The Saga of AGS – Partie S: Sans Henri, Sans Garage, Sans Avenir…

1989: This season’s Sesame Street has been brought to you by the numbers 40 and 41, and the letters D, N, P and Q

As the sun set on the 1988 F1 season and the turbo engines screamed their last howls of protest before being locked in a museum forever, the financial arms race to keep them developed was over, and a new, all-atmospheric era was set to dawn, which should have been great news for the smaller teams. At least, it would be for those not in immediate financial peril, which most of them were.

With Bouygues leaving them in the lurch, the AGS bank account was reduced to a few centimes and a half-eaten brioche, and new sponsors had to be found – rapidly. One of these was Faure, a French subsidiary of Electrolux, who’d at least be able to help keep Garage de l’Avenir clean and tidy as well as supply a few francs. The big name they missed, though, was the state-owned oil company, Total, who couldn’t agree a deal. And that, if you’ll excuse the pun, totalled any big plans AGS may have had for 1989.

The crowded field of 1988 expanded ever further for the 1989 season. Onyx were all-new competitors, Brabham returned after a year off, and AGS, along with Scuderia Italia, Osella, Coloni and Rial, expanded to two cars with only EuroBrun dropping down to one. This meant 39 cars appeared on the entry list for the opening Brazilian Grand Prix and – with number 14 as well as 13 unissued for this year – the highest-numbered cars would be 40 and 41. For reasons best known to the FIA, AGS found themselves dumped to the bottom of the list, and took these two numbers, which had not been seen since the days of private and one-off entries, the last of which was 1983 – and would not be seen again until the introduction of personalised numbers in 2014. There was another consequence of the large entry list: the new pre-qualifying session, an hour before first practice on the Friday of a race weekend, in which the 13 cars with the worst results of 1988 – which automatically included any new entries – would be required to participate, and nine of them would be discarded.

Philippe Streiff was retained by the team and assigned car 40, the one which would be excused the early Friday gauntlet; his new team-mate in car 41, which risked elimination at the earliest stage of each weekend, was the champion of German F3, Joachim Winkelhock – the younger brother of the late Manfred. “Smoking Jo” was known for his unquenchable affinity for cancer sticks, which must have made it considerably easier to find a sponsorship package from Camel, though the majority of his Deutsche Marks came from lubricant manufacturer Liqui Moly – and two sponsors were better than one after the failure to bring Total on board.

Even so, the combined pot of cash from Faure, Camel and Liqui Moly wasn’t quite going to cut the Dijon mustard, and by now creditors were banging on the door of Garage de l’Avenir to demand more money than the team had. One of these was Cyril de Rouvre, one of those characters best described as a “mysterious businessman”. After two seasons of painfully hard slog just to keep the team afloat and two sponsors who had seen the team as a money pit, Henri Julien must have known it was time to wave the white flag, and sold the team to de Rouvre. Julien remained as Technical Director, with Henri Cochin recruited to take charge of non-technical matters, alongside François Guerre-Berthelot. Claude Galopin was another recent appointment, charged with designing the JH24 for the new season.

Cyril de Rouvre’s businesses may have been able to fund the design and construction of the new car, but as he’d only just come on board, the team had to make do with an update of the previous year’s car, as had been the case two years before. The JH23B replaced the orange of the Bouygues-era livery with a similar silver panel on the nose, and the Cosworth DFR was a welcome, if minor, upgrade to the old DFZ. On top of the bodywork, though, remained the perilously exposed roll bar at a time when the majority of the field adopted overhead airboxes.

The team headed out to Rio de Janeiro for a tyre test at the Jacarepaguá circuit, soon to be the scene of the opening race. On the third day of the tests, Streiff was sent out in the tried and trusted old car, where he was slightly too ambitious at the Suspiro curve…

Too much speculation has gone on in the last 30 years as to what happened, why it happened, and who was to blame for the ultimate events; let us not get bogged down with who did what to who, and state what we know. Streiff’s car flipped on the kerb, barrel-rolled several times, and the force of the multiple impacts tore off the flimsy roll bar. For a driver of his above-average height, this was even more dangerous to his head and neck than to someone shorter. He was extricated from the car before any medical professional had confirmed that it was safe to do so, and airlifted to hospital, but the helicopter had to land elsewhere with the rest of the journey made by ambulance. Seeming initially to be relatively unscathed, Streiff soon lost feeling and control of most of his body. This was the end of his motorsport career, and the end of his ability to walk. With limited motion in his arms, he is classified as a quadriplegic to this day, in a similar situation to Sir Frank Williams.

When the season started properly, Winkelhock was AGS’ only driver for Rio, and the weekend was a write-off. The story really starts at Imola, where the team had secured the services of Gabriele Tarquini, who’d already had the dubious distinction of entering one race for Osella in 1987 and the entire 1988 season with Coloni. For 1989 he’d initially signed for the new FIRST team, who were promptly thrown out of the championship as soon as their “interesting flowerpot” of a car failed its crash test. What the Italian may have thought about trading one certified death trap for a car that had just permanently crippled its star driver is anyone’s guess, but if he was concerned, it didn’t show. He hauled the year-old JH23B to 18th place on the grid, more than a second clear of danger. The race was marred by Gerhard Berger’s frightening crash and subsequent inferno at Tamburello – but at the restart, if Tarquini was now even more nervous, it still didn’t show. As all around him were losing their heads, he kept his, and brought the car home in eighth place, equalling AGS’ best performance at his first attempt. After the race, Boutsen and Caffi were disqualified, but had it overturned on appeal; had the disqualification stood, Tarquini and AGS would have scored a point.

Monaco was the next race for the local team with the least glamorous headquarters. At least this mismatch was set to change under the new Cyril de Rouvre regime, with plans well underway for a new facility at the Circuit du Var, 6 km northeast of Gonfaron, where the team tested whenever they could afford it. Tarquini again performed well, qualifying 13th around the twisty streets. Come race day, he once again threaded his way around the competitors, climbing his way up to fifth by lap 34, where he stayed for another 11 laps. Two points were on offer… which were then torn out of his grasp as the electrical system went on strike, forcing him into retirement after 46 laps.

As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, the next race was in Mexico City. Tarquini, though, seemed to relish the challenge, taking 17th place on the grid – with exactly the same time, to the thousandth, as Philippe Alliot. However, as the Larrousse driver had set the time first, the higher grid slot was his by right, so it’s a good job the quarrel was over 16th place and not 26th. At the start of the race, Alliot almost apologetically dropped to the back of the field, while Tarquini overtook Modena, de Cesaris (who nearly collided with him, to nobody’s surprise) and Grouillard within seven laps. All he had to do was not throw the car off the road for the rest of the race, and hope for some retirements. Those retirements included three frontrunners – the Williams of Thierry Boutsen and both Ferraris – and promoted Tarquini to sixth place. He held his nerve, as did the spark plugs, the suspension, the fuel system, the radiators, and anything else that was likely to break on an underfunded backmarker car. And at this most unlikely of venues, Tarquini scored his first point and the team’s second. He was the highest-placed driver to have been lapped only once, out of the fifteen classified finishers.

