1941 in Paray-Le-Monial, Saône-et-Loire, France. The engineer and designer died on 19 February 2015 in his home town of Neuilly-sur-Seine in France. Ducarouge trained as a specialist in aerodynamics at the École Nationale Technique d'Aéronautique. He then joined Nord Aviation, where he worked on various projects from 1964 onwards. Ducarouge was a well-known name in the Formula 1 world. From 1965 he started working as a technical engineer for Matra. After a while, he won with the Matra MS10 and the Matra MS80 the Formula 1 World Championship with Jackie Stewart. Between 1972 and 1974 he was responsible for the hat-trick of Matra's victories at Le Mans. 

After Matra withdrew from Formula 1 he won some victories with Ligier. In mid-1981 he was dismissed by Guy Ligier because of disappointing results. Ducarouge then found a new challenge in Alfa Romeo. Alfa Romeo was highly regarded at the time, but their car turned out to be disappointing. When Andrea de Cesaris was disqualified from the French Grand Prix in 1983 because he was underweight, Ducarouge was dismissed with immediate effect. Lotus did not hesitate for a moment and saw in Ducarouge a 'saviour' to get the team back on track. Peter Warr paid a fortune to add Ducarouge to his team and one month after Ducarouge was fired from Alfa Romeo he started working at Lotus. 

Ducarouge on Colin Chapman

"First of all, no one can imagine being able to replace a man of the calibre of Colin Chapman," Ducarouge said. "The transfer to Lotus had been planned for some time. A few months before his death, Chapman had already convinced me to come and work for Lotus. He 'kidnapped' me on Paul Ricard's circuit and then took me to Lotus' headquarters. The landing was on a dark runway and we paid a visit to his castle.

"It was surrealistic, I had the impression that ghosts would come from all over the place. Impressive, Ketteringham Hall Castle! Colin showed me around the workshop where all his Formula 1 cars were parked. It was big, but there were so many pillars that I wondered how they could move the cars. A notebook was attached to one of these pillars. It was a kind of complaint book in which people could (anonymously) write down a complaint, report an idea or write a nice story.

"I leafed through the booklet and saw things like 'Nigel (Mansell) is better off fishing' and 'Nigel's ass is too big and doesn't fit in the car'. Ducarouge further expanded on his conversation with Chapman: "At first I refused Chapman's offer when I was in his office. Chapman hadn't been able to convince me. I also had the feeling that I wasn't ready for it.

"Nevertheless, a few months after Colin Chapman's death, I decided to take up the challenge at Lotus. In the meantime, I had thought about the beautiful office, the classic furniture and the large windows overlooking the sublime rose garden. It was unthinkable and beautiful, but not something that is 'des' Formula 1."

Starting at Lotus and the development of the 94T and 95T

"The day before my installation Peter Warr had shown me the car that Lotus was driving in 1983. The car was not easy to modify, it had a very small engine and was actually not worthy of Formula 1. I then asked Peter what the budget was and whether it was possible to rebuild everything. He took me to the smaller chassis of the Lotus 91. I saw that the base of this car was good. I already had an idea of how to get this car up and running within six weeks. I knew that the budget would explode and that we had to work day and night to get the project in order. We had a month and a half to build the car, which had to be ready for the British Grand Prix in 1983. We had a lot of pressure from Imperial Tobacco (John Player Special) because they didn't want to see the cars forour home race on the back of the grid."

Ducarouge also talked about his relationship with Bob Dance, who was Colin Chapman's right-hand man at the time: "Some employees knew that Chapman wanted me on the team. Bob Dance, the first mechanic, knew that all too well. They all had the deepest respect for Chapman. And rightly so, Chapman was Mr. Formula 1 for everyone. He was an exceptional man."

Ducarouge said of the 94T on the track: "We finally managed to complete this challenge. Within 30 days there were two new Lotus T94 copies on the Silverstone grid. During the first official session, Elio de Angelis drove the best time. During the race, Elio would drop out, but Nigel drove from 21st place on the grid to fourth position. If he had passed Rene Arnoux a little faster he would probably have made it to the podium. Nigel was 'the man of the race'. The atmosphere at Lotus seemed to have risen."

The connection with Ayrton Senna and the possibility for both to go to Ferrari

"After the years with Ayrton he absolutely wanted me to follow him to McLaren. The year before (1986) I had already been approached very seriously by Ron Dennis, but I had rejected his offer. When Ayrton left Lotus I wrote him a letter in which I told him that I was sorry that I couldn't make him a car that would make him a world champion. I could not follow him because I wanted to respect my contract with Lotus.

£I decided to tell him that I was sure that he would become world champion several times. Ayrton was one of the few who knew that I had been approached by Enzo Ferrari during my Lotus period. I've always kept those meetings to myself. A first meeting took place in Maranello and a second meeting in Mr Ferrari's private home in Modena. What Mr. Ferrari told there was incredible. "I want to get you to Ferrari", he said.

"My answer was that it was impossible, I'm with Lotus and I'm with Ayrton. Ferrari replied: "But I want Ayrton too." I thought it was incredible, but had to tell him that I had to respect my contract with Lotus and my loyalty to Ayrton. Ferrari replied: "I don't care how much it costs to get you out of there, we have the right and the best lawyers." 

