Didier Pironi, the flying Frenchman



Son of a Friulian mother, Didier Joseph-Louis Pironi was born in Villecresnes on March 26, 1952, and is the cousin of the pilot Josè Dolhem. Initially Didier does not seem to be very interested in engines, in fact until the age of fifteen he dedicated himself to swimming, but the arrival of his cousin Josè in Formula 1, in 1974, allows him to come into contact with the racing environment, giving him the opportunity to meet up-and-coming champions such as Patrick Depailler and Jean-Pierre Jarier.


All this shifts the interests of the young Italian-French, first with motorcycles and, subsequently, under pressure from his worried mother, he tries his hand at four wheels, initially making his debut in rallies. Despite the economic possibilities of the family, Didier does not want to forge ahead, so he begins to participate in single-brand trophies, a very important basis for the training of young future champions: in 1972 he wins the Volante Elf, a prize sponsored by the oil company of the same name. it was awarded to the best pilot of the Winfield driving school.


In 1973 he took part in Formula Renault, a category in which he clashed with Renè Arnoux and Patrick Tambay, finishing sixth and winning the title the following year; in 1975 Formula Renault becomes European series, and Didier comes second at the end of the season, preceded only by Renè Arnoux.


1976 saw the Italian-French triumph again, winning seven of the fifteen scheduled races, thus earning a seat in Formula 2 for the 1977 vintage. The debut in Formula 2 is in line with expectations, in fact Didier goes immediately on the podium at the Nurburgring, while obtaining two second places in the subsequent races in Vallelunga and Pau, and a third place in Rouen.


In Estoril, Didier took his only victory of the season, preceded by an excellent pole position, while in the final race in Donington he obtained a third place. However, the numerous podiums are not enough to win the title, which is won by team mate Renè Arnoux, while Didier finishes third in the standings. However, in the same year he won the Formula 3 Monaco Grand Prix with the Ecurie Elf Martini.


In 1978 comes the call to Formula 1 at the hands of the legendary Ken Tyrrell. The season starts well: Didier manages to score points in the second round of the season in Brazil and in the races in Monaco and Belgium.



Subsequently, the season saw him involved in the accident that occurred in the initial stages of the Monza Grand Prix, which led to the disappearance of the Swedish driver Ronnie Peterson days later due to a fat embolism.


In 1979 Didier, who moved to Ligier, is more constant and determined than the previous season, in fact he is repeatedly accused by his colleagues for having been the protagonist of unorthodox maneuvers and at the limits of the regulation, throughout the season.


But the driving style of the Italian-Frenchman, despite the criticisms, does not go unnoticed, and despite having a contract with Ligier for 1981, at the end of the Italian Grand Prix Enzo Ferrari announces that it will be Didier Pironi himself to support, for the coming year, the Canadian driver Gilles Villeneuve.


The first year with the team from Maranello is not at all easy, in fact Ferrari is adopting a turbo engine for the first time in its history. Development, however, requires a slow and laborious process, and seasonal results suffer.



In fact, in the first three races Didier only collects withdrawals caused by mechanical problems: in the Grand Prix of the Republic of San Marino, raced on the Imola circuit, for example, while he is leading the race, a side strip comes off, not guaranteeing plus the ground effect, forcing him to slow down and finish the race in fifth position.


In the following Belgian Grand Prix, Didier starts in the second row but a committee of Osella mechanics decides to make a short block of the race before the start, to protest and raise awareness on the issue of the poor safety of their working environment. The protest was born following an accident that involved a colleague of theirs on Friday.


The pilots decide to support this protest, getting off their cars thus avoiding taking sides on the starting line; during the event, however, the drivers are invited to resume the race by FISA, which threatens disqualification actions, and gives numerous team managers.


All this leads to one of the most chaotic starts in Formula 1 history, with many drivers starting the formation lap, while others are delayed in starting. This slowdown causes the mechanical parts to overheat for some cars, especially on Patrese's Arrows, which is forced to switch off the engine.


