Race Engineer of Didier Pironi gave some personal background information for the better understanding to the relationship of the famous Ferrari teammates.
1981 was the first year with the turbo engine. Gilles won two races but Didier had too many problems. Why?
It was the first year with the turbo engine and, due to the low (compared to now) budget, the turbo engine lacked in reliability, especially on fast tracks. Gilles was very good on slow circuits, namely those where the turbo engine was able to get through the whole race and this partly explains the difference in results; in addition, for example, in Montecarlo Didier had an accident with his car during the free practice session and various problems with the mule. Furthermore, that was the first season for Pironi with Ferrari, and he had to face with a very popular driver in Italy, and this probably caused him some psychological problem; then I, his racing engineer, had just arrived and, although I was helped by Forghieri and Tomaini, perhaps this gave him a certain insecurity. Last but not least, in racing - then more than now - there was a certain randomness that in 1981 helped more Gilles than Pironi.
How did the two drivers work together? Did they share information? Tell me the method of the development.
Before Imola 82, the relationship between the two drivers was good, not only during practice but also out of circuits. The collaboration was good and in any case the exchange of information was done even by me and Tomaini, with whom I am still on good terms. But, again, the relationship between the two drivers was excellent, if I remember correctly, they also challenged each other on the highway causing a certain scandal but, until Imola, they seemed two friends.
Was Gilles a favourite inside the Ferrari team? How did Didier try to establish himself?
From the point of view of the assets, the treatment between the two drivers was absolutely identical. Certainly, the harmony between Gilles, Tomaini and his mechanics was better because they had been working together for the longest period, while Didier and I had just arrived and those automatisms among driver, engineer and mechanics were a bit slower. But let's not forget that at any time mechanics and engineer are on the side of their driver. Favouritism toward a specific driver are journalists' topics; in on our team assets and attention were the same. Of course, I was less experienced than Tomaini and this may have given less self-confidence to Didier but he knew that any technical information given to Gilles would have been immediately given to me, too.
Also for you were Gilles' wins in Montecarlo and Jarama exceptional?
Surely those were two races in which Gilles gave his best, as said that he was good on street circuits, thanks also to his acrobatic driving style that many believed come from the period when he ran on snowmobiles. Even Jarama, which is not a street circuit, is very slow with only one straight.
Did you know from the beginning that the 126C2 was a big improvement and a car for World Title?
In 1982 improvements were substantial but, although everyone saw the chassis innovation, only a few people barely noticed that the engine had been improved not only on power but also on reliability.
After one year how was your relationship with Didier? What kind of person he was? Is he misjudged?
The relationship between Didier and I was very good and, even if – perhaps – he attributed to me his lesser results compared to Gilles's results, he never show it and still I believe he respected my commitment to work. Once, after Dijon tests, since I had to go to Michelin in Clermont Ferrand, he gave me a lift with a Ferrari, and he had fun amazing me: it was evening and he made a lot of stunts both on the highway and on state roads. Dangerous stunts, of course, but for a fool like me they were exciting and, for sure, we didn't care too much for traffic laws. I interpreted this behaviour as a way to create a better relationship between us, as between two enthusiasts of the same thing: the research for the limit in the vehicle and, why not, for the risk.
What happened in Imola to your understanding?
It was an incredible combination of circumstances. Before the tests there was the British teams protest with the exception of Tyrrell, who withdrew from the competition, so there were few cars on the track, with strong performance differences between the turbo cars Renault and Ferrari and the other; our cars were very fast but a little “to the limit” in the matter of brakes wear and fuel consumption and for this reason the order to the drivers was to spare themselves especially at the start and attack the Renaults at the end. With Didier we had got, if I recall well, a good set even though the results were disappointing in qualifying and I do not remember why. During the race the two Renaults gave forfeit rather early and the trouble began because our two cars were much faster than the other and the options were only two: accept a fight between our two drivers, but due to the limits of fuel consumption and brakes wear there was the risk they both withdrew; otherwise, box direction had to decide. And box direction decided to show the sign “slow” that indicated not only to not attack but also to retain the positions and the sign was showed when Gilles was leading the race, but we all know how it ended. In retrospect, it has been said that it was necessary to use a more explicit sign, but in retrospect we're all good. It's also true that a driver could not disregard a more explicit sign. However, this has been talked about too much, and after many years what happened still sadden me, so I would prefer not talk about it anymore.
After the race and in the two weeks until Zolder did you speak to Gilles or Didier? How was the mood in the team?
Yes, of course we talked to the driver, the atmosphere was not peaceful. Gilles felt betrayed by the team, for which a few years earlier had given up a victory in favour of Scheckter, and also from what he had until then considered a friend. Didier said he had done a normal thing for a driver, etc. I believe Gilles didn't think Didier would attack him during the last lap, otherwise he would have behaved differently. Did Didier consider it an error of Gilles? We'll never know and it is unpleasant for me to talk about it again.
How do you remember Zolder? The crash and after it?
Zolder was a circuit where Didier went particularly well, the tension was strong, and in those days were used qualifying tires that lasted only one lap, after the first set Didier was ahead, with the second set Gilles crashed. How much important was the tension for what happened at Imola two weeks before, in order to cause the misunderstanding between Gilles and Mass, about this we could talk for a long time and do all the hypotheses that we want, but this is little talk, gossip. The fact is that a driver and a friend died and this still saddens me. Obviously, after the news of the death we were all very upset and with great relief we accepted Didier withdrawal from the race.
In F1 history Gilles is a hero and Didier is a traitor. How do you see them today?
Gilles is remembered with great affection because he was a very combative driver who never surrendered and, in addition, his death made him even more legendary. From a human point of view he was the classic North American man, direct, honest and concrete, a good and smart person. Didier is not remembered as a traitor, he has been a good driver who could not get the results he deserved due to a combination of incredible circumstances. He was less direct and more diplomatic than Gilles, but he was smart too, maybe more in need of success. Do not forget that the image of the famous people is made by journalists. I loved them both.