"Mr. Ferrari had pink post-its and he wrote numbers in dollars and he shifted it in my direction. I pretended not to see the paper and pushed it back very slowly. I had a lot of respect for Mr. Ferrari and the situation became more and more difficult for me. I finally told him that it was an honour that he wanted to have me, but I was a man of my word and respected my contract with Lotus. There was a sequel to the appointment in Modena.

"During the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatc,h I had taken Ayrton to the Ferrari motorhome. Ayrton and I had a great time. It then became clear again that Mr. Ferrari wanted to bring us both to his racing stable. During an open phone conversation between Enzo Ferrari and Marco Piccini (Ferrari's chief engineer,) he told me that he thought it was bad that he couldn't convince me to join the Scuderia. He made a statement and I have to admit that I wasn't so proud to be responsible for not going to Ferrari. On the other hand, I have respected my contract."

Falling out with Nelson Piquet

"After Ayrton's departure, it was very difficult for Lotus to find a suitable replacement. Everyone knew that Nelson could not replace Ayrton. On the day of his arrival he saw the pictures of Peter Warr on the wall. He (Nelson) looked at them and she said to me: 'Gerard, if you want to talk to me you have to get all those pictures with Ayrton on them downstairs'.  He hated Ayrton, so all our history as a team was less important than Nelson Piquet himself. I just didn't accept his way of doing things. Later, in the workshop, I showed him the complete car so that he could determine the first new wave of adjustments to his driving position, steering wheel and pedal position.

"I made the mistake of saying that it was Ayrton's chassis that had won the race in Monaco and Detroit. He came up with a statement saying that he would never get into a car Ayrton had been in. I thought we'd have a lot of fun with such a character. There had been a big dispute between the two drivers after an article by Piquet in the Rio de Janeiro scandal press. 

"Nelson had had a serious accident in Monza during a test. It looked like he couldn't get back to level. His speed was not much better than that of Saturo Nakajima. It was very difficult to communicate with him and technically spar with him. Sometimes he spent hours in the truck to sleep. The results were bad. For the first time I thought I would be put aside by Lotus. I also didn't really feel motivated to go on because the atmosphere was very bad. I made sure that I walked away and decided to work at Larrousse. In 1991 I returned to Ligier as technical director. Until the takeover of Flavio Briatore, I worked at this race stables, after which I invested my time in the Renault Espace F1 project." 

Ducarouge won six Grand Prix with Ayrton Senna and finished 22 times with the Brazilian on the podium. He died on 19 February 2015 after a long illness at the age of 73. 

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 1 - Ayrton and karting - The early years
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 2 - Ayrton and karting - International

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 3 - Ayrton and karting - The tough trip in Buenos Aires
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 4 - Ayrton and karting - The last race
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 5 - Ayrton in Europe - Formula Ford 1600 and the battle with Rick Morris

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 6 - Ayrton in Europe - A glorious year in Formula Ford 200
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 7 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - Senna in a class of his own
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 8 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - First signs of pressure and dirt game 
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 9 - Ayrton in British Formula 3 - Shame at Oulton Park and another title
Ayrton Senna Special Exclusive Interview: Allen Berg: Ayrton drove against the British system
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 10 - Ayrton as a test driver - The first experience in a Formula 1 car
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 11 - Ayrton as a test driver - A selection of different teams
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 12 - Ayrton at Toleman - Why the choice for Toleman was the right one
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 13 - Ayrton at Toleman - Monaco Grand Prix - Stefan was faster
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 14 - Ayrton at Toleman - Monaco Grand Prix - Post-race
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 15 - Ayrton at Toleman - Competitive in a new car with two podiums
Ayrton Senna Special: Technical Analysis 1: The Toleman TG183 (1984)
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammate 1: Johnny Cecotto
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 16 - Ayrton at Lotus - Facial Paralysis
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 17 - Ayrton at Lotus - Masterclass in Estoril
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 18 - Ayrton at Lotus - An unfortunate first half of the season
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 19 - Ayrton at Lotus - Many podiums and a victory at Spa-Francorchamps
Ayrton Senna Special: Technical Analysis 2: The Lotus 972
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammate 2: Elio 'The Gentleman'
Ayrton Senna Special: Extra 1: Veto 1

Ayrton Senna Special: Part 20 - Second year at Lotus - Titanium competition with Nigel Mansell
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 21 - Second year at Lotus- A good start and the lead in the championship after Detroit (1986)
Ayrton Senna Special: Part 22 - Second year at Lotus - Decay in the second half of the season (1986)
Ayrton Senna Special: Teammates 3: John Crichton-Stuart, 7th Marquess of Bute (1986)


Replies (1)

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  • JuJuHound

    Posts: 217

    Great work Fergal Walsh. I always loved the chemistry between these two guys.
    My favourite photo of Gerard comes from 1986 Dallas when Ayrton won his race. Just look at his joy, magnificent.

    • + 0
    • Apr 17 2019 - 10:42

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