Riccardo Patrese therefore decides to report the stalemate to his colleagues and competitors who start in the back positions, waving their arms.


The Arrows chief mechanic, however, misinterprets Riccardo's call, and enters the grid to restart the engine just as the race is started. Patrese's car is avoided by many competitors, but not by teammate Siegfried Stohr, who notices the presence of the Paduan driver only at the last moment, and involuntarily hits the legs of the mechanic (Luckett).


The race was stopped only after two laps, when Pironi, seeing where Stohr's Arrows had stopped, slows down dramatically, blocking the whole group of drivers following him, thus forcing the race direction to display the red flag.


The race resumed shortly after and Pironi remained in command until a brake problem forced him to drop back to eighth place. The season of the Italian-French driver proceeds with ups and downs, ending with only nine points and seven total retirements.

The 1982 season promises to be far better than the one just passed, given that the 126 C2 largely solves the problems that arose on its sister 126 CK. But above all, the new season opens with the controversy relating to the relationship between drivers and teams, which even threatens to blow up the opening race in South Africa. The battle sees the riders on one side, led by Niki Lauda, ​​Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi, representatives of the GPDA and on the other FISA and FOCA.


The discussion arises from the fact that the drivers refuse to subscribe to article 58 of the sporting regulations, binding on the issue of the super license, in which the drivers should undertake not to sue the organizers of the Grand Prix for any reason. The modification of the regulations had been decided at a meeting of the Commission for Formula 1, on December 18, 1981, which had definitively established the regulations for the 1982 season. Another disputed point is a sort of constraint that the teams placed towards the drivers, that they would no longer be able to free themselves from the signed contracts, to race with another team. Two other issues that arouse the perplexity of the drivers are the obligation to respect all the rules of the world championship, and not to damage the image of Formula 1.


Pironi, as the drivers' representative, reads a statement in which he states that the drivers do not feel able to get into the cars because they are not in a position to do so and announces a strike for the next day's tests (in South Africa it was Saturday). On Thursday morning, the first day of official testing, all the drivers show up at the circuit, get on a van from the Kyalami Ranch (the hotel that hosts them), and go to the Sunnyside Park Hotel in Johannesburg, where they set up their base, in complete solitude as a manager and entourage.



Only Pironi and Mass, as spokesmen for the drivers, remain at the circuit to negotiate with FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre. The latter immediately declares that the pilots made a serious mistake in not respecting the superlicense regulation, of which they had already been informed on December 18, 1981: the president of FISA highlights how there was plenty of time to discuss it, and reminds them of the penalties they would face if they did not attend the event. Finally, Balestre announces that the Federation had accepted the organizers' proposal to move the event to January 30, 1982, and to be able to organize the race by involving other drivers.


On Friday morning Didier Pironi returns to negotiate with Balestre and reaches an agreement (announced around 10:15 am) to run the grand prix, further postponing the issue of super-license. At 11:00 am the drivers go to the racetrack to start the tests, all concentrated on Friday.


The next day the race takes place regularly, but half an hour after the end of the Grand Prix the stewards convene all the drivers and inform them that their international licenses have been suspended, including the super license, necessary to race in F1 (the only four drivers whose license had not been suspended were Teo Fabi, Jochen Mass, Brian Henton and Marc Surer).


The drivers are accused of having prevented the holding of pre-qualifying and of having forced to reduce the test days to just one; to have violated article 8 of the sporting regulations and article 68 of the code; to have submitted to the FIA ​​an ultimatum considered unacceptable; and finally of having endangered the holding of the grand prix.


Obviously, both the choice to suspend international licenses and that of suspending the Super licenses are considered illegitimate by the pilots, since, with regard to the former, only the individual national federations to which the individual drivers belong have the power to suspend them, while the Super license can be suspended only by the FISA executive committee and not by its president independently.


