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France Didier Joseph-Lovis Pironi

Races: 72
Podiums: 13
Career Points: 101

1978United Kingdom Elf Team Tyrrell Tyrrell 38 Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 Tyrrell 008 
1979United Kingdom Candy Team Tyrrell Tyrrell 28 Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8  
1979United Kingdom Tyrrell Racing Organisation Tyrrell   Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 Tyrrell 009 
1980France Equipe Ligier Gitanes Ligier 66 Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8 JS11/15 
1981Italy Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 34 Ferrari 021 1.5 V6t 126CK 
1982Italy Scuderia Ferrari Ferrari 74 Ferrari 021 1.5 V6t Ferrari 126 C2 

Didier Pironi: Reputation Overshadows Ability

By Jeremy McMullen
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The error in judgment in Imola would turn tragic at Zolder. The result would be a ruined reputation for Didier Pironi, a man that did not, and still does not, deserve all the acrimony. But unfortunately, it will be that apparent reputation that will be remembered far and above his ability.

Yes, Pironi's teammate would be the much-loved and talented Gilles Villeneuve, but to think Pironi didn't deserve a drive with Scuderia Ferrari is a terrible falsehood. French Formula Renault champion in 1974 and the French Formula Super Renault champion in 1976, Pironi's early racing career would be filled with nothing but success.

Born in Villecresnes, France in March of 1952, Didier would be just 20 years of age when he earned Pilot Elf sponsorship following his enrollment in the Paul Ricard driving school. Though not a racer from the earliest of ages, he would show his skills at each and every level and would prove he had the talent to drive amongst the best. Furthermore, Didier had the kind of mind that enabled him to compete amongst the best.

Coming from an engineering family, he would initially look to a career in engineering earning a degree in science. However, he would be bitten by the racing bug and his enjoyment of machines that travelled very fast. One of the youngest, if not the youngest, licensed pilots in all of France, it was clear Pironi had a technical mind and an understanding of such things. And, while he may never be considered among those truly great technical drivers in motor racing history, there would be no disputing that he was technical and fast.

From the time of his earning the Elf sponsorship in 1972 just six years would pass before he would find himself behind the wheel of a Formula One car. Quickly rising through the ranks, Pironi would compete in Formula 2 for just a single season before he would capture the attention of one Ken Tyrrell. Tyrrell had discovered Jackie Stewart. He had also discovered Francois Cevert and a whole number of other talented drivers. And so, to earn a spot with Tyrrell's team in 1978, Pironi had to be considered someone to watch. And, he would prove that point in his very first season in Formula One.

In the Brazilian Grand Prix, just his second race in Formula One, Didier would come through to finish in 6th place, a points-paying result. This would be followed up with another 6th place in the South African Grand Prix. At Monaco, Didier would come through to finish 5th. Belgium would follow Monaco and it would see him finish in the points once again. In his first six races in Formula One, Pironi would come away with points in four of them.

But if the start in Formula One wasn't impressive enough, then the result in Le Mans in the early part of June in 1978 would certainly help. Using his steady, but fast, approach, Didier would combine with Jean-Pierre Jaussaud to give Renault its only overall victory at Le Mans. It would be a remarkable performance by the Frenchman as he would help the number 2 Renault A442B come through to victory with more than 5 laps in hand over two of the dominant factory Porsches.
1982Ferrari 126 C2Ferrari 021 1.5 V6t
1981126CKFerrari 021 1.5 V6t
1980JS11/15Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8
1979Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8
1979Tyrrell 009Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8
1978Tyrrell 008Ford Cosworth DFV 3.0 V8

Pironi was causing people to sit up and take notice. A move to Ligier in 1980 would cause them to have to think seriously about whether or not he was championship material.

Joining Ligier in 1980 would prove to be one of the best things for Didier. His time in Tyrrell had been successful with him earning two 3rd place finishes in 1979, one coming in the Belgium Grand Prix and the second coming at Watkins Glen at the end of the season. He had stood on the podium a couple of times with Tyrrell. Coming to Ligier would take him to the higher steps.