JH23B 1989 - Gabriele Tarquini (F1 Phoenix)

The JH23B, a monochrome version of the previous year’s car, was as effective in Gabriele Tarquini’s hands as it had been in those of the unfortunate Philippe Streiff. And then…

Staying in the Americas, the United States Grand Prix had a new home, on the streets of Phoenix at a time when the atmospheric temperature is usually above that of the human body, and the road surface tends to break up – proof, if any were needed, that the powers that be hadn’t learned their lesson from the Dallas experiment in 1984. Still, the scorching hot weekend was almost another fruitful one for Tarquini and AGS; 24th place on the grid was as much as he could manage, though still 0.4 seconds clear of the drop zone. As with previous races, a combination of opportune overtakes and a lot of retirements ahead – and the ambient conditions can’t have helped – saw him in sixth place on lap 71, so close to the end, but ultimately, so far. Thierry Boutsen overtook him for sixth the next lap, and then the engine waved the white flag, two laps from the finish. He was classified seventh.

Tarquini, at this stage, looked like the driver AGS had always needed – he was the perfect combination of Philippe Streiff’s speed in 1988 and Pascal Fabre’s ability to get the car to the finish in 1987. Or was it just blind luck that his three race finishes could have all been in the points on a different day? At Montreal, there may have been a warning sign. The race weekend was wet, in stark contrast to Phoenix, 25th place on the grid was all very well – the weather could have made that much worse – but the DNQ line was now only 0.2 seconds behind. The race didn’t go at all well, thanks to some outside interference by René Arnoux, who punted Tarquini into the gravel trap after only six laps. Former AGS driver Ivan Capelli then chose the same place to spin off the wet track himself, and very nearly reduced Tarquini’s parked car to splinters of carbon fibre. Back on the eastern side of the Atlantic, for AGS’ home Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, the weather flipped again, back to hot, sunny conditions, if not quite as fierce as Phoenix. Tarquini was again only 0.2 seconds away from not qualifying for the race, but it was crowded at the back of the grid and he lined up 21st. The race needed two starts: Maurício Gugelmin in the March suffered a horrible crash at the first attempt, the ensuing carnage briefly seeing Tarquini surge to fourth place before the race was stopped. No such problems plagued the second start, and all that Tarquini could do this time was trundle around on a circuit unhelpful to his car until the engine overheated after 30 laps; this time, he was nowhere near a position to score points.

So far, this account has concentrated solely on Tarquini, in car 40; the story of Joachim Winkelhock, in car 41, is far more concise, and is intrinsically bound to the need to get it through pre-qualifying. The team were only allowed two driver changes for the season, and shunting Winkelhock into car 40 for Brazil and out again, just to spare him pre-qualifying in the race where he was the team’s only driver, would have counted as both – and there was no way the team would waste Tarquini’s talent by dumping him in car 41. Seven times Winkelhock had to be on track at 8:00 on Friday morning, seven times his race weekend would be finished an hour later, and in none of those attempts did he ever come close to entering the qualifying session proper. His best performance was at Imola, where he was ninth in the session, 2.3 seconds adrift of the cut. Twice he finished bottom of the pile of 13 cars, the second time being his final appearance at the French Grand Prix, where he was a second slower than Gregor Foitek’s EuroBrun in 12th.

Was it really his fault, though? AGS were a cash-starved team who had always struggled for sponsorship, were sometimes short-changed by those sponsors, and had to take whatever came their way. It is unlikely their budget was anywhere near enough to run two cars properly, and all the second-rate bits and pieces would be dumped on car 41 that was not expected to make it through the pre-qualifying session. A further problem was the tyre war; Goodyear made the better race tyres, Pirelli made the better qualifying tyres, and AGS were on Goodyears – great news for Tarquini once he’d secured his place in the race, awful news for Winkelhock who was further compromised in the pre-qualifying session. Winkelhock’s chief job, ultimately, was to bring in the sponsors and then be a Friday morning sacrificial lamb – F1’s equivalent of the “start and park” drivers that are deliberately employed in American racing series. It was hardly surprising that he quit after the French Grand Prix.

Away from the troubled second garage, Tarquini’s season looked to have been progressing as smoothly as might be expected – but it may have been a façade. Sure, he’d qualified for the race in six out of six attempts, and had rarely been in danger of missing out – but if the team had analysed his qualifying times, they’d have noticed that he wouldn’t have measured up in the cut-throat pre-qualifying session. At Mexico City, where he’d scored a point, and also in Monaco, Tarquini’s qualifying time would have topped the pre-qualifying timesheets. Around the streets of Phoenix, he’d have been fourth. But three times, at Imola, Montreal and Paul Ricard, his qualifying time would have seen him eliminated at this first hurdle – fifth, fifth and seventh respectively – and that should have been cause for concern. Maybe the team did analyse his times. And maybe, this is why they chose Silverstone to unleash the new JH24.

JH24 1989 - Gabriele Tarquini (F1 Silverstone) - split airbox version

Tarquini gets first dibs on the JH24 at Silverstone in its one-off split-airbox form. He would soon wish he hadn’t.

It was at this point that the wheels flew off the cart of AGS’ season in a way that only Sébastien Buemi would ever be able to understand. Many times in F1 history, a promising car has been followed by an absolute mutt. At Silverstone, with the new car, Tarquini recorded his first DNQ of the season, finishing 29th of the 30 runners with only Danner’s woeful Rial behind him. He also had a new team-mate – Yannick Dalmas, who’d been fired from Larrousse after the Canadian Grand Prix, after failing to qualify in five attempts out of six. Likely as not, he had still been suffering from the after-effects of his bout of Legionnaires’ Disease at the end of the 1988 season, before which he hadn’t disgraced himself. But someone at AGS must have thought he was worth a punt, presumably because he came with the added advantage of being a native French speaker. On his first outing, handed the JH23B, he performed better than Winkelhock had done all season… but still fell far short in pre-qualifying, finishing ninth, albeit missing the cut by “only” 1.7 seconds. Tarquini’s DNQ time in the JH24 was only 0.2 seconds ahead of Dalmas’ pre-qualifying failure.

More trouble was to come, as at this halfway point in the season came the pre-qualifying reshuffle. Danner’s outrageous good fortune on the streets of Phoenix, where he’d finished fourth, had rescued both Rials from the early morning ordeal, despite Volker Weidler’s performances hardly deserving it, while AGS’ lesser results meant Tarquini fell into it alongside his new French team-mate. Both of them would be driving the JH24 from Hockenheim onwards, though, and surely Tarquini’s DNQ was just the sign of a few teething troubles for the new car. It had to be an improvement on the ageing JH23B… right?

Wrong. So very wrong.