All teams immediately file an appeal against the decision to suspend international licenses to the South African Automobile Club, which has thirty days to respond. If the South African Automobile Club had confirmed the decision, a further appeal would have been sent to FISA itself, which would have instead been directly invested with the appeal regarding the Superlicense. The pilots, meanwhile, are pushing for the resignation of Balestre, while the Italian Automobile Sports Commission criticizes FISA for the excessive weight given to the interests of FOCA and recognizes the legitimacy of their protest to the pilots.


In the meeting of January 28, 1982, FISA decides to fine $ 10.000 and suspend with conditionality for five races, for the next two years, those drivers already fined for the events of the 1981 Belgian Grand Prix, namely Riccardo Patrese, Didier Pironi, Gilles Villeneuve, Alain Prost, Bruno Giacomelli and Jacques Laffite. All the other twenty three drivers are instead fined $ 5.000 and suspended for two races with conditionality (i.e. all the other drivers in the Formula 1 world championship except Jochen Mass and Teo Fabi). Five members of the FISA executive committee line up against these proposals, including Marco Piccinini, representative of the car manufacturers present in Formula 1.


Piccinini, manager of the Scuderia Ferrari, also states that in the event of the disqualification of the drivers, possible in the event of non-payment of the pecuniary sanction, the Italian manufacturer would not have raced in the next Argentine Grand Prix, a race however questioned precisely for this matter. disqualifications; a similar position is also expressed by Frank Williams.


Meanwhile, the Grand Prix Drivers' Association rejects the penalties and claims its members would not pay the fine; however, two days later FISA officially communicates that the fines relating to eleven pilots have been paid: Piquet, Patrese, Watson, Lauda, ​​Rosberg, Reutemann, Guerrero and Derek Warwick, in addition to Manfred Winkelhock, who had decided to pay the due on their own. The balance, however, was not made by the drivers themselves but by their teams.


But the battle does not stop, and on February 7, 1982, the drivers founded the Professional Racing Drivers' Association, replacing the GPDA, led by Didier Pironi: as a first action, the new organization immediately reiterates its opposition to the decisions of FISA.


On February 17, 1982, in a meeting held in Maranello, which was attended by all the teams linked to the major manufacturers involved in the Formula 1 world championship (with the exception of Ligier but with the presence of Osella and Toleman), a press release was drawn up asking FISA the defense of an impartial and objective sports authority, the promotion of rigorous sports justice, stability of the technical regulations throughout 1984 and the full application of the agreements sanctioned by the Concorde Pact on financial management, finally expressing total solidarity to their pilots.


On February 20, 1982, the Court of Appeal of the Automobile Club of South Africa accepted the appeal by Renault, Ferrari and Alfa Romeo against the suspension of the international drivers' licenses, decided by FISA after the race. It is the beginning of the end of the battle, given that on February 26, 1982, the Court of the FFSA, the French Federation Sports Automobile, chaired by Balestre himself, also acquits the French drivers involved in the South African affair, as already done by its Csai counterpart. for Italian pilots.


Finally, on March 6, 1982, the FIA ​​Court of Appeal, meeting in Paris, reduces the fines to $ 5,000, and the suspension to a single race, with a six-month suspended sentence, starting from January 28, 1982, except for Carlos Reutemann and Chico Serra, in the absence of a request to that effect from the respective Argentine and Brazilian federations. This request will come later.


When on March 20, 1982, the Grand Prix qualifications were held in Brazil, Jean-Marie Balestre, president of FISA, finally presented his project to improve relations with the drivers: the Frenchman proposed to assign them two votes in the Formula 1 Commission, to review the regulation of the Super license, to invite the drivers to participate in the proposals for revision of the regulations and to set up a commission of pilots within the Federation. Balestre also exposes some proposals to modify the technical regulations of Formula 1, including the return of the suspension, the reduction of speed in the curves of the engine power, the reduction of the width of the tires, a new aerodynamics, a reinforcement of the structure of the cockpits and cost reduction.


Returning instead to the events relating to racing, the first Grand Prix of the season opens with an eighteenth place for Didier, due to a loss of power of his engine recorded while he was in command of the race, while in the following one he crosses the finish line only in sixth. place and in Long Beach retires following a spin.


