Triumph from despair

1982 German Grand Prix Patrick Tambay (Ferrari 126C2)

The 1982 German GP was by no means a classic. The enduring image is not of a great on-track battle, but of two drivers indulging in televised fisticuffs. But it was the race result that counted. From the depths, Ferrari scored a win that could not have been more timely.

Ferrari’s ’82 season has been recounted many times. Suffice to say that Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi fell out after the latter stole victory at Imola, and two weeks later Gilles died at Zolder. Pironi became team leader, backed by new recruit Patrick Tambay.

Tambay had a chequered Fl career, and before he joined Ferrari was struggling with the Theodore team. The Frenchman admitted that he always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but his friend’s death had given him a unique opportunity.

“The only time I didn’t choose my timing was when destiny chose it for me,” he told me once. “When I went to Ferrari the timing was good, and the car was competitive.”

He thrived in the new environment and did much to improve the morale of the team. “It put me on such a high of pressure, but it was all positive. And I think I perform well when I have a lot of pressure, strangely enough. I never saw a negative or wrong element to it. The internal politics that everybody is always talking about, I never really saw any of that.”

Pironi got his head down, ignored all the fuss, and began to stack up points. No other driver was winning consistently and, by August, he had opened up a small lead in the drivers championship.

On Friday at Hockenheim he was fastest by 0.9sec, and when it rained on Saturday morning, his pole seemed secure. But he insisted on going out in the atrocious conditions, as if to prove a point. He ran unsighted into the back of Alain Prost’s Renault in an eerie repeat of the crash that had claimed his teammate. Pironi survived, but was badly hurt. It seemed Ferrari’s fortunes could sink no lower. At Zolder the team had packed up and gone home, but in Germany the crew rallied round Tambay. Patrick instinctively knew he had to get a result. Starting fourth, he passed Prost and Rene Arnoux, but there was little he could do about Nelson Piquet’s Brabham. Then, with 20 of the 45 laps run, the Brazilian stumbled over Eliseo Salazar’s ATS, and Patrick found himself in the lead. On the podium, someone produced an Italian flag.

The following year, Tambay would score his second GP win, at Imola, this time after Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham crashed. Again the circumstances were fraught with emotion, as the race came a year after the original Villeneuve/Pironi dispute, and Patrick had started third — the spot from which Gilles had started the previous year.

“I would have loved an outright win. Honestly, those two wins, they were not outright I had five poles with Ferrari, nine front rows; that’s not too bad, I had shown some speed. But I would have loved to have won from the front, and not be second and have the guy fall off and win the race.”

Adam Cooper