Monday, March 26, 2018

Didier Pironi Born In Villecresnes, France - March 26, 1952

March 26, 1952 – August 23, 1987
Didier Pironi
Born in Villecresnes, Val-de-Marne, France.
During his career he competed in 72 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, driving for Tyrrell (1978–79), Ligier (1980) and Ferrari (1981–1982). He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978 driving a Renault Alpine A442B. In his Formula One career Didier Pironi won 3 races, achieved 13 podiums, and scored a total of 101 championship points. He also secured 4 pole positions.

Two seasons with the underfinanced Tyrrell team demonstrated enough promise for Guy Ligier to sign Pironi to his eponymous French team in 1980, a season in which Pironi recorded his first victory, in the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, as well as several podium finishes. Pironi's performance piqued Enzo Ferrari's interest in the Frenchman's services, which he secured for 1981. Ferrari later recalled, "As soon as Pironi arrived at Maranello, he won everyone's admiration and affection, not only for his gifts as an athlete, but also for his way of doing things - he was reserved while at the same time outgoing."

Teamed and compared with Gilles Villeneuve, who welcomed the Frenchman and treated him as an equal, Pironi was slower in qualifying but steadier in races during his first season with Ferrari. Establishing a fine rapport with the senior members of the team, Pironi arguably exploited this good relationship in the aftermath of the controversial San Marino race, where he is widely thought to have duped Villeneuve into conceding victory by giving the impression that he would follow his Canadian team-mate through the final lap, only to unexpectedly power past him into the Tosa hairpin, despite the team has signaled both drivers to slow down. Villeneuve was furious with Pironi and vowed never to say another word to him. The Canadian was killed in qualifying at the following Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder trying to better Pironi's lap time, and Villeneuve's state of mind is often considered a contributory cause to his fatal accident.

With a fast, reliable car, Pironi appeared to be on course for being 1982 World Champion, but the Frenchman's own state of mind underwent severe stress due to several factors. Widespread antipathy by many in the F1 fraternity was directed toward him in the wake of the Zolder tragedy. There was also the rapid breakdown of his marriage to longtime girlfriend Catherine Beynie within weeks of the ceremony taking place. He observed first hand the death of Riccardo Paletti in the 1982 Canadian Grand Prix, the young Italian ploughing into Pironi's stalled Ferrari on the starting grid. These tragic events may have resulted in Pironi being in a dour, gloomy mood that was misinterpreted at the time as over-confidence and arrogance.

After winning pole position for the German Grand Prix, Pironi was also busy testing a new-composition Goodyear rain tyre in untimed practice. The weather conditions at Hockenheim that weekend were highly uncertain: quickly alternating back and forth between wet and dry. In the rain, one of the many problems caused by "ground effect" F1 cars was that the spray was forced out from under the side pods as a fine mist and virtually created a fog. To those behind, this made cars in front close to invisible. When Pironi tried passing Derek Daly's Williams, the Ferrari 126C2 smashed into the back of Alain Prost's unsighted Renault, triggering a violent accident which bore some similarity to that suffered by Villeneuve.
Pironi survived, but multiple fractures to both of his legs meant he never raced again in Formula 1. In the immediate aftermath of the accident, he said he felt no pain. "It was just like my accidents before, when I had no injuries. All I could think about was the car, that the spare one didn't work as well as this one, and that I would have to use it for the race. Then I saw my legs and I thought maybe I wouldn't be doing this race, after all. In the helicopter, they began to hurt very seriously. But if I was to have this accident, it was lucky for me that it was in Germany and not in a more primitive place." The extent of Pironi's leg fractures was so severe that medics had initially considered amputation to extricate him from the car, much to his protestation with Professor Sid Watkins. At this point, he was leading with 39 points in the championship, ahead of Watson (30) and Rosberg (27), but Pironi was relegated to runner-up as Rosberg passed him to become World Champion with 44 points.

In 1986, after he was able to walk with both legs unaided, it looked as if Pironi would make a comeback when he tested for the French AGS team at Circuit Paul Ricard and subsequently, the Ligier JS27 at Dijon-Prenois. He proved that he was still fast enough to be competitive, but coming back to F1 was not truly practical. His insurance policy had paid out a lot of money based on the fact that Pironi's legs were injured so badly that he could never return to F1. Had he returned, he would have been legally obliged to pay all the money back.

Pironi decided to turn to offshore powerboat racing instead. On 23 August 1987, Pironi was killed in an accident in the Needles Trophy Race near the Isle of Wight, that also took the life of his two crew members, journalist Bernard Giroux and his old friend Jean-Claude Guenard. Their boat, "Colibri 4," rode over a rough wave caused by an oil tanker, causing the boat to flip over.

After Pironi's death, his girlfriend Catherine Goux gave birth to twins. She named them Didier and Gilles, in honour of Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve, who died at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix five years earlier.

1 comment:

  1. A great article and brought a lump in my throat with the twins names which is something I never knew. '82 was my first year following F1 with any dedication as an F1 fan and I still remember how as a young Ferrari fan how upset I was at losing Gilles.