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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK
Au revoir, Jean
Formula One's travelling circus will be missing one of its best-known performers when the 2002 season begins in Australia next March.
For the first time since 1989's French Grand Prix, Jean Alesi will not be lining up to contest another F1 campaign.
The well-liked Frenchman announced his retirement after losing his seat with the Jordan team to rising Japanese star Takuma Sato.
In truth, Alesi's move from the troubled Prost team earlier this season was seen by many as a stop-gap solution after Jordan dispensed with the services of Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
But it is fitting that his career has ended under the auspices of Eddie Jordan - the man who helped Alesi secure his F1 debut in 1989.
The Irishman was Alesi's team boss when he won that season's Formula 3000 championship, and Jordan's recommendation got him a drive with Tyrell.
His first race was, appropriately, at the French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard, and Alesi displayed his talent by finishing fourth, earning an 18-month contract from team manager Ken Tyrell.
Alesi soon proved himself to be a fast and fearless driver, adept in wet conditions, but he made his mark without making enemies, becoming a popular personality in the paddock.
An undoubted highlight of his early F1 career was his dramatic duel with Ayrton Senna in the 1990 US Grand Prix in Phoenix where he finished second.
His performances drew the attention of the top teams, and he signed a contract to drive for Williams-Renault in 1991, only to change his mind and go to Ferrari instead.
Williams were paid compensation, but Alesi's career has never recovered, for he turned Williams down at a time they were entering a period of domination.
Had he gone to Williams, he would almost certainly have become world champion, but his heart ruled his head, and he went to Ferrari instead.
Born in Avignon to Sicilian parents, he and the Italian team were a natural fit, and both had high hopes he could become Ferrari's first world champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979.
Alesi's five years with Ferrari saw him finish 7th, 7th, 6th, 5th, and 5th again in the drivers' standings, and gave him his only grand prix win - Canada in 1995.
The next stop on Alesi's tour of F1 teams was at Benetton, which had just won the world championship with Michael Schumacher - this was surely his chance to claim the drivers' crown.
But, having replaced both its drivers, Benetton's fortunes dipped.
But if things had been tough at Benetton, they were even more difficult at Sauber, and the Frenchman won just nine points in 1998.
Worse was to come in 1999, when Alesi, dogged by mechanical failures, claimed a paltry two points.
He decided to seek yet another fresh challenge and found it with old friend and rival Alain Prost.
However, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire as the Prost team struggled and Alesi retired from 12 of the 17 races he started, failing to register a single point.
Alesi entered what was to be his last campaign with renewed enthusiasm after some good close-season testing.
He scored points at Monaco (6th) and in Canada (5th), but the atmosphere at the troubled Prost outfit was not good.
So when Jordan sacked Frentzen, Alesi teamed up again with his old mentor - while Frentzen filled his Prost seat - for the final five races of the year.
He expressed his desire to continue racing in 2002 - but only with Jordan - and claimed a point for sixth in his 200th GP at Indianapolis.
That left only four drivers - Ricardo Patrese (256), Gerhard Berger (210), Andrea de Cesaris (208) and Nelson Piquet (204) - ahead of him in the all-time F1 starts list.
But when Jordan decided to opt for Sato's youth over Alesi's experience, the Frenchman declared the Japanese GP at Suzuka on 14 October would be his last.
Whether he drives on in another form of racing remains to be seen.
But, at the age of 37 and after 13 years at the top, many will feel that the time is right for the Frenchman to hang up his helmet for good.
Alesi, though, loves F1 like few other drivers, and there will be regret in his heart in Suzuka for his final Grand Prix.
His days in F1 may be over, but Alesi loves driving too much to retire. He will almost certainly be back behind the wheel of something soon.
Send your tributes to F1 star Jean Alesi
Hakkinen still on song
Images from Jean's colourful career
02 Oct 01 | Formula One
Jordan: F1 needs new talent
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