On the third round, the controversy returns to play the leading role since the decision of the commissioners to disqualify the car of Gilles Villeneuve, at the end of the previous Long Beach Grand Prix, leads us to think that the Scuderia Ferrari could even abandon, in protest, the Formula 1 world championship. What happened?


Simply, the stewards had disqualified Gilles Villeneuve, who finished third, as the double rear wing mounted on his Ferrari was found not to regulate, based on a complaint sent by Ken Tyrrell. The wing presented by Ferrari consisted of two out of phase wings, the total length of which exceeded the limit set by the regulation of 110 centimeters.


A provocation proposed by Forghieri who, in protest, circumvented the regulations after the commissioners rejected the complaint sent by Ferrari against the first two cars that reached the finish line, McLaren and Williams, which concerned the minimum weight of the single-seaters, which they had participated in the grand prixs under the minimum weight, and the stratagem used by these teams to be regular at the end of the grand prix, that is topping up special tanks with water.



The disqualification is harshly criticized by Fabrizio Serena, president of the Italian Automobile Sports Commission, who accuses Bernie Ecclestone for the too much power he concentrated in his hands.


On April 20, 1982, the Court of the International Automobile Federation accepted the appeal filed by Ferrari and Renault regarding the Brazilian Grand Prix, disqualifying Nelson Piquet (on Brabham) and Keke Rosberg (on Williams), who came first and second respectively. The ruling, which cannot be appealed, reiterates that the minimum weight of the single-seaters could not drop below 580 kg, and that top-ups carried out at the end of the race could not be considered as regular.


The race classification is thus rewritten, with the victory assigned to Alain Prost. The British teams, which had devised this expedient to deal with the cars equipped with the most powerful turbo engines, threaten FISA not to participate in the Grand Prix of the Republic of San Marino, even if this front does not seem compact, with McLaren determined not to boycott the event. Added to this is the request made by the French Automobile Federation (Fédération Française du Sport Automobile), chaired by Jean-Marie Balestre, also president of FISA, to disqualify four other cars that reached the top places of the Brazilian grand prix, so much so that in second place Didier Pironi.


The FIA ​​ruling requires the fuel tanks to be removed or, alternatively, to show up at the start of the Grand Prix with full tanks, to which Lotus owner Colin Chapman sarcastically points out that, if this requirement had been applied, on the second lap everyone should have stopped to fit the wet tires.


The next day, after a meeting in London, FOCA, the association that brings together British assemblers, led by Bernie Ecclestone, decides to boycott the Imola competition. Thus, the vans of the English teams, already present on the Romagna circuit, return to their premises, while Ecclestone decides to threaten to exclude from the FOCA those teams that have decided not to follow the invitation not to compete.


However, some teams are linked to Italian sponsors: for this reason, both Tyrrell and Arrows are hesitating to join the protest. For its part, the FOCA proposes to the organizers to move the race to July 3, 1982, given the impossibility of preparing changes that could respond to the new directives regarding the minimum weight of the same, in time to run the race in Imola. However, for the manufacturers' association this decision involved a regulatory change, which violated the Agreement of Concord.


Then, for the same reason, the defection of the French Ligier team also arrives, which officially announces that it would not be able to present, in time, cars that remained within the minimum weight limit. The teams present are thus reduced to Ferrari, Renault, Osella, Alfa Romeo and Toleman, all driven by turbocharged engines, or in any case interested in having a supercharged engine in the future.


Despite these diatribes, and the consequent denial of the British teams and Ligier, the event in Imola takes place regularly, given that the regulation does not impose a minimum number of cars present to give validity to the race, but gives the organizers the possibility of cancelling the event if less than thirteen cars were available.


A problem avoided by the fact that Tyrrell and ATS are added to the participants from the first day of practice, even if they do not hide the possibility of being able to leave the circuit; but for their part, the Italian organizers threaten to seize the technical material present in the stables that they have decided to boycott the race.


