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“I will never speak to Pironi again as long as I live”: Throwback to the 40th anniversary of the 1982 Imola Grand Prix which would change the lives of Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi

Janmeyjay Shukla

"I will never speak to Pironi again as long as I live": Throwback to the 40th anniversary of the 1982 Imola Grand Prix which would change the lives of Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi

Let us look at the Ferrari double podium at Imola in 1982 which would change the life of the Ferrari teammates forever.

Ferrari will be looking for a second 1-2 finish of the season after Carlos Sainz’s DNF in Australia. This weekend will also mark the 40th anniversary of Ferrari’s 1-2 finish in Imola at the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix.

The 1982 San Marino Grand Prix (known as Imola now) had one of the most amazing first position battles between Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve. However, that race would also change the lives and careers of both drivers for the worse.

Pironi won the race, but the drama continued after the race between the teammates. The drama was cut short due to Gilles Villeneuve’s demise just a few weeks later.

A betrayal in the eyes of Villeneuve

Ferrari started the 1982 San Marino GP behind the Renaults during the turbocharged era. However, due to the retirements of Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux, the Italian found themselves in the front.

They had a comfortable lead with the team showing signs of slowing down to the leading cars as there was no competition behind. This led to a small error from Villeneuve’s end giving Pironi the lead at the Piratella. With only a few laps to go, the Canadian passed Pironi on lap 49 of 60.

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The Tifosi were enjoying the drama unfolding at the near end of the race. Both of them battled each other in trading places for the lead. However, in the second last lap of the race, Villeneuve took the lead thinking that he had won the race easily now.

Things would change on the final lap as Pironi overtook him through Tamburello and passed him into Tosa. The Frenchman took the victory. Villeneuve felt betrayed by a buddy in whom he had put his trust.

Absolute war turning into a final race

Gilles Villeneuve had been a part of Ferrari longe than Didier Pironi. However, the French driver build a great relationship with Ferrari manager Marco Piccinini and had him as the best man at his wedding. Villeneuve was not invited to the wedding.

The next race at Zolder in Belgium would turn out to be Villeneuve’s final race. He travelled to the circuit alone without his wife Joan and children Jacques and Melanie.

Ferrari did not charge Pironi for his conduct at Imola which angered Villeneuve. He said: “This is war. Absolutely, this is war.” The Canadian drove 1.2 seconds faster than Pironi in practice. However, during the qualifying, Pironi set a lap of 1:16.5 which was ahead of Villeneuve’s 1:16.5.

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Villeneuve wanted to outqualify Pironi and drove at a speed of around 150 mph when a tragedy struck. While approaching Terlamenbocht kink, he hit the rear of March’s Jochen Mass. He was flung out of the car as it cartwheeled over and over the track.

He was taken to the hospital and was placed on life support. Villeneuve’s wife Joan flew to the hospital in the evening and gave permission to end the life support due to the injuries. He passed away on 8th May 1982 in the hospital.

Life taking turns at Imola

Pironi claimed that he had not done anything wrong and had no intention to betray the Canadian. Describing Villeneuve’s relationship, he said: “He made me fit right in and I felt at home right away overnight, and Gilles made no distinctions either. I was not number one, I was number two. He treated me like an equal all the way.”

Ferrari devoted Villeneuve at the time of Pironi’s arrival as per the Frenchman himself. He further explained by stating: “I mean he was not just the top driver. He had a small family there and it was much more than that.”

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The French driver’s F1 career came to an end after a crash at Hockenheim damaged his legs. His life would eventually come to an end after a powerboating crash in 1987.

About the author

Janmeyjay Shukla

Janmeyjay Shukla


Janmeyjay Shukla is an artist who contributes his expressions through words as an F1 writer and editor at The SportsRush. He is an F1 historian who has been watching the sport since he was a baby. Passed on from generation to generation, he has seen the prime of Michael Schumacher to the rise of Max Verstappen. A Mercedes fan from the days of the Brawn GP era, the sport runs in his blood. Besides Formula One, Janmeyjay is a Marketing Head and a musician who loves to sing and play Rock & Pop songs on guitar. His love for sports will never die as he is a loyal Liverpool Football Club fan as well!

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