Didier Pironi

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Didier Pironi
Didier-1.jpg
Pironi as a Formula Two driver in 1977.
Nationality Flag of France French
Formula One World Championship career
Active years1978 - 1982
TeamsTyrrell, Ligier, Ferrari
Races72 (70 starts)
Championships0
Wins3
Podiums13
Career points101
Pole positions4
Fastest laps5
First race1978 Argentine Grand Prix
First win1980 Belgian Grand Prix
Last win1982 Dutch Grand Prix
Last race1982 German Grand Prix
24 Hours of Le Mans career
Participating years1976 - 1978, 1980
TeamsPorsche Kremer Racing, J. Haran de Chaunac, Renault Sport, BMW France
Best finish1st (1978)
Class wins1 (1978)

Didier Joseph-Lovis Pironi[1] (26 March 1952 - 23 August 1987) was a racing driver from France. During his career he competed in 72 Formula One World Championship Grands Prix, mostly driving for Tyrrell and Ferrari, and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1978 driving a Renault Alpine A442B.

Career

Pironi was born in Villescresnes, Val-de-Marne.

Initially Pironi began studying as an engineer, but this fell by the wayside following his enrollment at the Paul Ricard driving school. He was awarded the Pilot Elf sponsorship bursary in 1972, with the French national oil company funding his early career, mostly in Renault-powered vehicles. Benefiting from this same Elf sponsorship, to promote young French motorsport talent, that bequeathed the likes of Patrick Tambay and Alain Prost to Formula One, Didier Pironi made his top-flight debut on January 15, 1978. This was with Ken Tyrrell's team which, despite being British, had a strong working relationship with Elf, dating back to the late 1960s. In the same year, Pironi was part of the massive Renault squad tasked with winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Partnering Jean-Pierre Jaussaud in the team's second car, the unusual "bubble roof" A442B, he won the race by four laps from the rival Porsche 936s.

Two seasons with the underfinanced Tyrrell team demonstrated enough promise for Guy Ligier to sign Pironi to his rather erratic eponymous French team in 1980, a season in which Didier recorded his first victory, in the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, as well as several podium finishes. Indeed, such were Pironi's performances that as early as the second race of the season, Enzo Ferrari expressed an interest in the Frenchman's services, which he secured for 1981.

Teamed with Gilles Villeneuve, Pironi was rather shaded in his first season with Ferrari, though Villeneuve welcomed the Frenchman and treated him as an equal. For someone so preoccupied with becoming the first French driver to win the Formula One title, the events of this year may have played a role in the turbulent and unhappy 1982 campaign. Establishing a fine rapport with the senior members of the team, Pironi arguably exploited this good relationship in the aftermath of the notorious 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. Pironi's friendship with senior members in the team resulted in his dubious story of "engine problems" for both cars gaining widespread currency, much to Villeneuve's chagrin. The Canadian would be killed in qualifying at the following Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, and his furious state of mind is often considered a contributory cause to his accident.

With a fast, reliable car, the title looked to be Pironi's for the taking, but the Frenchman's own state of mind underwent severe stress due to several factors. Widespread antipathy was directed toward him in the wake of the Zolder tragedy, since he was criticized for reneging on his relationship afforded by Villeneuve. There was also the breakdown of his marriage, and he observed at 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. Some of these events may have resulted in the over-confidence and arrogance that team members are reported to have observed in Pironi's behaviour at subsequent events, including an absolute certainty that he would win the title. In such a mindset, he unnecessarily lapped a drenched Hockenheim during a practice session at the German Grand Prix at high speed. Passing Derek Daly's Williams, Pironi, unsighted, smashed into the back of Alain Prost's Renault, triggering a violent accident which bore some similarity to that suffered by Villeneuve. Pironi survived, but injuries to his legs meant he never raced again. 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 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.

Death

In 1986 it looked as if Pironi would make a comeback when he tested for the French AGS team. Although he proved that he was still fast enough to be competitive in Formula One, Pironi decided to turn to powerboat racing instead. On August 23, 1987, Pironi was killed in an accident 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, when the boat rode over a rough wave caused by an oil tanker, causing the boat to flip over.

Some weeks after Pironi's death his girlfriend gave birth to twins. She decided to name them "Didier" and "Gilles".

Three years later, a similar accident which took the life of Stefano Casiraghi, a member of the Monegasque Royal Family, caused changes to a number of regulations.

Complete Formula One World Championship results

(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)

Yr Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 WDC Points
1978 Elf Team Tyrrell Tyrrell 008 Cosworth V8 ARG
14
BRA
6
RSA
6
USW
Ret
MON
5
BEL
6
ESP
12
SWE
Ret
FRA
10
GBR
Ret
GER
5
AUT
Ret
NED
Ret
ITA
Ret
USA
10
CAN
7
15th 7
1979 Team Tyrrell Tyrrell 009 Cosworth V8 ARG
Ret
BRA
4
RSA
Ret
USW
DSQ
ESP
6
10th 14
Candy Tyrrell Team BEL
3
MON
Ret
FRA
Ret
GBR
10
GER
9
AUT
7
NED
Ret
ITA
10
CAN
5
USA
3
1980 Equipe Ligier Gitanes Ligier JS11/15 Cosworth V8 ARG
Ret
BRA
4
RSA
3
USW
6
BEL
1
MON
Ret
FRA
2
GBR
Ret
GER
Ret
AUT
Ret
NED
Ret
ITA
6
CAN
3
USA
3
5th 32
1981 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 126CK Ferrari V6 USW
Ret
BRA
Ret
ARG
Ret
SMR
5
BEL
8
MON
4
ESP
15
FRA
5
GBR
Ret
GER
Ret
AUT
9
NED
Ret
ITA
5
CAN
Ret
CPL
9
13th 9
1982 Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 126C2 Ferrari V6 RSA
18
BRA
6
USW
Ret
SMR
1
BEL
DNS
MON
2
DET
3
CAN
9
NED
1
GBR
2
FRA
3
GER
DNS
AUT
SUI
ITA
CPL
2nd 39


References

  1. FIA Year Book of Automobile Sport 1979. Patrick Stephens Ltd.. white p. 40. ISBN 0850593204. 

External links

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Bruno Giacomelli
Monaco Formula Three
Race Winner

1977
Succeeded by
Elio de Angelis
Preceded by
Jacky Ickx
Hurley Haywood
Jürgen Barth
Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans
1978 with:
Jean-Pierre Jaussaud
Succeeded by
Klaus Ludwig
Bill Whittington
Don Whittington