Page 1 of 2 Next >> Ligier's successful 1979 and 1980 Formula 1 campaigns had not gone by unnoticed in France. Recently re-established manufacturer Talbot decided to back the team from the 1981 season onwards as title sponsor and also acquiring a 49% stake from Guy Ligier. In addition to providing increased funding, Talbot also brokered an engine supply deal with Matra. Ligier was promised a brand new twin-turbo V6 but until it arrived, the team had to make do with an updated version of the howling V12 used in the very first Ligier F1 cars between 1976 and 1978.
Key in the success of the Cosworth engined JS11s used in 1979 and 1980 was its finely honed ground-effect aerodynamics, designed by chief engineer Gérard Ducarouge. In an attempt to reduce cornering speeds, the sport's governing body imposed new restrictions due to take effect from the start of the 1981 season. These included a ban of the sliding skirts and a minimum right height of 60 mm. Both measures were intended to limit the effect of the underbody ground-effect tunnels. Just how these regulations were interpreted had a profound effect on the outcome of the season.
Intended as an interim car, while Matra developed the new V6, the new-for-1981 Ligier JS17 was an evolution of the successful JS11/15 used the year before. Some carbon-fibre sections were used but the core construction of the monocoque remained aluminium honeycomb. A larger fuel tank was fitted to feed the thirstier V12. Installing the Matra engine, also lengthened the car's wheelbase. This was not necessarily a bad thing as this also allowed for longer ground-effect generating side-pods. The team also switched to Michelin tyres, while the Hewland gearbox was the only major component not sourced in France.
Jacques Laffite was once again the lead driver. The second JS17 was piloted by Jean-Pierre Jarier, Jean-Pierre Jabouille and Patrick Tambay. At the season opening American Grand Prix, run on the streets of Long Beach, Ligier were shown to be outsmarted by the Brabham team, who had devised an adaptive suspension system. This allowed the car to run as low to the ground as possible, only to be raised in the pitlane to pass the mandatory 60 mm ride-height test. A further problem for the new Ligier was the sheer bulk and size of the car, caused mainly by the Matra V12. Page 1 of 2 Next >>