JH24 or maybe JH23B 1989 - Yannick Dalmas (F1 Hockenheim)

“Zut alors!” Dalmas misses out in pre-qualifying at Hockenheim by a thousandth of a second in the JH24. Or was it a JH23B with an airbox? Pay attention to the shape of the sidepods…

For the remainder of the season, the team would be packing up and going home at 9:00 on the Friday morning, after both Tarquini and Dalmas failed to pre-qualify – though it wasn’t for the lack of trying. Hockenheim, the first race where both cars had to face the early morning ordeal, was as good as it got. Dalmas was in fourth place, which would have put car 41 through to qualifying proper for the first time in the season. Enter Michele Alboreto, a former winner at Hockenheim during his stint at Ferrari in 1985, but after his ejection from Tyrrell earlier this season, he’d found himself relegated to the Larrousse that Dalmas had himself been turfed out of. It was he who spoiled Dalmas’ and AGS’ party, putting in a lap at the last gasp that beat Dalmas’ time by a thousandth of a second; it was said that Dalmas’ howls of frustration in a French accent could be heard all the way back home in Gonfaron. Tarquini was 0.6 seconds further adrift and was in no position to retaliate.

And that, as far as AGS’ season was concerned, was that. Both slid further down the pre-qualifying timesheets as the season wore on; for the final two races at Suzuka and Adelaide, the AGS cars were 11th and 12th in pre-qualifying, with only Enrico Bertaggia in the Coloni behind them both times. That Bertaggia posted the slowest time in pre-qualifying on all the five occasions that he actually set a time will be no consolation, as Suzuka was the one he missed and had he driven a lap or two, would probably have beaten Dalmas’ time that was 4.3 seconds away from making the cut.

It had been a season of two halves… for one of the cars, at least. Statistically, the JH23B was now the most successful F1 car AGS had built, in Tarquini’s hands at least. But the JH24 was the worst, by a margin so wide that the entire Paul Ricard circuit could fit into it. And yet, for the most part, they may even have been the same car.

The sidepods of the JH24 were given a more tapered shape at the front compared with the JH23B’s flat ends. And the car sported a proper airbox; it was a split design at Silverstone, comprised of two slits in the side of the engine cover, a configuration which Ferrari had tried on the 640 for the first three races of the season (and won with, in Rio) – but from Hockenheim onwards, the JH24 adopted the more conventional single overhead opening. Other than these two changes, though, there was very little difference between the two models; examine pictures of them side by side for evidence. Furthermore, there is doubt as to which model Dalmas was running at the German and Hungarian races; some sources, such as Forix, say it was the JH24, others, such as Stats F1, say it was the JH23B. His car had the airbox, that’s for sure.

jh24hungary89yl3 - 'the damning evidence'

The damning evidence: Tarquini’s un-airboxed JH24 in the Hungaroring pits. Sidepods aside, it looks strangely familiar, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if the design process mostly involved the blueprints for the JH23B and a photocopier…

But some particularly damning evidence comes via a picture of Tarquini’s JH24 from Hungary, showing a mechanic about to fit the airbox to car 40. It has the revised sidepods, but the roll bar is identical to the JH23B and there is no carbon fibre duct leading to the engine; the air was forced in solely by this detachable piece of bodywork.

As if to reinforce the confusion, around this time, car 41 was seen with the new airbox but with the flat-fronted sidepods of the JH23B; this was the car in which Dalmas came so agonisingly close to pre-qualifying at Hockenheim. What changes were made under the suspiciously-similar bodywork to create the JH24 are probably best known only to Claude Galopin and the mechanics. Allegedly, the JH24 was heavier than the JH23B, and considerably worse under braking – so surely, in the new car, Dalmas would have been much further away from getting through pre-qualifying, thus showing evidence that his car at Hockenheim was, indeed, a hastily be-airboxed JH23B. More rigorous teams might have designated it as a JH23C.

JH24 1989 - Gabriele Tarquini (F1 Spa)

Tarquini in the JH24 at Spa, on his way to another DNPQ – he would rack up seven in the second half of the 1989 season to add to the six he already had with Coloni in 1988.

We should also consider that the JH24 was a victim of the way the entry list grew. Dalmas, in the JH24, lapped Monza in 1’30.882 in pre-qualifying, and finished 12th, 2.6 seconds away from making the cut. This lap was 9.8 seconds faster than Pascal Fabre’s qualifying time in the JH22 in 1987, in a 26-car field where he was guaranteed to qualify for the race! And for those who want to say it was not a fair comparison, Piquet’s 1987 pole time in the turbocharged Williams-Honda was a mere 0.4 seconds faster than Senna’s 1989 pole time in the normally aspirated McLaren-Honda.

To think it had all started so promisingly. The only way from here was up… wasn’t it?

1989, Coda: The MGN test

It would be utterly wrong to chart the history of AGS without mention of the engine that never was. Guy Nègre was an engineer with a plan to build an engine for the F1 regulations of 1989 – a W12, with three banks of four cylinders. The concept, to package the power and torque of a 12-cylinder engine into the space of a V8, was a sound one – it had been proven as far back as 1917, with the 24-litre W12 Napier Lion aircraft engine, which found further success on terra firma in the 1933 Napier-Railton land speed record car – that held the lap record at Brooklands until its demolition. Scale this concept down to 3.5 litres, et Robert est votre oncle. But Nègre planned a further improvement; rotary valves, in which the air and fuel inlet and the exhaust outlet are sent through a rotating hollow cylinder with two slots cut into them. This was considered a better idea than the standard spring-loaded poppet valves, which are limited by how fast they can open and close, in turn limiting the maximum rpm of the engine. The rotary solution also removed the potential disaster of a mis-timed interference engine where a piston could crash into an open valve. Nègre had already tested this new valve design on a Renault 8 Gordini, extracting 150 hp from a 1.3 litre engine – but due to oil seal problems, it never entered production.

Moteurs Guy Nègre was founded in 1986, and development of their first W12 engine started towards the end of the 1987 season. Nègre was a personal friend of Henri Julien, and it would make sense if they could propel each other to success – AGS would be the de facto works MGN team, similar to the status Benetton would enjoy with Ford, and once they started beating the DFZ/DFR-powered cars (and those of Judd, Yamaha and the other makes that sprang up to provide some competition), other teams would beat a path to MGN’s door, clamouring for this new compact but powerful engine. Interest grew in both the French and étranger motorsport press as Nègre and Julien were pictured at a dynamometer test of the first engine in February 1988. The plan, should everything work out fine, was to keep bench testing the engine, then install it in a suitable chassis, and get enough testing done to be ready for the 1989 F1 season. However, MGN was a small operation – about the same size as AGS, and though Julien sometimes saw that as an advantage – being able to make rapid changes to the car, contrary to an operation the size of Renault that had to approve everything by committee – finance was a huge issue, and the lack of manpower severely limited the pace of progress. At no point in 1988 did the engine ever leave the bench.

By April 1989, five MGN W12 engines had been built, each a small improvement on the last, according to the dyno data. Nègre had borrowed an obsolete AGS JH22 chassis from Henri Julien’s personal collection, which Cyril de Rouvre had deemed surplus to requirements – and the engine was fitted for the first time, though not without some further unsightly modifications to the already ugly car. The sidepods were lower, and looked like they might have been leftovers from the F3000 parts bin, the rear wing was of completely unknown origin, and the engine cover was entirely absent – not that the infamous periscope airbox could fit this new engine anyway.

