Profile – François Migault

What makes the most interesting human stories is often the compulsion involved in their rise from nothing to something. However, many Formula 1 drivers are financially quite well-endowed, and the interest in them comes from what they do rather than who they are. François Migault is just that: a blue-blooded Frenchman who raced for four F1 teams and made 25 Le Mans entries; he came from Le Mans, lived in Le Mans, raced in Le Mans, and died in Le Mans. He also sat behind the wheel of some of the most experimental and unique cars in formula racing, and for his actions gives us a fascinating glimpse into the terrifying fun of 1970s motorsports.

Nationality French
Date of Birth December 4th 1944
Date of Death January 29th 2012
Teams Connew (1972), BRM (1974), Embassy Hill (1975), Williams (1975)
Number of Entries 16
Number of Starts 13
Best finish 14th (France 1974)

Early Years

“I did some bullshit, and also a few miracles” – Francois Migault, 2011

Our protagonist was born in the Sarthe region of France, which any Francophone motorsport fan will know, is the same region containing the small town of Le Mans. François was raised by a very wealthy family, and future team boss Peter Connew would describe his family home as “a big château”: Le Château de Bellefille in fact, on the outskirts of the town. The family came from old money, and François would also inherit Le Château de Viré-en-Champagne in the same region through his wife – the same château used by Steve McQueen and his filming crews as the production centre when making the movie Le Mans released in 1971. Set in such a scenic location, Migault’s house would also host a variety of period dramas, such as the acclaimed Cyrano de Bergerac in 1990, among others.

Onto the man himself. François started racing in his early 20s, around the mid- to late 1960s, taking to circuit racing at the national level in 1968. That year, he joined the Magny-Cours Volant Shell competition at the eponymous circuit. For around a decade and most of the 1960s, this event was set up to catch up-and-coming national talent, and ahead of such competition as the other François of Mazet (future reject) and Cevert, Migault won the event!

From here, Migault’s earliest known running began. He found himself a drive in Formule France, a national ladder series, with little success over the year aside from one fifth place. He ran his own team with bought and developed cars, primarily under the moniker of Écurie Volant Shell. His wealth opened doors, as did his locality. It was in 1969 that he entered his first race at Les 24 Heures du Mans, driving a privately entered Ferrari run by former three-time winner Luigi Chinetti. Sadly, the car was written off in practice and didn’t start the event.

An early photo of Migault sitting in his Tecno-Ford. Photo: Guy Le Page.

François moved up to French Formula 3, driving a Tecno-Ford for the duration of the following year. Finishing fourth overall behind a young Jean-Pierre Jarier, he continued upwards to European Formula 2, where he ended the year 11th overall. Along with a fifth place at Rouen, his strongest moment was at Albi, where he finished fourth and took the points for third, as race winner Emerson Fittipaldi was a guest and ineligible for points.

It was in these early days that Migault (R) was placed as a rising French talent alongside Jean-Pierre Jarier (C) and Denis Dayan (R). Dayan would die that year in the race at Rouen.

It was during this time that Volant Shell kept themselves busy, as alongside European Formula 2, François dabbled in Brazilian Formula 2 for a few rounds. He drove in the European Sportscar Championship in various Taydecs and Porsches over the course of the year. He also continued on and off in French Formula 3, where he was able to almost double his points tally from the previous year and finish fourth overall again. On top of all this, he made appearances in some rounds of the Italian and British Formula 3 seasons, and Brazilian Formula 3! A busy man was Migault.

1972: Adventures with Peter Connew!

In 1972, François made the first of his many, many Le Mans starts. He returned in a Ferrari Daytona that he was signed for in the World Sportscar Championship, entered by Charles Pozzi. In the race they got nine hours in before clutch issues knocked them out. Over the winter, Migault had received some proper sponsorship income from La Hutte, a sports clothing shop, meaning he could reasonably approach teams elsewhere for drives in formula series.

One that he had his eye on was Formula 1. His first racing came for the plucky Connew team, who certainly deserve a profile of their own. The very young Peter Connew approached Migault to drive for his underdog group in their unique technical PC1 tub. With regulations changing, the tiny team struggled to get their concept finished and on track.