In the absence of the British teams, in Ferrari they perceive that it is enough for them to finish the race, to win it. While the Renaults are immediately faster, they are less reliable due to engine problems that have not yet been resolved.


In what is about to become one of the most controversial Grand Prix in the entire history of Formula 1, Didier Pironi starts from the second row, alongside his teammate, Gilles Villeneuve.



During the race there is a heated duel between the two Ferrari drivers and Renè Arnoux: the fight continues until on lap forty-fifth, the French driver's Renault engine starts to smoke, forcing the latter to retire. At this point, an all-Ferrari double is expected, with Gilles Villeneuve in the lead followed by Didier Pironi. With a considerable advantage over the third, Gilles began to slow down, also due to brake problems, allowing Didier to take advantage of the opportunity to overtake him.


Gilles does not really believe that his friend was taking advantage of the technical problems encountered, but he soon found himself having to accept the situation, also increasing the pace in order to regain the lead. This strange situation pushes the team to encourage the two drivers to slow down, fearing that the increase in pace could compromise the result, perhaps due to an off-track or mechanical trouble.


For this reason, on lap 49 the Ferrari mechanics put up a sign with the word Slow. Villeneuve interprets the message to the letter, and therefore decides to preserve the mechanical part of his car, while Pironi thinks he is still free to fight for first place, so he overtakes his teammate again on lap 52.


The chronology of the times will in fact show that when Villeneuve is in the lead the times increase significantly, while when Pironi is present the latter increases the pace. After regaining the lead, on the last lap Gilles manages the race but Pironi surprises him and overtakes him, thus conquering his first career success. At the end of the lap of honor, Villeneuve exits the car, infuriated against both his teammate, as he believes that he had violated the team's orders, and the team itself, which he orders to look for a new driver.



The two of them, accustomed to competing in the streets of Maranello in the last year, crossed paths for the first time on the Formula 1 circuit. The Canadian, used to these friendly challenges, thinks that his friend simply wants to entertain the Imola crowd. But is not so. The episode marks the end of the friendship between Pironi and the Canadian.


"I'm done with Pironi. He stole my victory by surprising my good faith. The team didn't defend me. Will I stay in Maranello? Now I have to think about it. Didier is now an opponent like all the others, indeed an enemy that I will never want to have behind me again. He stole my victory. His is an authentic theft that burns me the most because it is endorsed by Marco Piccinini, Ferrari's sports director. displaying the sign with the word slow does not mean abandoning all ambitions and maintaining positions, explain what it means then. In my house such a warning makes it clear that we must no longer take risks. And I obeyed as I always did on other occasions, perhaps reluctantly, for the good of the team".


"Why do I think that first place was your right? It's simple. When Arnoux broke the engine, I took the lead two seconds ahead. Before, we were lapping at a hellish pace, based on less than 1'36" per lap. I knew there could be some problems with the petrol, perhaps not enough to finish the race. So instead of attacking I started saving my car. Pironi, on the other hand, went under, forced the pace and overtook me. So, I gave him a demonstration and made another pass. I honestly thought he wanted to put on a show, entertain the public. And I've been to the game. We went on to the end with Didier taking incredible risks. At every lap I saw the Ferrari sign indicating not to force. Didier passes me again. I get an incredible nervous. So, I force and, risking to go off the road, I go in front of him. Before he had braked too soon, and I almost hit him. Then it didn't hit me for an inch. The engine wasn't performing at its best and in the end, I saw it whizzing around inside. I couldn't believe my eyes. Bandit behavior. On the penultimate lap I moved up to first place, sure I didn't have to suffer any more pressure. Instead he cheated me. I didn't even look in the rear view mirrors, so I was sure of the victory".