JH22 1989 - MGN engine test with Philippe Billot

Few photos exist of the MGN engine being tested, and this is one of the most well-known. Philippe Billot drives a JH22 that’s been modified so much it barely looks like the same car.

On some unspecified date in the summer, the hacked-about JH22 equipped with MGN W12 #5 was sent to the Circuit Grand Sambuc, 23 km east of Aix-en-Provence, to see how it would run. AGS were not involved in the test; only MGN mechanics and other personnel attended, which probably explains why Philippe Billot drove the car. He wasn’t a racing driver; his day job was to maintain private collections of racing cars, one of which belonged to Jean-Pierre van Rossem, the chief benefactor – if it is in any way correct to call him that – of the new Onyx F1 team, which potentially opened a door for MGN to supply Onyx as well as AGS if the test was a success.

The engine had so far run at 11,500 rpm on the bench – not matching the 14,000 rpm of the F1 engines running in the 1989 season, but not totally disastrous. For this first test, it was limited to a mere 9,000 rpm… it did at least run for 30 laps of the short Grand Sambuc circuit, but Billot reported that it was was plagued with electrical gremlins below 7,000 rpm, giving him only a very narrow rev range to work with. And there was a “hole” of sorts in the engine note, though that was more likely to be the absence of the sound made by the moving poppet valves that this engine didn’t have.

Billot had already stated that he’d move aside for a genuine racing driver once the time came to test the engine to its limits. One candidate was Pascal Fabre, who knew the JH22 chassis well; another was Jean-Louis Schlesser, who was known to be keeping a watch on developments at MGN. But all that followed was silence; no more tests of the W12 engine were ever carried out, let alone any firm signs that the plate of alphabetti spaghetti that would be the AGS-MGN W12 had any chance of appearing on the entry list for the 1990 F1 season.

However, this wasn’t quite the end for the engine, and one event in the summer of 1990 proved beyond any doubt to AGS that they’d dodged a bullet. It is alleged that the FIA’s ham-fisted shoehorning of F1-derived 3.5-litre engines into the Group C regulations for 1990 was a determined attempt by FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre to hobble the World Sportscar Championship before it became any more of a serious rival to F1. After all, F1 engines were expensive, even the basic Cosworth DFZ, and were out of the financial reach of small, independent teams. One such team was Norma Auto Concept, who intended to enter their M6 Group C car at the 1990 Le Mans 24 Hours, and found that they would need an F1-spec engine to do so. The MGN W12 was languishing in a shed doing nothing, and seeing no other options, the Norma team installed it in their car without so much as a quick bench test to make sure it was still fit for purpose.  It flatly refused to start at any point in the qualifying session, thus condemning the Norma M6 to a DNQ in its only entry.

1990: A sharp-dressed car in a sharp decline

Despite the abysmal second half of the 1989 season, the start of a new decade gave AGS reasons for hope. The new headquarters at Circuit du Var had been completed and the team moved in over the off-season, finally abandoning the tin shack of the true “garagiste” days. Gabriele Tarquini and Yannick Dalmas stayed on for another year, thus providing some much-needed continuity, while Cyril de Rouvre reshuffled the administrative staff. He appointed Hugues de Chaunac, founder of the multi-disciplinary ORECA racing team, to be the new Technical Director, intending to draw on his many years of experience, relegating Henri Julien further to consultant level. In addition, late in the 1989 season, Michel Costa had decided that his move to Coloni had been a mistake, and he returned to AGS to be put in charge of designing an all-new car for the upcoming year.

JH24 1990 - Yannick Dalmas (F1 interlagos)

“THIS COULD BE YOU. YOUR LOGO HERE. THIS IS A COOL SPOT.” With the bank account bare, AGS had a novel way of advertising their dearth of sponsorship at the JH24’s final two races in early 1990. Some Spaniards were taking notes.

Costa’s blank-sheet creation was not ready for the start of the season, so initially AGS had to make do with the JH24, given a few minor tweaks but not enough to be officially designated a “B” spec. The car was now resplendent in an all-black livery with the yellow logo of French fashion designer Ted Lapidus, somewhat spoiled by a huge question mark on the airbox; rather than disguising a prohibited sponsor, this was more of an invitation for a new sponsor to come on board and be displayed on the most prominent part of the car, a tactic which the equally impoverished HRT would repeat 21 years later.

Despite Tarquini’s unlikely point at Mexico City, AGS were classified 15th in the 1989 Constructors’ Championship, hence they remained in the pre-qualifying mire for the 1990 season. The field was cut to 35 cars; Zakspeed and Rial had withdrawn, Osella and Coloni cut down to one car each, and the only additions were EuroBrun returning to two cars… and one notorious new competitor – and that word is used in its very loosest sense. Ernesto Vita’s Life operation entered F1 to showcase their own take on the W12 engine, citing similar packaging and power advantages as MGN had, and with similar ambitions to supply other teams; only the rotary valves were absent. Life modified the condemned FIRST F189 chassis, renamed it the L190, dropped in their engine… and at every race they would watch it limp pathetically round the track – if, indeed, it ever made it onto the track in the first place – with such an appalling lack of speed that Bruno Giacomelli was said to have feared for his… er… Life, such was the speed differential between the Life and any of the other pre-qualifying backmarkers – with the occasional exception of the sole Coloni-Subaru, another car whose engine was an albatross-shaped lead statue around the team’s neck. Nine cars were involved in pre-qualifying, these two were all but certain to be eliminated at this first stage, and EuroBrun’s second car soon turned out to be a sacrificial start-and-park dud. However, Larrousse’s Lola-built cars were a class above the rest and were never in danger of not making the grade – so, effectively, four cars were competing for the two places in regular qualifying.

For the season opener at Phoenix, now in the slightly more tolerable conditions of early March, the same drivers in the same reticent car produced the same outcome, as Tarquini and Dalmas hauled the JH24 to fifth and sixth places in pre-qualifying, 2.1 and 2.2 seconds away from the cut, with ex-AGS driver Roberto Moreno amazingly topping the timesheets for EuroBrun. However, for Moreno’s home race in Brazil, now returning to a truncated Interlagos, AGS pulled off a miracle – Tarquini again fell in pre-qualifying but Dalmas scraped through, for the JH24’s second ever appearance in qualifying proper. He set the slowest time in Friday’s first qualifying session but improved on the Saturday to take the final place on the grid, overhauling both Onyx and Leyton House cars, and doing so in the last five minutes of the session! A JH24 would actually be racing on the Sunday, who would have thought it? Unfortunately, the excitement proved to be too much for the car, and the suspension broke after 28 laps.

Back in Europe, the JH24 was finally pensioned off and Michel Costa’s new JH25 took its place. It was a sharper car than its predecessor, with its pointy nosecone accentuated by some new silver stripes that ran along the length of the car and met right at the tip of the nose. The most distinctive part of the car was its flat-topped, semicircular airbox that still clearly showed the roll bar, now far more substantial than it had ever been before and almost as pointy as the noise. On the downside, the livery also sprouted a whole battery of question marks rather than just one, until the team decided that their innovative plea for extra sponsors was so obnoxious to everyone with functioning sight, that the offending punctuation was soon removed.

