Formula 1 was full of small teams in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Names like Minardi and Arrows are known for their longevity. Andrea Moda and Life are known for their ridiculousness. AGS, however, is reasonably unknown to the average fan, and it was one of the few small teams that had real potential. This article details the beginnings, rise, and unfortunate demise of one of F1’s most unknown backmarkers.

The Early Years

Automobiles Gonfraronnaises Sportives started as a small team made by Henri Julien in the 1950s. Julien was a mechanic who ran a petrol station and had a love for both cars and motorsport. He founded the team so he could enter small club meetings in the 1950s and 1960s, often with some success.

In 1969 Julien took it a step further and designed the AGS JH1. It was a small open-wheeler intended for use in small events. He designed it with the help of a former apprentice, Christian Vanderpleyn. It introduced Julien to the world of team management and car design, and he then began to race cars in Formula 3. The cars were sound and solid, but unfortunately, they were no match for the Martini cars which dominated F3 throughout the 1970s. AGS did score a few lucky points and podiums, but a win was elusive.

Formula 3

In 1978, everyone was taken aback when AGS ambitiously stepped up to Formula 2. The team still only had three employees, being Julien, Vanderpleyn, and various drivers. As expected, They didn’t get very far in the early years, not scoring points until 1980. When that year did come around though, with Richard Dallest at the wheel, AGS went and won the Pau Grand Prix. They then backed it up with a second win at Zandvoort, and points at Enna-Pergusa and Hockenheim. Sixth in the championship, and the first non Toleman or March driver, Dallest and AGS shocked everyone by punching far above their weight.

The AGS JH15 of 1978

They only scored two points in 1981, but in 1982 the team expanded to 4 personnel and a driver, who was now the talented Phillipe Streiff. Streiff took two second places in 1982, placing sixth. He then backed that up by taking four further podiums to land fourth in 1983. He then came in fourth again in 1984, taking three podiums and a win at the season finale in Brands Hatch. Formula 2 had lost popularity by this stage. This meant AGS was the least team to win an F2 race until 2009.

Moving to Formula 1

In 1985, AGS announced they would move up to the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1. By this stage, they had gained a reputation as the underdog who could punch well above their weight. As such, expectations were reasonably high. However, in Formula 1 terms, the team was truly and properly tiny. When Williams and Ferrari had 200 employees and a full workshop and factory, AGS had seven employees and still worked out of the shed behind the petrol station.

The AGS JH21C

The AGS JH21C was an upgraded Formula 3 car. Julien used it in two races in 1986 as a test car for their proper Grand Prix entry the following year. They debuted at the Italian Grand Prix with Ivan Capelli at the wheel. The car qualified 25th, ahead of both Osella cars, but nine seconds off pole. Capelli was running well in the lower midfield until a puncture put him out on lap 31. The team returned for the next race in Portugal. Capelli again qualified 25th, ahead of an Osella and Zakspeed, and only seven seconds off pole. Unfortunately, his race was short-lived, a transmission failure on lap 6 ending what looked to be a promising race.

1987

In 1987, with Pascal Fabre driving, AGS launched a full on assault with their new car, the JH22. The team used a naturally aspirated Ford Cosworth engine, meaning they were doomed at the back. Fabre quickly showed he was a very inept driver. He regularly qualified many seconds off the pace, and usually finished last in the races. He was good at finishing though, with regular top 12s ensuring AGS wouldn’t finish last in the points table.

Julien had enough of Fabre two races from the end, and replaced him with Roberto Moreno. Although he qualified last, the deficit was now tenths, not seconds. Japawas a disaster, but at the Australian Grand Prix, Moreno drove the race of his life to finish sixth, earning AGS their first ever point.

1988-89

In 1988, the team was reunited with Streiff, who firmly planted AGS as a midfield team in qualifying. The car wouldn’t make it to the finish too many times, but its outright speed was clear when it outqualified a Williams in Canada. A best finish of eighth in Japan meant AGS outdid four other teams in 1988.

The Magnificent looking JH23.

In 1989, things began to fall apart. The team has expanded to 15 employees, but funding was still tight. A tragedy happened before the season began when Streiff was seriously injured in a crash, ending his F1 career. The team had expanded to two cars for 1989 too, further stretching resources and funding. Jochaim Winkelhock was mostly useless in the second AGS, rarely qualifying. He was sacked in favor of Yannick Dalmas mid-season, but he didn’t qualify either. It was the first car, now driven by Gabriele Tarquini, who managed the best performances. He qualified six times, and scored a point in Mexico, which happened to be AGS’ last.

The Demise of AGS

Midway through 1989, AGS’s only sponsor withdrew, meaning the team were in a financial disaster. Julien and Venderpleyn sold the team to Cyril de Rouvre, who subsequently ruined it. There was no financial improvement at all, and Dalmas and Tarquini could only manage eight qualifications between them in 1990.

De Rouvre sold the team in 1991 to some Italian investors who tried desperately to resurrect the team, but it was too late. Tarquini qualified for three races in 1991, but workmen weren’t getting paid and the car wasn’t being developed. The team closed its doors at the close of 1991.

The Unfinished JH26 of 1991.

Journalist, writing various articles for ASN. MotoGP specialist and ASN's resident motorsports history nerd. Can generally be found screaming at stupid strategy choices while watching the tv.

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