Connew and Migault’s debut was set for the Monaco Grand Prix, but the car was simply not ready in time. Then, for the French Grand Prix some weeks later, when the team itself was ready, their transport lorry broke down somewhere on the autoroutes and never made it to the race! Migault’s third attempt, the British Grand Prix, saw him race in anger during practice at the very least. However, these first stress tests were enough to break the very weak suspension, and François’ best time was three seconds off Henri Pescarolo, the last qualifier.

The next race at the Nürburgring saw the team being denied entry at the gate after not purchasing a permit in time. Finally, at his fifth try, François Migault actually qualified for a Formula 1 race! During practice running, the catch-tank on the back of the PC1 sprayed oil all over the track, leading to general trepidation from the officials as to whether Connew should be allowed to participate at all. After “stringent tests” were performed, Migault was allowed into the race under the condition that it was safe to do so. The engine was turned down to avoid it exploding, and Migault got into the race by default after Pescarolo crashed heavily in qualifying. Four seconds off Mike Beuttler in front, François’ suspension gave up anyway after 22 laps. It was all deemed too much effort and money, and the Connew team demoted itself to F2 and F5000, continuing with David Purley and other drivers.

It has been generally understood that Migault got more practice with Connew by driving the team owner around in his own BMW 2002 during the mid-week before the Austrian Grand Prix. Peter even did the unthinkable and clunked the sportscar into the wall of the pitlane when parking it! About the Frenchman, Connew has generally only nice things to say: that he had a down-to-earth attitude considering his background, and no problem boarding up with the owners and personnel in rather unfashionable surroundings.

“François stayed with us overnight on several occasions in ordinary working-class houses … He was a non-arrogant guy that could mix with every type of person and to work with people to achieve the objective, that’s the sort of person I like; not at all arrogant … I also think he was quite a reasonable driver. I think that if you had someone like François today and stick him in a Mercedes, he’d be right up there with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.”

Migault ended up the only man to drive the Connew in anger in an F1 race, and it was a wild few months of adventure to get through. Alongside his F1 commitments, if there were any, he participated in the non-championship World Championship Victory Race, entering by his own Volant Shell. However, a crash in practice took him out of the rest of the weekend, and he did not start the race.

1973-1975: Further Adventures

1973 was a quieter year for François. Continuing his work in the Ferrari Daytona, he participated in the 24 Hours of Daytona and took second place for the North American Racing Team (NART for short). Otherwise, he continued with some forays in Formula 2, though without result, only finishing one race.

A full season of F1 was in order for Migualt in 1974. BRM, who had lost both the previous year’s drivers to Ferrari, had now been inundated with massive sponsorship from the French oil distributor Motul, which “allowed” them to run no less than three French drivers! Along with Jean-Pierre Beltoise and the ever-present Henri Pescarolo, François signed up for the whole season, though without any great deal of success. He qualified and raced behind his two more experienced teammates, and with only a few exceptions his notable moments on race reports were when he was getting in the way of leaders attempting to lap him.

The terrible trio together: Henri Pescarolo (L), Jean-Pierre Beltoise (C), and, wearing the helmet that says F. Migault, François Migault (R).

The real positive moment from that season was of course his BRM entry to the non-championship BRDC International Trophy. Migault qualified sixth in a 37-car line-up, before finishing the race fifth and on the lead lap. Of course, as it was an NC race he received no points for his efforts, but it was Migault’s best ever finish in an F1 race.

At the Dutch Grand Prix, our protagonist was last on the grid, barely qualifying. This also went for Pescarolo, who was likewise struggling in the outdated machinery. Migault was last again on the grid at Dijon, only making the grid by less than half a second, and he would spend most of the race a lap behind Beltoise.

Out of nowhere, the British Grand Prix saw him qualify a second ahead of his teammates in 14th, but a first-lap collision bumped him right back down the order for the rest of the Sunday. Struggles continued at the Nürburgring, where he didn’t qualify. He barely made the Monza grid, and retired with gearbox trouble in the second lap.

Migault driving the ever-changing BRM in practice for the British Grand Prix in 1974.

Most of the aforementioned races had François drive the outdated P160E, though there was no improvement either at Zandvoort or Monza when he took the more recent P201 for a spin. The real success that year came from his first podium at Le Mans with Jean-Pierre Jabouille.

He would say later in life that the best memory he had of racing was, without question, “La Matra au Mans en 1974”.

