05 Aug 19

Winning Formula: The remarkable life of Jean-Paul Driot

After one of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship's most admired team bosses passed away following a long battle with illness, we look back on the life of DAMS and e.dams founder Jean-Paul Driot and uncover the secret to his success in an extraordinary career in motorsport. 

"Motorsport has never been my main work. I always considered it to be my passion," said the late DAMS and e.dams founder Jean-Paul Driot, surveying his team's work in the pit lane of the 2018 Rome E-Prix. Then, Driot was Team Principal of Renault e.dams - the most successful team in the history of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. With three consecutive teams' titles in the all-electric series and a drivers’ title for frontman Sebastien Buemi, the charismatic Frenchman will go down in history as one of Formula E's most legendary leaders.

After he passed away following a long and battle with illness, we look back at Driot's remarkable career in racing, uncovering how he got hooked on motorsport after 'borrowing' his dad's Mustang in 1968, why he jumped at the chance to get involved in Formula E before it had even started and reveal the secret behind his extraordinary success in the all-electric series.

Before focusing entirely on his own racing outfit Driot Associes Motorsport (DAMS), Droit worked as an international oil trader from 1980 until 2012. "I started (in motorsport) because I've always been interested in motor racing - it's a way of competing and battling with others on the track," he admitted back in 2018.

But his interest in racing dates back far beyond the birth of his first foray into the sport. Growing up in the Massif Central in central France, Driot used to drive the twisty mountain passes with his father from a young age. "My father and I used to have so much fun driving on them," he remembered with a smile. 

"The earliest memory is of my father driving a Mustang in 1968. 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!

"I always liked the competition. I am really interested in motorsport in the way that you never have 100 per cent of the parameters in hand," he added.

"The earliest memory is of my father driving a Mustang in 1968. I pinched the car from my father, took it for a drive and nearly crashed it! ...I am really interested in motorsport in the way that you never have 100 per cent of the parameters in hand."
Jean-Paul Driot, DAMS founder & team owner

In 1987, Driot founded his first team in Formula 3000, originally under the name of GDBA before the outfit adopted the DAMS title in 1989. The team went on to win titles in 1990, 1993 and 1994 under Driot's leadership. While continuing to focus on Formula 3000, the team boss started to expand his racing portfolio.

Turning his attention to everything from sports car racing to GP2, Formula Renault V6, World Series 3.5 and the A1 GP series, Driot started working closely with Formula E Founder and CEO Alejandro Agag in 2014, eventually founding e.dams - one of the founding team's in the all-electric series.

"I'm a very close friend of Alejandro and Alberto - we were competitors in GP2 a few years ago," said Droit reflecting on his early involvement in Formula E. "We may have been competitors on the track, but we would often have drinks and dinners together. 

"One evening in Bahrain, I was with Alejandro after dinner, sitting out overlooking the sea, when he said to me, 'I hope you are going to follow me if I go off and do Formula E?' So I said, 'if you go to do Formula E, how can you do it without me!'

"At the same time, I also knew someone who had developed an electric single seater - a company called Formulec - so I recommended that they both meet.

"Immediately Alejandro changed his flight to go to Paris and meet with him. It was a very good basis as everything was made already. So, from the very beginning, I have been on board."

From that moment, Driot set about establishing his new e.dams venture, partnering with Four-time F1 champion Alain Prost to gain the support of French car giant Renault to form Renault e.dams. In the space of three years, the team would go on to dominate Formula E's team's championship, securing back to back titles between 2014 and 2017 and a driver's title for frontman Sebastien Buemi in 2016. 

"Racing is not only a question of technique - you need to have the right car, the right technology in order to compete at the right level but more than anything, it's about the management of people," revealed Driot when asked about the secret to the success of his e.dams outfit.  

"From the drivers to the engineers and mechanics, they are all passionate in the same way otherwise they wouldn't be doing it. You feel and act accordingly with each character in order to have the whole group working together. 

"Perhaps people think it's a little devious to go into the minds of the people working with you to get the best out of them and then exploit it. But it's very important to do that because it's the way you make sure you get the best results."

With the departure of Renault from Formula E at the end of the 2017/18 season, Droit's e.dams outfit took on sister company Nissan, guiding the new entrant and Japanese car maker through its debut season in the all-electric series.  

"Jean-Paul never backed down from a challenge and his results speak for themselves," said Michael Carcamo, global motorsport director for Nissan.  

“His organisation has been an incredible partner for Nissan, it has been an honour to work alongside him and learn so much about this sport.

"The motorsport paddocks of the world have lost a very dear friend. On behalf of Nissan, we offer our condolences to his wife, two sons, all of his amazing team in Le Mans and his many friends and colleagues around the world.”

Despite his illness, Driot made an appearance at the Marrakesh, Paris and Bern E-Prix during the 2018/19 season, as well as speaking at the pre-event press conference in the Swiss capital, where his team would go on to secure another podium finish before rounding off the season in second place in the team's standings.

But, for all his success on the circuit, Droit claimed his greatest achievement lay far beyond the race track. "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," he said back in 2018. 

"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."