It was the debut that paved the way for one of the great F1 careers.
Eddie Jordan placed his trust in Michael Schumacher at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. The 22-year old qualified seventh in the race, matching Jordan’s season best position. However, he was able to show his potential, despite having clutch problems that day.
That one performance was enough to convince Benetton to sign him up. The rest of his legendary career, which saw him win 91 races and win seven world titles, was a success.
Although (Eddie Jordan) could be credited with believing in Schumacher’s rookie season, it was only through a twist and fate that Schumacher got the opportunity to shine so early.
At the time, Bertrand Gachot was considered one of the sport’s most promising drivers. Jordan signed the ex-24 Hour of Le Mans champion when he was 28 and became involved in an incident involving a taxi driver at Hyde Park Corner, London.
His trial was scheduled for the week prior to the Belgian Grand Prix in August. He was later charged as ABH. He claimed self-defence and was expecting a suspended or fine, but instead was sentenced at HMP Brixton for 18 months.
The Court of Appeal reduced his sentence by two months and he was freed. However, he missed four Grand Prix’s, including the weekend in Spa. Jordan turned to Schumacher to replace him.
Bertrand was not aware of it.
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“I knew there were a lot of people that wanted that seat,” Gachot told Beyond the Grid host Tom Clarkson.
“The first time someone spoke to me about Michael Schumacher, it was one of the guards in jail, and he said the new guy that they hired is so good, they don’t need you anymore, so you can stay here.
“And the guard would come to me, and every time he opened the door, he’d make the noise of a Formula 1 (car).”
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Benetton ended any hope of Schumacher replacing Bertrand in the long-term. However, he would never be able to regain his Jordan seat and was replaced by Alessandro Zanardi.
Bertrand would go on to race for Pacific Grand Prix Ltd and Larousse before leaving F1 in 2015.
It is possible that Bertrand’s imprisonment diminished his star but allowed another person to shine.