Migault had struck up a friendship with Guy Ligier and earned a full run in the 1975 Sportscar World Championship for his troubles. With their brand-new Gitanes sponsorship (which was to become a signature of the team), they together entered the Le Mans race, and led it, only for François and Pescarolo (yes, him again) to get a puncture 14 hours in.

Migault sharing a moment with Graham Hill.

In Formula 1, the opportunities were fewer and less rewarding after BRM. Migault was picked up in his free time by Graham Hill’s eponymous team, making his first appearance in the ill-fated Spanish Grand Prix that year. Rolf Stommelen, François’ teammate, crashed out of the lead in the deadly incident that halted the race. Migault, in his comeback, was three seconds off Stommelen on pace and got punted from behind by Ronnie Peterson while getting lapped. After a lengthy repair stop, François was 11 laps down and not classified when the race was called early.

Banging wheels with Ronnie Peterson put François 11 laps down after 29 laps of racing.

His second race at Zolder was far better in terms of pace. While teammate Tony Brise, three seconds ahead, got bumped in a collision at the race start, Migault actually made an excellent start to sixteenth. However, that early advantage waned, and after being overtaken back by just about everybody behind him, his suspension broke.

Migault lining up at Zolder that year.

Migault’s final race, his one-off with the early-stage Williams team, is a much cloudier affair when it comes to what we know. Most publications describe the team as being “désargentée et désorganisée”. After a few laps in qualifying, François’ engine went faulty, and as the team didn’t have the means to get anything fixed, they sent him out on Sunday with the same one attached. Unsurprisingly, it blew up on the sighting lap and Migault did not start the race.

Migault in an early Williams. On the way to blowing up his engine in what would be his final race.

Interestingly enough, between all the F1 stints and the sportscar seasons, François actually had more success in Formula 2, where he did much of a season for Osella and at least scored a point for his efforts.

1976-present: Le Mans, Le Mans, and more Le Mans (and a few other things)

As things wound down, he still frequented multiple F2 rounds in his Osella into the later 1970s.

It is after 1975 when our hero began to hang up his figurative gloves. His performance at the 1976 Le Mans race was his finest – on the podium and only ten laps off the lead, it has to be noticed that his performance alongside almost-reject Jean-Louis Lafosse was the fastest of any drivers not in the dominant Porsches, who were unbeatable in practice.

Climbing out of his Mirage at the 1976 Le Mans.

He continued to participate in the event every year without fail. His success was changeable, as were his teams. Given his financial and geographical situation, it would not have been hard for François to dedicate his year solely to Le Mans, and with some exceptions that is the case for the rest of his career.

For example, he did take part in other rounds of the World Sportscar Championship, such as in 1979 when he finished runner-up at the Six Hours of Silverstone. His performance in Le Mans that year took the car through 10 laps of racing in four hours before the team quit.

Alain de Cadenet’s team posing in front of their 1979 entry, with Migault in the centre of the photograph with the receding hairline.

He took part in the biggest race of them all: the Paris-Dakar. Alongside his brother Jean, the two of them participated in the titanic race no less than three times in the early 1980s.

François and his brother at the 1982 Dakar Rally.

In 1980, he had a rather eventful Le Mans alongside Alain de Cadenet and Desire Wilson. Wilson had been involved in a very heavy crash during practice and was ruled out of the race. This left the other two as outside contenders for the event, as the experimental De Cadenet-Lola Cosworth was a competitive prototype. During the race, when they were running in fifth, disaster struck when an engine support came loose during François’ running time. Without the 55 minutes of time lost, the duo would have been sitting in a tight third place with a few hours to go. The winner was Jean Rondeau, whose own career had started out in the late 1960s as one of Migault’s hired mechanics. It’s a small world.

François’ final podium at Le Mans came in 1981, although it was overshadowed by the death of Jean-Louis Lafosse, who had been Migault’s teammate when they finished runner-up together in 1976. The following year, he attended with the experimental M482 “Catamaran” designed by Rondeau. Sadly, the experiment was without success, qualifying 27th and making no inroads during the 24 hours.

Later on in the 1980s, Le Mans became Migault’s sole annual focus. He brushed shoulders on occasion with future greats such as Ukyo Katayama and Paul Belmondo (just imagine what that conversation was like). Elsewhere, he was hired by the Porsche group to run a private breaking of the land-speed record, originally set by Mark Donohue in the early 1970s: 413km/h. Migault, in a Porsche P87, drove down the main autoroute between St. Quentin and Laon on a June day in 1987, and beat it with a 416km/h top speed. The event even made the evening news in France.

