Ferrari's 1982 F1 Season: The Italian Tragedy

matt hillCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2010


Ferrari is the only team too compete in every season of the F1 world championship. The team is the most well known and have produced title winning cars. However, not every season has been a good one for the team from Maranello. They have had seasons where they have won only one race and some seasons (especially during the 60's) where they failed to win.

The 1982 season sticks out though does stick out as a truly horrific season for the Italian team despite winning the Constructors Title. The car the team produced was a massive improvement over the 1981 car. The car handled much better than the old car, had a more powerful engine and was a large technological step forward. The car was a genuine title contender and with Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi behind the wheel they had a strong, if slightly wild driver line up.

Everything looked so promising but the season was marred with incident and tragedy.

The car was incredibly quick in testing and everything looked promising for a competitive 1982. However, in the first three races Pironi scored just 1 point in Brazil and Villeneuve failed to score any points. Villeneuve would of got points for a 3rd place in the United States Grand Prix West but was disqualified for an illegal rear wing.

The next race was Imola and the season began to turn into a disaster. The relationship between Pironi and Villeneuve began well and the two drivers got on well but at Imola in 1982 it turned sour. The 1982 San Marino Grand Prix was decimated by the war between FISA and FOCA. There was only 14 cars in the field and the only true rivals for the Ferrari were the Renaults.

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When both Renaults broke down it looked like Villeneuve and Pironi has an easy run to the finish line and a 1-2. Ferrari told the two that they should "slow down and conserve fuel and reduce the chance of mechanical failure" Villeneuve took this too mean hold station. Pironi didn't. Pironi passed Villeneuve for the lead on the approach to Tosa with a handful of laps left. To begin Villeneuve thought fair enough believing Pironi was doing this to make the race more exciting. The two began a famous duel. Villeneuve retook the position on the penultimate lap and thought Pironi would now just hold station. Then on the final lap Pironi passed Villeneuve again on the approach to Tosa and won the race. The link below shows you the duel between both of them.

Villeneuve was livid and he made no attempt to hide this on the podium. He believed that Pironi had disobeyed orders and that Pironi was a traitor. He vowed never to speak to Pironi again. Pironi said that the team never said that he had to hold station. Whether Ferrari did want them to hold station or not is unknown. The next race was Zolder and by all accounts Villeneuve was still angry.

In qualifying Villeneuve was determined to beat Pironi as a sort of payback for Imola. Sadly for Villeneuve with 8 mins his best lap was just 0.1 seconds behind Pironi. Villeneuve went out for one last go to beat Pironi. His warm up lap went without a problem and began his quick lap. According to Villeneuve's biographer Villeneuve was coming back in to the pits which suggests that he had made a mistake. Even if this is so, Villeneuve was still going flat out as he approached the left hand kink before Terlamenbocht corner.

Jochen Mass was on a slowing down lap and had just gone round the left hander before Terlamenbocht corner and a slow speed. Villeneuve went round the left hander at full pace. Mass moved slightly to the right in a attempt to get out of the way of the fast approaching Villeneuve. It was the right way to move as the racing line was the left hand side of the track heading in to the next corner. In a horrific stroke of misfortune Villeneuve also went to the right. Villeneuve's front left clipped the back of the March sending the car soaring into the air.

The car flew for a hundred meters before slamming down into the ground before somersaulting further which catapulted Villeneuve out of the car and into the catch fencing. Villeneuve was rushed to hospital where a fatal neck fracture was discovered. Life support was turned off and he died that evening. Pironi immeadiatly withdrew from the race on Sunday.

Questions are often asked about Villeneuve's mindset during that session. Was Villeneuve too blinded with rage over Imola? Did Villeneuve need to be going that fast if he was pitting anyway? I cant answer the questions because I don't know, but there are people still to this day that blame Pironi for Villeneuve's death. I personally don't blame Pironi but I will leave you to make up your own mind.   

Pironi was Ferrari's sole entrant for Monaco. Pironi was classified second in what was a truly mad race. The link below is a link to the insane finale.

Pironi had a good race in Detroit where after qualifying 4th he finished 3rd. in the race. It was off to the newly named Gilles Villeneuve Circuit in Montreal where once again Ferrari was involved in another tragedy.

Pironi secured pole position and was one of the favourites to win. On the grid though the Ferrari stalled. He began waving frantically and most managed to dive around him. Raul Boesel clipped the back of Pironi spinning him in front of others in the pack which took out a couple of cars. However, at the very back of the pack in the Osella Italian Ricardo Paletti was accelerating away and by the time he saw the stationary Ferrari it was too late and the Osella ploughed into the back of the Ferrari doing around 110mph.

Paletti lay stricken in his car unconscious and with chest injuries. Just as medical personnel arrived the car burst into flames. Vital seconds where lost while they tried to put the fire out. Also the substances used to put the fire out made breathing and respiration almost impossible when combined with the injuries that Paletti had just suffered. By the time the fire was out Paletti had no pulse and despite the best efforts of the medical staff he was pronounced dead in hospital.

Ferrari had been involved in two fatal accidents in 4 races.

Patrick Tambay joined Pironi at Ferrari for the next race at Zandvoort. Pironi won the race quite comfortably and Tambay finished in 9th. The new partnership did well in Britain when Pironi finished second behind Lauda with Tambay in third. In France (both drivers home race) the home fans were given something to cheer with French drivers taking first, second, third and forth. Pironi and Tambay finished 3rd and 4th with the Renault team taking first and second.

The race at Hockenheim the Ferrari team was once more involved in tragedy. Pironi for reasons unknown too most went out in the pouring rain despite him being assured of pole as he had set the fastest lap in the dry. He couldn't improve so why he went out is a mystery. But he did and it was a fateful decision. In the heavy rain Pironi was nearly blind and while passing Derrick Warwick he didn’t see Alain Prost's car and smashed into the back of it, triggering an accident incredibly similar to that which killed Villeneuve.

Pironi survived the crash but his legs were very badly broken and amputation was being considered. Pironi made Professor Sid Watkins promise not to amputate his legs and Watkins was true too his word. In honour of Pironi pole position was left empty the next day for the race. Unlike when Villeneuve died the didn’t withdraw and the sole Ferrari of Tambay went and won the race. Despite promising he would return Pironi never drove in F1 again and died in 1987 in a powerboat accident.

The rest of the season was fairly unspectacular with Mario Andretti taking over at Ferrari for the final two rounds of the season after Ferrari entered just Tambay in Austria and Switzerland. There was no more wins for the team in 1982 and fortuantly no more bad luck. As I said earlier they did manage to win the Constructors title but after a year where they had one of the drivers killed, been involved in another fatal crash and had a driver have a career ending crash it must of been very little consolation.

Ferrari are a huge part of the sport but in 1982 I suspect they wished they weren’t