JH25 1990 - Gabriele Tarquini (F1 Montreal)

Tarquini drives the JH25 at one of its earlier outings at Montreal. Anyone who wanted a closer look at the sharply-dressed car – now without those infernal question marks – had to be in the paddock at 8:00 on the Friday morning…

Unfortunately for the beleaguered AGS team, their new sharply-dressed car had a traumatic first outing. Dalmas had injured his wrist while testing it, and couldn’t even compete at Imola, while fuel pressure problems prevented Tarquini from completing a single lap. For the next three races, the car continued to be sidelined – whether it was a short trip down the road to Monaco, or long-haul flights to Montreal and Mexico City, the outcome was the same, Tarquini and Dalmas taking fifth and sixth positions in pre-qualifying ahead of Claudio Langes in the second EuroBrun, Bertrand Gachot in the Coloni-Subaru and Bruno Giacomelli in the Life, none of whom had any chance of finishing any higher.

The JH25’s fortunes turned a corner at the French Grand Prix, held for the last time at Paul Ricard until 2018. For the first time ever, both AGS cars cleared pre-qualifying, and even though Tarquini would fall at the second hurdle, Dalmas once again improved his time in Saturday qualifying to take the final place on the grid, this time at the expense of Paolo Barilla in the Minardi. And though he was never likely to score any points, he did at least bring the car to the finish, five laps down in 17th place, classified just behind the Benetton of Alessandro Nannini who had retired with electrical trouble, and with 15th-placed David Brabham two laps ahead of him. For AGS at this stage, a finish was almost as good as a win for the likes of McLaren and Ferrari. At Silverstone, the drivers’ roles were reversed; Dalmas was the one to be sent packing, this time managing only sixth in pre-qualifying, while Tarquini was best of the rest behind the relatively mighty Lolas – and, as Dalmas had done before, posted a Friday qualifying time not good enough to make the grid but improved enough on the Saturday to take his first start of the season. Unfortunately, he couldn’t turn it into a finish, as the final blast around Silverstone’s high-speed layout took its toll on the Cosworth engine after 41 laps.

At the midway point in the season, AGS’ results read: three starts, one 17th place finish. Hugues de Chaunac’s patience was exhausted, and he handed in his notice. He would be replaced by Peter Wyss, formerly of Zakspeed and Leyton House; both teams had had their problems, not least the German squad, but if he could cajole the JH25 into something approaching competitiveness, his appointment would be worth it. Meanwhile, the mid-season pre-qualifying reshuffle was never going to offer any relief to AGS as neither their 1990 performance nor their catastrophic second half of 1989 was anywhere near good enough. Hence, the story of the second half of the season was not all that different from the first; Ligier had replaced Larrousse in pre-qualifying but were expected to have little trouble in the early morning session, and the great hope for AGS lay in the steady decline of EuroBrun as Moreno inched ever backwards towards his hapless team-mate, leaving only Olivier Grouillard in the sole Osella standing between AGS and both cars making it into the qualifying session. Hockenheim saw the last time that an AGS would be eliminated in pre-qualifying in 1990, with Grouillard third, Dalmas fourth and Tarquini fifth; Dalmas would then fail to qualify for the race. Fortunes improved at the Hungaroring; both cars cleared pre-qualifying, and one car qualified for the race – this time, it was Tarquini, and he was no longer right at the back of the grid, starting 24th, the car’s deficiencies being masked by the short, bendy track. He was even able to race, his chief rivals being the two Ligiers and Barilla’s Minardi, and he brought the car home for the team’s second finish of the season, in 13th place – three laps down, and ahead of Alliot and Barilla.

Further good news came at Spa, at the expense of another backmarker, as Monteverdi, formerly Onyx, withdrew from the season. Ligier were no longer required to pre-qualify, and by now this meant that both AGS cars would be all but certain to survive the Friday morning, along with Osella and Coloni, who were now rid of the Subaru flat-12 millstone, leaving both ailing EuroBruns and the cataclysmically awful Life for dead. The good news ran out in qualifying, where neither AGS made the grade. At Monza, Tarquini again failed to qualify at his home race, but Dalmas reached the Sunday once more – matching Tarquini’s 24th place in Hungary. However, his race was effectively over after six laps, where he lost an enormous amount of time in the pits but was sent out again to trundle around, far adrift of the back of the pack. He dutifully brought the car to the finish, but was eight laps down and not classified. At least Estoril gave Dalmas a second consecutive race start, again lining up 24th on the grid, but his participation was brief – three laps completed, and he had to retire with halfshaft failure.

Yannick Dalmas in the JH25 in 1990 - round unknown

Yannick Dalmas in the pointy JH25, at some unspecified round in 1990. If only the car’s performance had been as sharp as its looks, AGS might not have fallen further into the mire. Still, Jerez was a day to remember.

Then came Jerez, AGS’ greatest day in over a year. Pre-qualifying showed the first indication of a better weekend, as Dalmas topped the Friday morning timesheet with Tarquini just behind. Friday qualifying proved even better for AGS – Dalmas was 18th and Tarquini 19th, when the session was stopped after Martin Donnelly’s horrific career-ending crash. All the remaining drivers improved their times as the unfortunate Ulsterman lay in a hospital bed fighting for his life on the Saturday, and though Tarquini dropped to 22nd and Dalmas to 24th, for the first time in the team’s history, two AGS cars would take the start of the race. Come Sunday, Tarquini’s race was run after only five laps as the Cosworth engine breathed its last – but Dalmas kept going, and going, despite a couple of incidents that could have taken him out. The first was Martini’s Minardi deciding it would rather be a Reliant Robin and shed a wheel, which rolled across the track and required both Dalmas and Grouillard to take evasive action. Those two were actually racing each other, with Alboreto and de Cesaris also involved, and the job of having to keep Grouillard behind for 45 laps took its toll. Five laps later, Dalmas’ car started to dismantle itself, and a rod worked itself loose from the bodywork. That rod would have a direct effect on the World Championship, as it punctured Senna’s radiator, causing the Brazilian to retire while fighting for the lead with title rival Prost – effectively keeping the Frenchman in the hunt until the controversial conclusion in the following race. Amazingly for Dalmas, the absent rod did not stop the car; he kept his head, and the remainder of his car intact, as all around him lost theirs. He finished ninth, a lap down, and ahead of Alboreto, for AGS’ best finish since Tarquini’s seventh place at Phoenix in 1989. The team celebrated as if he had won.

Suzuka once again brought a hint of good cheer to AGS, again at the expense of their competitors; neither EuroBrun nor Life decided it was worth continuing in F1, and though neither had threatened to unseat AGS in pre-qualifying since Monteverdi’s withdrawal, the need was removed for the early Friday session. And, as had happened previously when good news came early on in the race weekend, the team’s hope was rapidly extinguished in qualifying as both Tarquini and Dalmas missed the cut – along with fellow no-longer-pre-qualifiers, Grouillard and Gachot. The final far-flung race in Adelaide gave AGS one final shot at, if not glory, then avoiding utter ignominy – and though Dalmas couldn’t make it into the race, Tarquini did at least scrape onto the last row of the grid. He spent the race near the back, as would be expected, racing against Grouillard and – unusually – Stefano Modena. The Brabham proved too strong for Tarquini to keep behind him but he managed to fend off Grouillard until, inevitably, the Cosworth engine gave way.