The evening news!

The further forward in time we go, the hazier the facts get. Our protagonist took part in some IMSA endurance rounds in 1990, and there are some claims that he may have lived in Florida for a short time. He formed a friendship with Lionel Robert, who in his day had been the second-best thing in young French talent to Yannick Dalmas. The two, both “ManceauxLa Sarthe natives, teamed up for Le Mans in 1991.

One of Migault’s more interesting runs at the 24 Hours was in 1998, where he and Michel Ferté had managed to co-fund their entry with the city of Le Mans itself! Pilot Racing was a partly public-funded endeavour that had even helped out racing legends like Adrián Campos the previous year to represent the city.

Migault’s final 24 Heures du Mans in anger, driving for Kondo Dome.

The very last Le Mans for François was in 2002, which he contested at the mighty age of 57. He entered 25 different times and started all but one of those, putting him fifth on the all-time start list. He holds the record for the most different teams entered with: 16! 

Furthermore, François continued to do the Essais Préliminaires all the way up until 2005, at the whopping age of 60, although he did not take part in the race proper. He entered some more Dakar Rallys as an amateur participant in the mid-2000s, and possibly up until its initial cancellation, but again facts are hazy.

What we know for certain is that he continued to use his château home to the end of his life as a hub for the great and old racing heroes of his day. During the Le Mans weekend, he would host his friends and loved ones and throw rather large parties, reliving the old times for a few days a year. With his wife he had three children, who continued to live in La Sarthe. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, and passed away the following year at the age of 67.

Looking Back

François Migault, looking back.

François Migault’s career is a rather straightforward one, and not in need of much analysis. However, it is interesting to see how he is fitted to an entire generation of drivers that was desperately nurtured from the early 1970s to be the next great hope for France. He is often labeled, for example, within the same group as Patrick Depailler or Jean-Pierre Jabouille, despite his lack of comparative success to those two.

Given his station, he was able to partake in some of the more interesting motorsport adventures in the 1970s, always with a safe “out” should he have needed it. There have been some accounts that he was not all that honest with paying the money he had, whether that was in his drives or in his own personal projects. His 1992 Le Mans never got off the ground due to “pay disputes” with Tim Lee Davey. He may or may not have paid Frank Williams, and he may or may not have blagged his way into the Mantra drive at Le Mans. There may or may not have been some backroom dealing at the chateau to help him get a Le Mans drive or two. The most diplomatic summary of his actions was to describe him as “un financier moins assuré”.

There are all sorts of unconfirmed statements about the man, too, claiming that he lived in Florida for a significant amount of time, and that he even owned a home in Dakar. We know that he dedicated his later years and middle age to his local, glorious race, and was occasionally repaid in dividends. He drove prototype Porsches, partnered up with just about every French and European star of the time, raced at home, raced in America, raced in stock cars, raced in endurance cars, raced in formula cars, and raced in his own cars.

There are also countless projects which never saw the light of day. Migault had apparently lobbied with a variety of French businesses to help fund Connew to the end of 1972 to no avail. He had tried and failed to run teams in various disciplines, not least the SARTA Project which never made it to the 1999 24 Hours of Daytona. He raced with sponsorship of the Libyan Football Federation for some time, having been involved with private plans to set up a racing circuit in the country in the early 2000s.

Migault seems to have been quite a character, if one can find people who knew him. There are varieties of anecdotes, such as when he accidentally drove over a hare on a Le Mans weekend, parked the car, put it in the boot, and cooked it for dinner. He had an apparent habit of carrying around strange objects with him in his travels, such as a “torch-shaped marital aid” that he needed assistance from the Connew team in repairing. 

Beyond that, there is little in the way of controversy about the man himself, where he came from, or where he ended up. Through initial perseverance (taking a Connew to the Nürburgring, for one), he carved out a niche in F1 at a time when French drivers had an easy time getting their foot in the door, and eased his way into a Le Mans meal ticket for another two decades. And one can hardly begrudge him that.



  • Jeremy Scott is an editor for GP Rejects. A lurker since 2012, he joined the forum on that very legendary weekend of Monaco in 2014.