Didier Pironi killed in Powerboat crash

Intelligent French ace lived a fast-paced life tinged with tragedy

Didier Pironi celebrates on the podium after winning the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix Imola

Pironi celebrates after winning the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix

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Didier Pironi, the French former Ferrari Formula One driver, was tragically killed in a powerboating accident off the Isle of Wight on Sunday, August 23. French television broadcaster Bernard Giroux and former Ligier F1 team engineer Jean-Claude Guernard also died in the same accident.

It was an ironic fate for 35-year old Pironi who, five years earlier, had survived a dreadful accident practising for the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim which finished his racing career.

Pironi made his Grand Prix debut for Tyrrell in 1978 and stayed with the team for two seasons, switching to the French Ligier outfit in 1980 and winning the Belgian GP.

In 1981 he transferred to Ferrari where he was paired with the late Gilles Villeneuve. The two men got on well together until the 1982 San Marino GP which Pironi won, overtaking Villeneuve against team orders. Villeneuve was incensed and the two men never spoke another word to each other. Thirteen days later Gilles was killed at Zolder.

“Didier was spurred on by the thought of possibly returning to the cockpit”

Assuming the role of Ferrari team-leader, Pironi went on to score a dominant victory in the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort and was leading the World Championship going into the Hockenheim race. His bravura seemed to be at an almost worrying peak and it was in an untimed session which did not count for grid positions, in pouring rain, that he ran into the back of Alain Prost’s Renault.

Pironi lay trapped in his car for almost an hour as doctors struggled to remove him and save his shattered legs. More than thirty painful operations followed, Didier spurred on by the thought of possibly returning to the cockpit.

But he never regained the strength and movement in his right leg that he would have needed and, as a substitute for the thrill and spectacle, turned his hand to powerboat racing. Just as at Hockenheim, he was flat-out, squeezing every ounce of potential from his machine, on August 23