At the end of another trying and testing season, AGS were once again bereft of points, and officially not classified in the Constructors’ Championship. Counting the non-scoring results, though, they ranked 14th – which, due to the withdrawal of 13th-placed Monteverdi, meant that come the start of the 1991 season, they would be spared pre-qualifying.

That is, if they could make it that far…

1991: Beyond the event horizon

At the end of 1990, AGS hovered on the brink of oblivion. The pack of wolves at the door had grown to something resembling a feral version of Battersea Dogs’ Home, and Cyril de Rouvre attempted to merge the team with Larrousse – better organised, far more successful, but still on the tightest of tight budgets. The merger, which would have seen the AGS name confined to the history books, fell through and de Rouvre once again had to find sponsorship after the unsurprising departure of Ted Lapidus – Faure returned to bring a few francs, but the other deals would be small and short-term, and any money coming in would immediately fly out the door to pay some of the team’s ever-mounting debts. Also, a new driver had to be found; Tarquini had signed for another year, but Dalmas had jumped ship to try his hand at sports car racing, which would prove to be a good move. Bernd Schneider was a candidate for the number 18 car, backed by F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone who wanted a German driver in F1, but the memory of the Zakspeed experience may have convinced him that reinventing himself as a DTM driver was a better career move – which it was. Antonio Tamburini, who finished 14th in F3000 the previous year, briefly considered the drive but stayed in the second-tier series, which was probably for the best. Andrea de Cesaris was top of the list, mainly for the hefty wad of Marlboro cash he brought with him. But, after signing an initial pre-contact despite having just pranged one of the team’s valuable JH25 chassis in an initial test at Circuit du Var, he decided the grass was greener, not to mention the car, in Eddie Jordan’s all-new team. This left Stefan Johansson to be chosen as Tarquini’s team-mate. Once coming within a gnat’s whisker of a victory in 1985 while driving for Ferrari, his career had taken an alarming slide – watching Ferrari fall away from the sharp end in 1986, moving to McLaren in 1987 as their MP4/3 proved itself rather old-fashioned, and then moving to Ligier for 1988 and having to watch as his previous team ground the competition into the dirt while Les Bleus became far more familiar with the letters D, N and Q. While the Swede proved a worthy fill-in at all three teams, his near-unbelievable drive to take the unfancied Onyx to third place at Estoril in 1989 had reminded the F1 grid what he could do when the cards fell his way. Maybe, just maybe, he could pull off a similar miracle at AGS.

AGS JH26 wind tunnel model

The scale model of the 1991 AGS JH26, ready for use in a wind tunnel. Look at the nose: it’s similar to a Minardi M195 from 1995-96. Was the JH26 ahead of its time? Would it have propelled AGS back up the grid? Who “nose”?

And it might have happened, had a new car been ready for the start of the season, but again, hamstrung by serious financial restrictions, they had to start with an updated version of last year’s car. A wind tunnel model of the JH26 looked the part, featuring the new raised nose pioneered by Tyrrell in 1990, but for now it would have to wait. Tarquini and Johansson headed to Phoenix, each armed with an updated JH25B, with slightly altered sidepods, the troublesome suspension of the 1990 version tweaked, and another new paint job – this time mainly white, with some stripes oriented diagonally over the car, possibly in an attempt to disguise their lack of sponsors’ logos, and in suspiciously familiar shades of deep blue and silver that suggested they had some tins of unused paint left over from 1989. Tarquini qualified the old car in 22nd place, indicating that the year-old technology was a better bet at this stage than the teething troubles experienced by the new combinations of Leyton House-Ilmor, Minardi-Ferrari, Ligier-Lamborghini, Brabham-Yamaha and Footwork-Porsche, the latter of which was soon revealed to be utterly execrable. A solid, careful, dependable drive on the Sunday in distinctly un-Phoenix-like overcast conditions saw him bring the car home in eighth place – instantly surpassing AGS’ entire 1990 season at the first attempt – but he finished behind Nicola Larini, a fellow connoisseur of F1’s least successful machinery, in the all-new Modena-Lamborghini with its sparkly blue paintwork and weirdly-shaped sidepods. This would absolutely not have any significance later on in the season, oh no. Interlagos followed the relatively successful American race; Tarquini again qualified, this time in 24th, beating both the developing Brabham and ruinously terrible Footwork cars in the process. But come Sunday, there was to be no repeat of Phoenix; quite the opposite, as he was shoved off the track at Descida do Lago on the first lap, and the suspension broke.

JH25B 1991 - Gabriele Tarquini (F1 Phoenix)

Tarquini debuts the JH25B’s new diagonal paint job around the streets of Phoenix. An even more visually striking car would be the bane of AGS’ existence at this race…

At this point, Cyril de Rouvre could no longer steer AGS through ever more stormy waters, and sold the team to two Italian investors – Gabriele Raffanelli, owner of Team Bigazzi from the Touring Car world, and Patrizio Cantù, chief of the Crypton Engineering F3000 team. They dispensed with Henri Cochin – and also Stefan Johansson, who had failed to qualify for the first two races. His replacement was Fabrizio Barbazza, known for his huge mop of curly hair, prominent teeth, and experience in IndyCar as well as F3000, both European and Japanese. No doubt he was helped into the seat by having driven for Cantù at Crypton in 1990. Michel Costa also departed the team, and the blueprints for the JH26 were filed away in a drawer to gather dust, in favour of bringing Christian Vanderpleyn “home” to work on another all-new car while the JH25B continued to be used as a stop-gap. Peter Wyss left of his own accord, accepting a job at Modena-Lamborghini, with Mario Tolentino moving the other way.

As all that was ever built of the JH26 was a single monocoque, it would take the combined genius of Adrian Newey and the predictive powers of Cassandra to speculate – based on the wind tunnel model – whether or not it would have been an improvement on the JH25B, which Tarquini and Barbazza were still lumbered with at Imola, and whether or not it would have spared one or both of them from occupying the top two DNQ places. The two Lotus drivers – Mika Häkkinen, who would one day become World Champion, and Julian Bailey, who wouldn’t – occupied the last row of the grid, and the most bitter pill to swallow for AGS was seeing them both weave their way through a chaotic and attritional race to fifth and sixth place, and thus three valuable points for the once-mighty Norfolk team. It could have been AGS profiting instead, if only they could have unseated one of the Lotus drivers from the grid – Tarquini was only 0.2 seconds slower than Bailey, even if Häkkinen was realistically out of reach.

Monaco would be the last circuit for a while in which less competitive cars had a chance – and Tarquini took it, on the Saturday at least, dragging the JH25B to 20th place on the grid, the team’s best qualifying performance of the season. In the race, Tarquini battled with the former Onyx, Rial and Coloni stalwart, Bertrand Gachot… but the Belgian-French-Luxembourgish driver (take your pick) now had a Jordan at his disposal and as he passed Tarquini on the tenth lap, the Italian’s gearbox almost apologetically broke.