Throughout Ligier's history there has really only been one time in which it has been competitive with the other top teams within the sport, and, that period would come when Pironi joined the team.The success would start out almost immediately. A 4th place in the Brazilian Grand Prix would be followed up with a 3rd place in South Africa. Then, at Zolder, the site of his first podium finish the year before, Pironi would come through with something better securing his first Formula One victory beating-out the two Williams of Alan Jones and Carlos Reutemann. It would be a demonstrative win as he would enjoy more than 47 seconds over Jones and would have more than a lap advantage over one Gilles Villeneuve. As a result of that maiden victory, Pironi would be amongst the top five in the fight for the championship.

Unfortunately, the middle part of the 1980 season would be marred by early retirements. In spite of a 2nd place finish in his home grand prix, Didier would suffer five retirements out of six races. Still, he would recover and would stand on the podium in the final two races of the season. The end result would be Didier would finish the season 5th place in the championship that year, well ahead of any of the drivers from the team he would choose to join the following season.

Scuderia Ferrari was well off the pace in 1980. The ground effects chassis were really beginning to come into their own and would be the source of much contention throughout the season. The 1980 season seemed to a hold a lot of promise for Ferrari following 1979, but it would prove to be the exact opposite. The Maranello outfit was putting much of its attentions toward a six-cylinder turbocharged design, the 126C believing the 312T5 to still be a very capable competitor. As it would turn out, the 126C could not come soon enough.

Jody Scheckter would leave Ferrari at the end of the difficult '80 season. Enzo Ferrari and the team leaders knew they had a great driver in Gilles Villeneuve. There was really only one weakness with the Canadian. His no-hold-barred-style of driving was certainly popular with the spectators and those watching on television, but it did make the hard-charger susceptible to accidents. This was fine for those that didn't have to pay to repair a car, but in Ferrari's case, they needed the Constructors' Championship prize to help offset the costs. Therefore, the team needed another driver like Scheckter. They needed somebody who was talented, who could win, but that could keep his head about him a bit better than Gilles.

126 C2  126 C2  009  009  008  008  
Enzo liked what he saw in Pironi, especially when he had the opportunity to meet the Frenchman in person. Ferrari liked him not only 'for his gifts as an athlete, but also for his way of doing things.'

Didier would jump from Ligier to drive with the Scuderia and he would prove throughout the '81 season why he had been hired by the team. The team would field its turbo-charged 126C. The car showed promise, but it also had its weaknesses. The very thing a driver did not want to do was add mistakes to the car's inherent weaknesses.

Over the course of the '81 season, Villeneuve would prove the stronger of the two in sheer pace. Not only would Gilles out-qualify Pironi all throughout the season, but he would also come away with a couple of victories compared to none at all for Didier. However, while Gilles would be faster in qualifying, he would seem much more erratic during the races than Pironi. And though the results wouldn't necessarily tell the story, there was a bit more consistency with Pironi than with Gilles. Still, at the end of the day, Gilles was certainly more flamboyant and was able to take what he had been given and earn more than what it was capable of achieving.

