Starting his career working in the field of missiles, Gerard Ducarouge had qualified with a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Ecole National Technique d’Aeronautique.
His time in motor racing began properly only after securing a role within Matra Racing late in 1965. Initially working on their Formula Three entrants, his work impressed sufficiently to move on to Formula 2, and rapidly thereafter to the role of Head Of Operations, overseeing Matra’s F1 programme.
Ducarouge’s top flight career was to reach dizzying heights very quickly, most obviously with the title winning Matra MS80 of 1969. Driven by Jackie Stewart, the car was one of the first ever to feature downforce-inducing wings specifically with the purpose of pushing up cornering speeds by using the passage of airflow to force the car down onto the circuit.
De rigeur now of course, such thinking was still very much in its infancy in the late sixties. After early incarnations featured flimsy high wings that did nothing to lessen the accident rate of the time, Ducarouge was amongst the quickest to harness the early beneficial effects once placed in a more conventional lower position. Stewart himself went on to describe the MS80 as “the nicest-handling F1 car I’ve ever driven”.
Ducarouge subsequently oversaw a hat trick of Le Mans wins prior to Matra’s withdrawal from motorsport, the company being bought out by Guy Ligier at the end of 1974, taking its designer with it.
Re-shaped as Ligier, and able to hit the ground running, the team were already familiar with the top step of the rostrum as early as 1977. The following year’s car, the JS9, was effectively designed as one giant wing, but it wasn’t until 1979 that this was combined with a burgeoning appreciation for ground effect and Ducarouge’s next title challenger was to emerge, in the form of the JS11.
Taking several early-season victories, it was only when Ferrari introduced the 312T4 chassis that Ligier saw its development efforts outstripped and fell out of title contention. In an effort to compete the following season, so great was the ground effect-generated downforce, that it regularly broke the car’s suspension arms, which were unable to cope with the resultant stress being generated.
A brief period with Alfa Romeo followed before Ducarouge jumped ship to Lotus, the team bginning its post-Colin Chapman era. It was huge credit to Ducarouge that his much improved design was able to significantly boost morale midway through the 1983 season. This was all the more impressive as his new 94T was incredibly rapidly turned around in a five week window, and proved competitive from the outset.
The following season’s car kept Elio de Angelis in title contention for much of the season, but it was the 1985 97T that became a regular contender for victory, particularly in the hands of Ayrton Senna.
Featuring another Ducarouge innovation, one of the earliest forms of barge boards, designed to direct airflow more effectively around the car’s rear, the Lotus took eight pole positions, but ultimately fell out of title contention through poor reliability.
Much the same was true of the following two seasons; the 1987 Lotus 99T did have some novel features; not least of which active suspension which was relatively successful at smoothing out pitch and roll and maintaining the car’s consistent ride height. However, this early incarnation was yet to be a world-beater, and the flipside of the innovative suspension meant that it suffered from extra weight which reduced performance, particularly at higher speed circuits.
A disappointing campaign in 1988 saw Ducarouge return to his native France with the newly formed Larousse team, and eventually back to Ligier, but he was unable to make a significant difference to the either teams’ fortunes, eventually retiring from the world of Formula 1 midway through the 1994 season.