It was the end of an era. The Monaco Grand Prix, on 12th May 1991, was the last time an AGS car would compete in a race.

Fabrizio Barbazza in the newly-blue-liveried JH25B at Magny-Cours

Fabrizio Barbazza in the newly-blue-liveried JH25B at Magny-Cours. Rumours that Fernando Alonso based his 2018 helmet design on this car are yet to be confirmed.

Two flyaway races, in Canada and Mexico, came and went; Barbazza set a faster time than Tarquini at Montreal, 0.031 seconds away from qualifying for his first race, only to qualify stone dead last at Mexico City. For the team’s home Grand Prix, now moved to Ligier’s new stronghold at Magny-Cours, the JH25B adopted its third livery, a rather garish affair with two shades of blue separated by red and yellow stripes. Anyone who wanted to witness the newly-painted but now horribly outdated car standing out amongst its rivals would only have until Saturday afternoon to do so, because the team would be packing up and heading for home by the time the race started – both at Magny-Cours, and in the following race at the reworked Silverstone, where Barbazza and Tarquini occupied the final two places in the qualifying session, a second and a half behind their nearest competitor – Stefan Johansson, now driving a Ford-powered Footwork, albeit still to a DNQ.

The halfway point of the season saw the pre-qualifying reshuffle, where one notable event from earlier in the season came back to deliver a fatal bite to AGS. Standing firmly in their way of escaping the Friday morning eliminator, other than the far more successful efforts of Jordan and Scuderia Italia who were far too strong for the competition, was Modena-Lamborghini. The attractive blue cars had racked up a lengthy string of DNPQs, punctuated only by two classified finishes, one of which was Larini’s seventh place at Phoenix – the result which rescued them against all the odds. Had Tarquini been able to overhaul Larini that day – not so likely, seeing as he had been lapped one more time – it would have been AGS who were reprieved from pre-qualifying.

It was not to be, and whether or not it would have made a difference, only that Newey-Cassandra combination would know. What we do know is, once Modena-Lamborghini were freed from their Friday morning shackles, Larini qualified for four of the remaining eight races and finished two of them. For AGS, the remainder of their season passed as dismally as it had done two years earlier – but at least they had a new car to look forward to. At Hockenheim, Tarquini hauled the JH25B out of pre-qualifying – Barbazza didn’t – only to fall at the second hurdle on the Saturday, beating only the Modena-Lamborghini of Eric van de Poele. Around the Hungaroring, another circuit known to mask the deficits of lesser cars, AGS recorded their first double-DNPQ of the season.

By this stage, the team’s form had declined to the point where Barbazza was scrapping with Pedro Chaves in the utterly doomed Coloni to avoid last place in pre-qualifying. So, surely, the team’s lowest point must have come at Spa, a race where all eyes were on Eddie Jordan’s latest discovery from the motor racing wilderness – Michael Schumacher. In sharp contrast to the young German upstart’s impact upon F1, both AGS drivers crashed in pre-qualifying; Tarquini’s suspension broke on a ridge between newly-surfaced track and the old tarmac at Blanchimont, while Barbazza had only managed a 2’03.766 lap before his crash, a time which Chaves then beat by 1.8 seconds.

At the Italian Grand Prix, Tarquini received a present to celebrate his home race – a new car! If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then the Vanderpleyn and Tolentino-designed JH27 was a gushing tribute to one of the season’s most triumphant cars, the Williams FW14. It had a simpler version of the FW14’s slightly-raised nose, as well as a similar airbox shape, and even the blue-red-yellow-blue paint job wasn’t a million miles away from the FW14’s smart livery. If the JH27 had had even a fraction of the performance of Newey’s masterpiece, though, AGS might not have been sent into their final death spiral. Barbazza, still driving the JH25B at Monza, beat Tarquini in the JH27 in pre-qualifying by a hundredth of a second, though neither of them made the cut. At Estoril, both drivers had access to the JH27, and Tarquini gave the car, and the team, some hope. He cleared the pre-qualifying hurdle in third place, only for him to fall three tenths short of the qualifying cut on the Saturday.

JH27 1991 - Olivier Grouillard (F1 Barcelona)

A flattering tribute to the Williams FW14, with the complete opposite performance. Olivier Grouillard drives the JH27 at AGS’ last ever race meeting.

There was time for one final shuffle of the pack at the 1991 season’s final new venue, the Circuit de Catalunya, where the Spanish Grand Prix would be held to the undoubted irritation of Catalan separatists. Fondmetal, the reconstituted Osella, had finally lost patience with Olivier Grouillard and shown him the door; Gabriele Tarquini, so loyal to AGS as he had been in order to keep them afloat, jumped at the chance to join them and drive the less awful Fomet-1. Grouillard, with no other options, moved the other way. Pedro Chaves had left Coloni in the lurch, but his absence was utterly inconsequential to the results of pre-qualifying; all it meant was, someone else would prop up the timesheets. And that man was, of course, Grouillard – seventh out of seven, in what would be his only drive for AGS. Barbazza was only one place higher, five and a half tenths faster than his new French team-mate, and in fourth – making it through pre-qualifying and also into the race the next day – was Tarquini in his new ride.

It was the most ignominious possible end. Opting to miss the final two far-flung races in Japan and Australia, the drivers, the mechanics, the admin staff, the cleaners, everyone was spared the drama of Suzuka and a drenching in Adelaide, and the team closed down. And so, the door of history slammed shut forever on Automobiles Gonfaronnaises Sportives…

…or did it?

Epilogue: The cast of characters, in the years after AGS

Ivan Capelli joined March – soon to be renamed Leyton House – for five seasons, and worked wonders in 1988 and 1990, nearly winning the 1990 French Grand Prix. Following a dream move to Ferrari, his career was torpedoed in the politicised atmosphere, and a move to Jordan lasted only two disastrous races. He raced Touring Cars in Germany and Spain from 1994-96, then joined RAI’s F1 commentary team, where he would remain for 21 years.

Pascal Fabre raced in the World Sportscar Championship from 1988 to 1990, followed by a brief foray in French Touring Car racing in 1992. He competed on an as-and-when basis in endurance racing until 2001, where he scored his best finish at Le Mans – fifth overall, winning the LMP675 class alongside Jean-Denis Délétraz and Jordi Gené. He is now an organiser of corporate motorsport events.

Roberto Moreno is rightfully remembered as a legend in backmarker F1 cars – driving for Coloni in 1989, EuroBrun in 1990, Andrea Moda in 1992, and Forti in 1995. He had a brief shot at glory with Benetton in 1990-91 before some young whippersnapper called Michael Schumacher took his place. Before, during and after his time in F1 he competed in 13 seasons of American open-wheel racing (even if some of these were one-off attempts) and earned himself a reputation as a “supersub”, finally taking two wins during two successful seasons at Patrick Racing in 2000-01. And there were a few seasons in French and Italian Touring Car racing somewhere amongst all that…

Philippe Streiff remains in a similar quadriplegic situation to Sir Frank Williams, and became an activist and ambassador for disabled drivers, as well as promoting charities dedicated to spinal injury and similar disabilities. In motorsport, he also tried to buy Ligier in 1994 in association with former AGS Technical Director, Hugues de Chaunac, but this was unsuccessful.