France Drivers  F1 Drivers From France 
Jean Alesi
Philippe Alliot
René Alexandre Arnoux
Marcel Lucien Balsa
Élie Marcel Bayol
Jean Marie Behra
Paul Alexandre Belmondo
Jean-Pierre Maurice Georges Beltoise
Éric Bernard
Jules Bianchi
Christophe Bouchut
Jean-Christophe 'Jules' Boullion
Sébastien Olivier Bourdais
Albert François Cevert Goldenberg
Eugene Chaboud
Bernard Marie François Alexandre Collomb-Clerc
Érik Comas
Yannick Dalmas
Patrick André Eugène Joseph Depailler
Louis José Lucien Dolhem
Pascal Fabre
Patrick Gaillard
Pierre Gasly
Yves Giraud-Cabantous
Aldo Gordini
Jean-Marc Gounon
Georges Grignard
Romain Grosjean
Olivier Grouillard
André Guelfi
François Hesnault
Jean-Pierre Alain Jabouille
Jean-Pierre Jacques Jarier
Max Jean
Robert La Caze
Jacques-Henri Laffite
Franck Lagorce
Gérard Larrousse
Michel Leclère
Pierre Levegh
Guy Ligier
Henri Louveau
Roger Loyer
Jean Lucas
Jean Lucienbonnet
Guy Mairesse
Robert Manzon
Eugène Martin
François Mazet
François Migault
Franck Montagny
Esteban Ocon
Olivier Panis
Henri Pescarolo
Charles Pic
François Picard
Didier Joseph-Lovis Pironi
Jacques Pollet
Carlos 'Charles' Pozzi
Alain Marie Pascal Prost
Pierre-Henri Raphanel
Louis Rosier
Stéphane Sarrazin
Jean-Louis Schlesser
Joseph Schlesser
Georges-Francis 'Johnny' Servoz-Gavin
André Simon
Raymond Sommer
Mike Sparken
Philippe Streiff
Patrick Daniel Tambay
Maurice Bienvenu Jean Paul Trintignant
Jean-Eric Vergne
Usually it takes some time to feel comfortable with a new team, especially when its car struggles with unreliability and some undesirable handling, as the 126C certainly did. Villeneuve was the leader within the team. He saw '81 as one of his seasons in which to earn the World Championship. Perhaps what he wouldn't expect the following season was a much stronger Pironi also looking to secure a World Championship.

Heading into 1982, it wasn't as if Didier wasn't accustomed to success. He had been a champion in nearly every level of motorsport prior to coming to Formula One. And, in a year when the Ferrari was nowhere to be found, Pironi would find himself amongst the top five in the '80 championship. Being hired by Enzo to drive for his beloved Scuderia Ferrari, it was clear Didier was not just to be some back-up plan.

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Formula One World Drivers' Champions
1950 G. Farina
1951 J. Fangio
1952 A. Ascari
1953 A. Ascari
1954 J. Fangio
1955 J. Fangio
1956 J. Fangio
1957 J. Fangio
1958 M. Hawthorn
1959 S. Brabham
1960 S. Brabham
1961 P. Hill, Jr
1962 N. Hill
1963 J. Clark, Jr.
1964 J. Surtees
1965 J. Clark, Jr.
1966 S. Brabham
1967 D. Hulme
1968 N. Hill
1969 S. Stewart
1970 K. Rindt
1971 S. Stewart
1972 E. Fittipaldi
1973 S. Stewart
1974 E. Fittipaldi
1975 A. Lauda
1976 J. Hunt
1977 A. Lauda
1978 M. Andretti
1979 J. Scheckter
1980 A. Jones
1981 N. Piquet
1982 K. Rosberg
1983 N. Piquet
1984 A. Lauda
1985 A. Prost
1986 A. Prost
1987 N. Piquet
1988 A. Senna
1989 A. Prost
1990 A. Senna
1991 A. Senna
1992 N. Mansell
1993 A. Prost
1994 M. Schumacher
1995 M. Schumacher
1996 D. Hill
1997 J. Villeneuve
1998 M. Hakkinen
1999 M. Hakkinen
2000 M. Schumacher
2001 M. Schumacher
2002 M. Schumacher
2003 M. Schumacher
2004 M. Schumacher
2005 F. Alonso
2006 F. Alonso
2007 K. Raikkonen
2008 L. Hamilton
2009 J. Button
2010 S. Vettel
2011 S. Vettel
2012 S. Vettel
2013 S. Vettel
2014 L. Hamilton
2015 L. Hamilton
2016 N. Rosberg
2017 L. Hamilton
2018 L. Hamilton
2019 L. Hamilton

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