DRIVERS: DIDIER PIRONI

Name: Didier Pironi
Nationality: France
Date of birth: March 26, 1952 - Paris
Date of death: August 23, 1987 - Southampton

The son a public works engineer, Pironi studied for the same job but his interest was in sport and he was an athlete and a swimming champion. He was also a pilot, the youngest licence holder in France at the time. He started racing motorcycles with his friends Claude Vigreux and Jean-Claude Guenard but his parents vetoed that activity and so, inspired by his half-brother Jose Dolhem, he enrolled in the Winfield School at Paul Ricard. He was named as Pilote Elf in 1972. Elf funded his entire young career in Renault machinery, including two titles, although he shot to international prominence only in 1977 when he won the Monaco Formula 3 race.

He was promoted into F1 by Ken Tyrrell the following season and the same year won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Renault. After two promising years with Tyrrell he switched to Ligier in 1980, winning the Belgian GP, and then moved on to Ferrari for 1981 where he partnered the dynamic Gilles Villeneuve. Gilles had the upper hand in 1981, but the advent of the Ferrari 126C2 saw the two men start the following year more obviously evenly matched. Unfortunately their relationship was terminally damaged when Pironi slipstreamed past Villeneuve against team orders to win the thinly supported San Marino GP. Pironi went on to win the Dutch Grand Prix before he crashed violently in a rainy practice session in Hockenheim and smashed his legs badly.

For the next few years he would undergo a series of operations and hoped to return to F1. While waiting to return to car racing he turned his hand to powerboats. But in August 1987 - at the age of 35 - he flipped his offshore powerboat while racing off Cowes in the Solent and was killed with his two crew members: journalist Bernard Giroux and his old friend Guenard.

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