With Fabio Quartararo, France finally has its first world champion in the premier class, but anyone who thinks that our cousins from across the Alps are not well represented in the large displacement classes is wrong.
When the 500cc class was considered the premier class, it was even overtaken by the Formula 750 with its super powerful two-stroke four-cylinder engines, which ironically – when Yamaha became dominant in the series with the 750 TZ – came to an end.
Barry Sheene was one of the first protagonists in 1973, but it wasn’t until the last three seasons that the fight really exploded: in 1977 the American Steve Baker won, then it was the Venezuelan’s turn Johnny Cecotto and then Patrick Pons, the fastest of the French, triumph.
You can say that Pons, who was tragically killed in Silverstone the following yearwhen he was beaten by his friend and compatriot Michel Rougerie, was the first world champion in the maximum displacement category and so Fabio Quartararo followed suitably in his footsteps last Sunday.
Patrick Pons with Christian Sarron
It may be true that the World Cup has not produced many French champions over the past few seasons – the last one was Johann Zarco who dominated Moto2 2015-16 – there were years when the Marseillaise was heard very often on the podium.
Pons’ friend and teammate, Christian Sarron, 250cc World Champion 1984, before Jean-Louis Tournadre 1982 and Olivier Jacques in 2000 twice third in the half-liter world championship, 1985 and 1989 on a Yamaha 500 in Gauloises colors. from Lawson to Spencer, past Mamola, Rainey and Schwantz. Christian, whom we often see in the paddock, only won one Grand Prix, in 1985 at Hockenheim when it was wet, where it was very difficult to beat him.
Strong French driver in this era, mainly there were plenty of them in grades 250 and 350 make up more than a third of the network.
A few names next to Christians: Hervé Guilleux, Thierry Espie, Eric Saul, Jean Francois Baldé, a unique, very fast rider who started with the Yamaha driven Chevallier and the Kawasakis, the 1981 vice world champion. And by the way: Alain Chevallier, The ingenious chassis builder took second place in the manufacturers’ world championship in 1983, behind the manufacturer Iwata, after mourning his death three years earlier Brother olivier, a talented rider.
But the list of drivers is long: Jacque Bolle, Patrick Fernandez, Jean Luis Guignabodet, Guy Bertin, Bernard Fau, the elegant Christian Estrosi, who then switched to the 500, always sought after with the beautiful Catherine at his side, invariably wrapped in a cloud of opium perfume. And besides: Estrosi is currently the mayor of Nice!
And the number was even bigger: Dominique Sarron, Christian’s brother, Sibille – and I apologize if I don’t mention all of them – there were so many and they formed a tight-knit group like the Spaniards today.
In those 80s, the French were strong: Raymond Roche, who would later win the Superbike World Championship with Ducati in 1990, finished third in the 500cc World Championship with a Honda behind Lawson and Mamola, not exactly new kids on the block. In order to find another French champion, the SBK had to wait until 2014 Sylvain Guintoli.
Little by little, and we still have to find out why, the number of French drivers decreased until it became very rare. Arnaud Vincent won the 125cc World Championship in 2002, Mike di Meglio did the same thing in 2008, both driving an Aprilia.
These are the ones I remember, but I can’t help but mention them Alain Michel, although he needed three wheels and the company of his LCR Krauser for his 1990 World Championship title Simon Birchall and Jean-Marc Fresc in the basket’. In addition, the sidecar category was part of the liturgy of the World Cup for a long time when we proudly joined the Continental Circus! declared.
Photos from the Internet, unknown authors.