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Eric Bernard

24th August 1964 (Age 56)
Martigues, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur
Most recent race (in database):

Eric Bernard arrived in Formula 1 with a strong reputation earned during his rivalry with Jean Alesi in the junior categories. Smooth and quick on his day, he was never able to translate that promise into sustained Grand Prix success.

Success in the junior categories

A championship winner in karts, he beat Alesi in the 1983 Volant Elf scholarship to win a Formula Renault drive for 1984 as a result. Champion in his second season in the category, he graduated to French Formula 3 with an Ecurie Elf Winfield Martini MK49-Alfa Romeo and was fifth in an impressive rookie campaign.

In 1987 it was Alesi versus Bernard for the title – the latter remaining with Elf Winfield but now driving a Ralt RT31-Alfa Romeo. He won twice but could only finish as runner-up once his rival had swapped his recalcitrant Martini for a new Dallara.

Both graduated to Formula 3000 in 1988 – Bernard was fourth at Pau but struggled to develop his works Ralt RT22-Judd. A mid-season switch to Bromley Motorsport’s Reynard 88D-Cosworth transformed him into a potential race winner. He led on the Le Mans Bugatti circuit and finished a close second behind Martin Donnelly at Dijon-Prenois.

Formula 1 with Larrousse

Bernard joined the new DAMS Lola team for 1989 and it is a mark of expectations surrounding him at the time that third in the championship was a disappointment, his dominant win at Jerez apart. Bernard made his F1 debut at that year’s French GP when replacing Yannick Dalmas at Larrousse and he remained with the team for 1990 on a fulltime basis.

Initial promise included a fine fourth at Silverstone (having qualified a career-best eighth). However, 1991 was less successful and Bernard even failed to qualify in Portugal. Worse still, he broke his leg while practising for the Japanese GP and he was out of action for a year.

Formula 1 finale with Ligier and Lotus

He eventually returned as Ligier’s 1993 test driver before being promoted to a race seat for the following season. He finished third in the 1994 German GP (his only podium) after 11 cars had been eliminated on the opening lap. But it was another largely disappointing campaign during which he was generally outperformed by rookie team-mate Oliver Panis. He was eventually replaced by Johnny Herbert for the final three races of the season, taking the Englishman’s Lotus for the European GP at Jerez but that was Bernard’s final GP.

Sports car success

Instead, Bernard embarked on a successful sports car career and rejoined DAMS in 1997. Two years later he enjoyed the most successful season of his career by winning in both the Sports Racing World Cup with a DAMS Lola B98/10-Judd and the American Le Mans Series for Panoz.

Cadillac chose DAMS to run its assault on Le Mans from 2000 and Bernard signed another three-year deal with the team. However, both the project and Bernard’s once promising career eventually petered out.

Championship seasons