Page 1 of 2 Next >> When Ligier stepped up to Formula 1 in 1976, the French manufacturer filled the void left by Matra's departure from international racing two years earlier, and in more ways than one. Not surprisingly, as the country's most prominent racing team, Ligier benefited from substantial backing and it also secured exclusive use of the fabulous Matra V12 engines. Ligier's chief designer was Gerard Ducarouge of Matra fame. Trained as an aeronautical engineer, he had originally started out on rocket design at Matra.
In its opening season, Ligier operated as a one-car team with Jacques Laffite as the lead driver. He score an encouraging 20 points, which was enough for Ligier to claim fifth in the constructor's standings despite only fielding one car. A heavily revised car for 1977 brought the company its first Grand Prix victory. This was also the first F1 win for the Matra V12 that had first been introduced in 1968. After a most promising second season, Ligier struggled in 1978 with sponsorship troubles providing a lot of distractions. To make matters even worse, Matra announced its withdrawal from the sport at the end of the year. Ligier did not follow its engine supplier's example and instead returned even stronger in 1979.
One of the reasons the Ligier JS7 used in 1978 was not particularly competitive was the introduction of 'ground effect' aerodynamics by Lotus. Starting with a clean sheet, Ducarouge could incorporate these principles in the new JS11. He firmly understood that the additional downforce generated by the underbody aerodynamics required a very strong monocoque chassis. To maximise the 'ground effect', the chassis also had to be as narrow as possible. This is where Ducarouge's vast aerospace experience proved particularly useful. He created an exceptional stiff yet lightweight chassis. His 'trick' was the careful placement of sheet-steel reinforcements in the alloy construction.
In retrospect Matra's departure actually was a blessing as the proprietary Ford Cosworth DFV V8 engine used in the JS11 was better suited to 'ground effect' because its bottom-end was relatively narrow. It was mated to a Hewland gearbox that was available with five or six gears. The suspension was also specifically designed to keep as many parts as possible out of the airflow going to the side-pods. Both at the front and rear the springs and dampers were mounted vertically inside the monocoque. They were connected to the wheels through top rockers. The carefully designed rolling chassis was clothed in an elegant body that featured the largest 'venturis' of the field. Page 1 of 2 Next >>