Gabriele Tarquini must surely be the least rejectful driver ever to have been eligible for a profile on this website without ever being given one, and has been the most successful of all the AGS drivers, despite owning the unenviable record of failing to qualify for more F1 races than anyone else – 40 of them, 25 of which were DNPQs. He drove for Fondmetal in late 1991 and most of 1992 (in which his season mirrored Streiff’s 1988 – he qualified well, but the car hardly ever made it to the finish), and had a one-off race for Tyrrell in 1995, but otherwise reinvented himself as a highly successful Touring Car driver – BTCC champion in 1994, ETCC champion in 2003 and WTCC champion in 2009 and 2018 – both times breaking the record for the oldest ever champion of an FIA-sanctioned racing series, aged 47 the first time, taking the record from the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, and 56 the second time. He’s also been involved as a test driver for Maserati’s road cars, which gave him an appearance on Top Gear in 2005.

Joachim Winkelhock, a DTM driver in 1986-87, returned to Touring Cars after his AGS experience, and was a constant presence in Touring Car series in Germany from 1989-2003, with brief diversions to the BTCC, where he was champion in 1993, and JTCC from 1993-96. Indelibly associated with BMW throughout the 1990s, he joined their assault on the Le Mans 24 Hours for 1998 and 1999, winning in 1998 alongside Yannick Dalmas and Minardi’s favourite driver, Pierluigi Martini. He retired from driving in 2003 and returned to involvement with his family’s crane and vehicle recovery business.

Yannick Dalmas made a brief return to F1 in 1994, driving two races for the moribund Larrousse team. Switching mainly to endurance racing, he had twelve attempts at the Le Mans 24 Hours between 1991 and 2002, winning four times – 1992 (with Derek Warwick and Mark Blundell), 1994 (with Mauro Baldi and Hurley Haywood), 1995 (with Masanori Sekiya and JJ Lehto), and the above-mentioned 1999 (with Joachim Winkelhock and Pierluigi Martini). He was also World Sportscar Champion in 1992, with Derek Warwick, the last season before the demise of that series. His time outside Le Mans was mostly spent in GT racing, with the occasional stint in Touring Cars.

Stefan Johansson substituted for the injured Alex Caffi at Footwork in 1991, then turned to American open-wheel racing for five seasons, scoring four podiums but no wins. He also competed in endurance racing both before and after his F1 career, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours outright in 1997 (with Michele Alboreto and Tom Kristensen), as well as two class wins in 1992 and 2003. He participated in all three races of the short-lived Grand Prix Masters, before finally retiring in 2012, and is now mostly involved in driver management – his most notable clients being Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist.

Fabrizio Barbazza returned for a second brief attempt at American open-wheel racing in 1992, then had a second shot at F1 with Minardi in 1993, qualifying for all his eight races and scoring two sixth place finishes. A massive crash in a lower-grade American sports car series in 1995 ended his racing career, requiring recovery from serious head injuries. He made a full recovery and opened a go-kart circuit in Monza, before moving to Cuba to run a fishing resort. Sid and Ayrton would surely have approved.

Olivier Grouillard spent one more season in F1, driving for Tyrrell in 1992, yielding no points. He tried American open-wheel racing for a season in 1993, didn’t achieve much, then switched to GT and endurance racing and competed at the Le Mans 24 Hours from 1994-98 and 2000, with fourth place his best finish in that final year. After entering a few American Le Mans Series races in 2000, he retired from motorsport in 2001.

Guy Nègre stopped developing his rotary valves and his W12 engine, and MGN would be liquidated in 1992. He founded Motor Development International to develop microcars powered by compressed air, intending to start sales around 2000, but although the company still exists, no car has ever gone into full production. He died on 24th June 2016, aged 75.

Cyril de Rouvre, not to be put off by his lack of success running AGS, bought Ligier in 1992, but had to sell the team to Flavio Briatore in early 1994 – probably due to being found guilty of asset-stripping one of his other companies, for which he was imprisoned in late 1993. Not learning his lesson, he continued with his financial misdeeds until his conviction for tax evasion in 1999; somehow he escaped with a massive fine, an 18-month suspended sentence (which could easily have been three years to be served straight away), and a three-year ban from company management (which could have been 20). All in all, a dodgy character.

Christian Vanderpleyn was originally hired by Patrizio Cantù for the Crypton Engineering F3000 team in late 1990, his involvement with AGS running parallel to his job as a race engineer for Crypton. For 1992 he was due to be in charge of Luca Badoer – whose later F1 career would make him reject royalty. But Vanderpleyn’s involvement was tragically brief – he was killed in a road accident on 11th March 1992, aged 48, two months before the start of a season that would see Badoer crowned champion.

HENRI-JULIEN-Portrait

Henri Julien: 18 septembre 1927 – 13 juillet 2013

Henri Julien had just turned 64 when the racing team he had founded closed its doors at the end of 1991, and opted for a quiet retirement, living in a flat above Garage de l’Avenir until his death on 13th July 2013, aged 85. Garage de l’Avenir closed soon afterwards, and was put up for sale; the building is now a bakery, Boulangerie Pâtisserie Maison Infosino, churning out baguettes, croissants and pains au chocolat aplenty where once there were racing cars.

And finally…

Of all the dreamers, the chancers and the hapless backmarkers of F1 throughout the ages, some completely vanished into oblivion (e.g. Pacific and Life), while others retreated to a more prosperous future in other forms of racing (e.g. Coloni in F3000 and GP2, Osella to sports cars). AGS is one of those F1 teams with a happy ending. As soon as the doors closed on the F1 racing operation, they picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and in 1992, reopened as a racing school for budding race drivers – as well as an “F1 driving experience” for those with pockets deep enough to afford it – at the Circuit du Var. Three JH24 chassis have been updated with a raised nose – and this, the most painfully unsuccessful of their F1 cars, now has pride of place as “the purist’s choice”, with a manual gearbox and no electronic driver aids whatsoever. There are some later cars, which will cost a lot more to drive – an Arrows A20 and two Prost AP02s, from 1999, fitted with Cosworth DFR engines. There’s the in-house developed SH03 specifically for the racing school, and two JH27s have been adapted into two-seaters to carry passengers around the circuit – anything McLaren can do, AGS can do also. It’s still in business today, after 27 years, and shows no signs of stopping any time soon. For the proof, visit http://www.agsformule1.com and see for yourself.

A comprehensive list of sources for all three parts of this article can be found on the Grand Prix Rejects forum.


All photos included in this article have been obtained from a variety of secondary sources – mainly blogs, image hosts and Google Image Search – and are cited under Fair Use purely for illustrative purposes. Grand Prix Rejects makes no claim on them and all photographers retain their original copyright.