Great Rivalries: Didier Pironi vs. Gilles Villeneuve

August 27, 2009
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French-Canadian Gilles Villeneuve was the most spectacular comet to blaze across Formula 1 in the modern era. Didier Pironi was a French rocket groomed for stardom by the Elf fuel company. As teammates at Ferrari in 1982, their careers collided with fatal results.
The never-say-die, take-no-prisoners attitude that endeared Villeneuve to racing fans produced improbable wins and highlight-reel crashes in equal number. Yet despite his antics, he was the consummate teammate, loyally supporting champion-to-be Jody Scheckter in 1979. And he expected the same from Pironi when they were given the "Slow" sign while running 1-2, well ahead of the field, in San Marino in '82. Villeneuve dutifully backed off, confident that his teammate would follow team orders. But Pironi passed him on the last lap, timing the move so Villeneuve couldn't repass him. Villeneuve, feeling betrayed, was furious and vowed never to speak to Pironi again. Two weeks later, while trying to outqualify Pironi in Belgium, Villeneuve was killed in an accident. Thereafter, bad luck dogged Pironi. In Canada, he stalled on the grid, and Riccardo Paletti was killed when he rear-ended Pironi's stationary Ferrari. Then, in Germany, while leading the championship, Pironi flew over a slower car during practice and suffered leg injuries that ended his F1 career. He continued to race - in powerboats - until dying in a wreck in 1987.
Weird postscript: Pironi's twin sons were born after he died. Their names? Didier and Gilles.

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