In recent years the French have missed out on all the major honours in Formula One motor racing, while European rivals have grabbed the glory.
In recent years the French have missed out on all the major honours in Formula One motor racing, while European rivals have grabbed the glory. Niki Lauda has twice taken the World Drivers' Championship for Austria, and when he did lose the title it was Britain's James Hunt who stepped in to take the crown. Constructors like Ferrari, McLaren-Ford and Lotus- Ford have dominated the Grand Prix scene. Last year the only all-French team to make the top twelve were Ligier-Matra who finished in eighth place. But suddenly things are looking bright for the French in the coming season.
SYNOPSIS: The Gitane s-backed Ligier-Matra team and their number one driver, Jacques Laffite, both enjoyed their first Grand Prix victory in Sweden last June. But that win lost some of its impact because Laffite had only raced through from second place three laps from home when Mario Andretti ran out of fuel.
Two months later 33-year-old Laffite showed he will be hard to beat this season by pushing World Champion Niki Lauda all the way before finishing second in the Dutch Grand Prix.
With impressive credentials from Formula Two racing, Didier Pironi becomes the new driver for Elf-Tyrrell.
The 25-year-old Parisian will be number two driver to fellow countryman Patrick Depailler - regarded as extremely talented despite never winning a Grand prix in four seasons.
This season the elf-Tyrrell team have abandoned their unsuccessful six-wheeler and reverted to a new four-wheel design. Backed by French company Elf, Ken Tyrrell is confident the new GBP100,000 car will provide better results for Depailler when it begins its racing career in Argentina.
The last Elf-Tyrrell success and the last French success - was when Jackie Stewart won the championship in 1974.
The 1976 champion, James Hunt, has a new partner in the McLaren-Ford them this season - another Frenchman, Patrick Tambay. After a winning run in Formula Two, Tambay raced an Ensign for Hong-Kong's Theodore Racing team in his first season in the top grade last year. He proved good enough to replace Jochen Mass in the McLaren challenge.
Another Frenchman - Jean Pierre Jarrier - partners Mass in the German ATS team.
There will be a brand new French team going for glory too. After winning last year's Formula Two Championship, Martini are now racing in the highest sphere with a brand new car. Not surprisingly they have chosen their Formula Two champion, Rene Arnoux, to lead their challenge.
But when all is said and done, every French challenger could finish the year overshadowed by the performance of the turbocharger Renault RS 01. The outcome of this revolutionary designed car is difficult to predict but if Renault are successful the Grand Prix scene will be changed dramatically. Constructors like Ferrari, Elf-Tyrrell and McLaren will be out-dated. The stronghold of Lauda and Hunt could be broken by Frenchman Michel Leclere..
Whatever the outcome of 1978 it seems that Leclere, Tambay, Depailler, Laffite, Arnoux, Jarrier, and Pironi could be names for the future - drivers that could put France back at the top of Grand Prix motor racing.