After a long battle against illness, Nissan e.Dams team principal Jean-Paul Driot has died at the age of 68.
Born near Massif Central in 1951, Driot recalled in an interview with Formula E last year that it was his father, an avid hillclimber, who got him into motorsport at an early age.
“The earliest memory is of my father driving a Mustang in 1968.” He explained. “I was very excited to see the car. I remember it was quite a rare car to see in 1968 with its big V8 – it had so much power and presence. I pinched the car from my father, took it for a drive and nearly crashed it! Then, when I knew a little more, I started to rally at the age of 18. I raced as soon as I was old enough to drive!”
Although Driot would go on to work in international oil trading from 1980 to 2012, his passion always lay in motorsport, and in 1987 him and close friend Rene Arnoux started an F3000 team named Driot-Arnoux Motorsport, often simply prefferred to by the acronym of “DAMS”.
DAMS went on to be very successful in F3000, securing four team’s titles and three driver’s titles for Erik Comas, Olivier Panis and Jean-Christophe Boullion. When F3000 folded in 2001, it was eventually succeeded by GP2 four years later, in which DAMS continued competing, winning two more team’s championships and three further driver’s titles with Romain Grosjean, Davide Valsecchi and Jolyon Palmer. The team still competes successfully in the series, since renamed to Formula 2.
The team also diversified into various other single seater championships such as A1GP, where Driot ran Team France to victory in the championship’s inaugural season, or Formula Renault 3.5, where DAMS won the driver’s championship two years in a row with Kevin Magnussen in 2013 and Carlos Sainz in 2014. DAMS even competed at the Le Mans 24 hours, with a best result of 5th in class in 2001.
In 2014, Driot partnered with Alain Prost and Renault to found the Renault e.Dams team, to compete in the nascent Formula E championship. e.Dams won an unprecedented three team’s titles in a row from the first season in 2014-15 through to the third in 2016-17, and also won the 2015-16 driver’s championship with Sebastien Buemi. Overall the team has taken sixteen victories, more than any other team.
Driot believed that his team’s expertise was pivotal to the longevity of their success in Formula E. “First of all, we were all with the same equipment [in Season 1]. Chassis, engines, tyres – everything – and we won. In Season 2, we had a very good powertrain. But, above all, for the 30 years that Dams has been around, we’ve been specialising in racing monotype single seaters, which means you need to set up the car better than the others in order to be competitive and to be in front. I think that’s helped quite a lot.”
For the fifth season, Renault were replaced by their partner company, Nissan. After winning the Saturday race in New York this season, Buemi dedicated his first Formula E victory in two years to Driot.
Despite his team’s huge success in motorsport, when asked what the highlight of his career was, Driot pointed to his family: “I think the fact that I have been married for 43 years, I have two sons who are married and four grandchildren – they are my structure. I think that the best achievement in life is to have your structure working perfectly well and this is the best achievement in my career. In business, you are happy to sign contracts, then you win one race, then a championship, then another race – it’s a formula. The example I gave is not a formula, it’s your life.”
Driot is survived by his wife Geneviève, and his two sons Olivier and Gregory. The thoughts of everybody at Formula E Zone are with the Driot family and friends at this extremely sad and difficult time.