"Why so sure? Because I had faith in Pironi's common sense. Because I believed that the team, after four and a half years of Ferrari, would protect me. My good faith was surprised; if I wanted to stop Didier, believe me that I would not have been able to? Nobody remembers Spain and Monte Carlo when I kept behind many faster cars than mine? Pironi is clearly less fast than me: he can only beat me with deception. I have to think about my relationship with Ferrari. On Sunday I said to Piero Lardi Ferrari: look for another driver. I was angry. I will continue to work as always for Maranello, trying to win races. With Pironi, on the other hand, I'm done. I will never forget, in my whole life, the rudeness, the impropriety he did to me. Word of Gilles Villeneuve. I thought I had a friend, an honest teammate. Instead he is an idiot. The only advantage I had from the lesson is that I know him well now. I could have given him two laps behind, but I had driven carefully because I knew that at the Ferrari were keen to take both cars to the finish".


For his part, the Italian-Frenchman replies by declaring that he is not the second driver and that his behavior has been corrected, given the technical problems that occurred on Villeneuve's car:


"I'm sure everything will be smoothed out. Gilles was unlucky once, I had many. I proved to those who believed me finished that I was always the same Pironi. I came to Ferrari precisely to have the chance to aim for the title. The success at Imola. it has relaunched my possibilities. And the possibilities of Ferrari: let's not forget that I came first and second, while Renault broke both engines. A sign that we are working well in Maranello".


"There are no contracts according to one which I have to finish second and Gilles first. I regret the fact that someone did not like my victory. Ferrari, however, is an experienced team and has shown that they do not want to do any injustices one or the other of the two drivers in the fourth race of the season. I dedicate this second success in Formula 1 to myself and, above all, to the Ferrari. We have all made many sacrifices to reach this result. I also dedicate it to Balestre. I am happy for him: he has seen that Formula 1 is not over. We don't need the Seal teams".


We then arrive at the tragic 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, held on the Zolder circuit. During qualifying, the atmosphere in the Ferrari pits is terrible: Gilles does not speak to anyone, with the exception of engineer Forghieri, who tries to restore serenity to the pits.


Noting that Didier set a better time, a few minutes from the end, Gilles still decided to get back on track, but at the Terlamenbocht corner the Canadian driver found himself in the March del German Jochen Mass.



Gilles decides to pass it outside but a misunderstanding with the German driver arises and the Ferrari hits the right rear wheel of the March, taking off. The car lands on its nose in the grass and starts spinning, causing the Canadian to jump out of the cockpit. Gilles lands several meters away.


Rescue is immediate, and Gilles is taken to the Sain Raphael hospital in Leuven, but the accident is too serious and around 9:00 pm his wife Johanna agrees to unplug the car that keeps her husband inviting, which goes off shortly after at 9:12 pm.


At first, in Ferrari we consult with Didier Pironi about the possible choice to participate in the race or not, but the Frenchman decides to retire, also considering that Enzo Ferrari orders, in the meantime, the immediate return of the whole team.


"What bitters me most now is the fact that we were separated for two weeks after always getting along".


Confessed Didier Pironi, before lashing out again against FISA and the technical regulations:


"Unfortunately, we had to expect that sooner or later a similar tragedy would come, with Villeneuve or with someone else. We always talk about safety, but then the contingent problems, the recurring controversies, make us forget the biggest problem in Formula 1. the accident occurred, only three years ago we went to 180 kilometers per hour, now we go to 260 hours. One of the most serious risks is that we run driving cars with side skirts. If one of these bulkheads breaks, the car literally takes off and there is nothing the driver can do to keep it on the road. One can only hope for luck. It's like being, sitting on a bullet".


Despite this tragic event which occurred to his teammate, the championship for the Italian-French is going quite well. Didier gets a second place in Monte Carlo, after the battery of his 126 C2 runs out on the last lap, forcing him to park the car under the tunnel.



Subsequently, on the Detroit track, Didier closes in third place, projecting himself towards the fight for the world title; in Canada, home of the late ex-teammate, he even obtained his first pole position in Ferrari.


However, the race once again sees a tragic ending: in fact, Pironi's Ferrari remains stationary on the grid and, despite many drivers managing to avoid contact, the 126 C2 is slightly bumped by Roberto Guerrero and Raul Boesel, who spun creates a situation that leads Eliseo Salazar to collide with Geoff Lees' car, and Riccardo Paletti to crash into Pironi's car.


Paletti loses consciousness, moreover remaining trapped in the cockpit. The commissioners and Pironi immediately set to work to help their colleague, but due to the petrol leaking from the tank, the Osella was engulfed in flames in seconds. The fire was put out in the following minutes but, despite not having burns, Riccardo shows no signs of life.


Taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Riccardo Paletti died shortly after admission.

The severity of the accident forced a new restart, but as the Ferrari was destroyed by the accident, Pironi was forced to start with the reserve car which, not being in the right set-up configuration, does not give the driver any chance of victory.


The season continues with Didier’s second win of the season in the Dutch Grand Prix, which allows him to take off in the overall standings; afterwards, the Italian-Frenchman obtained a second and third place respectively in the British Grand Prix and in his home race in France.



Close to the German Grand Prix, Didier Pironi finds himself leading the general classification with a nine-point advantage over John Watson. All this leads us to presage a clever triumph for the Italian-French driver, also given that Didier conquers pole position at Hockenheim already on Friday. However, his title race comes to an abrupt halt during the following morning.


Saturday August 7, 1982, despite the fact that he already has the pole position in his pocket, Didier decides to go out on the track to do a few laps with the wet track, to better prepare himself for the next day's race.


While traveling the long straight before the Motodrom, suddenly Derek Daly's Williams moves away along the edge of the track: Didier arrives at high speed and considering the maneuver made by the Irish driver a go-ahead, the Italian-French does not change trajectory and accelerates.


In reality Derek Daly was preparing to overtake Alain Prost's Renault, which was moving slowly, so because of the cloud of water raised by the Williams, Didier notices the Frenchman's presence too late, hitting him at high speed. The impact is extremely violent, due to the high-speed difference, and the Ferrari takes off, falling on its nose and destroying the front end, in a dynamic similar to that which had occurred a few months earlier in Belgium for his teammate.


Everyone now has the Villeneuve incident in mind, and the worst is feared. Rescuers and pilots rush to the scene: some pilots, finding themselves in front of the pilot still conscious, are shocked by the rawness of this scene. Among these, even Nelson Piquet had stomach problems. Subsequently, the Brazilian driver will tell the journalists of the Autosprint magazine about that tragic moment:


"I approached. He was screaming in pain and fear. I realized he was afraid the car would catch fire and I told him to rest assured there was no gas around. I was terrified when I saw a leg bone come out of the suit. I tried to reassure him but touching his legs I felt they were in mush".


Emergency transported to the hospital, the pilot is entrusted to a medical team led by Professor Letournel, a luminary of orthopedic surgery. Didier Pironi is saved and the limb amputation is avoided. However, the accident meant the end of the Italian-French racing career, who would still be second in the final classification of the 1982 Formula 1 World Championship, won that year by Keke Rosberg with Williams.


The recovery is slow and painful, and in 1985 he tries a Formula 1 AGS, to understand if a return to the circus is possible: although it is still extremely fast, the massive surgical reworking does not allow him to sustain prolonged efforts and the response is always negative. Didier then decides to follow the passion he shared with Gilles, that is the powerboat races. The new sporting love is short but intense.


Despite managing to get some victories, the Italian-Frenchman disappeared on August 23, 1987, together with the two members of his crew, Bernard Giroux and Jean-Claude Guenard, in yet another accident that saw them protagonists during the Needles Trophy Race, which takes place off the coast of the Isle of Wight.



Didier Pironi shares the tomb with his cousin and half-brother Josè Dolhem, who died less than a year later, crashed with his single-engine near Saint-Etienne. An evocative epigraph pays homage to these two Formula 1 drivers:


"Entre ciel et mer".


Between sky and sea. They will thus be remembered for their exploits. A few months later, Didier Pironi's partner Catherine Goux will give birth to twins, named Gilles and Didier.

Andrea Rasponi

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