Isle of Wright, 23 August 1987: during an offshore race valid for the world championship of the category, the former Formula 1 driver Didier Pironi is the victim of a frightening accident caused by a wave raised by a competitor. The Frenchman, together with two other crew members, fails to avoid the danger, capsizing into the sea at about 170 km / h. For him and for his compatriots Bernard Giroux (Ari Vatanen’s former navigator in rallies) and Jean Claude Guenard, there is nothing to do.
In an afternoon 34 years ago, the comet of a boy of Friulian origins went out, who had long pursued the dream of becoming world champion first in F1, and then in powerboating, without ever achieving it. A desire that suffered a first, abrupt interruption already on August 7, 1982, the date on which the Frenchman’s experience in the top racing series ended brutally during the tests of the German Grand Prix: after having spent an extremely complex personal period, with the death of his team-mate Gilles Villeneuve and that of Riccardo Paletti as an innocent and indirect responsible (the latter was the victim of an accident in which the Ferrari of the French), the momentary leader of the world championship took to the track ad Hockenheim to test his car during the morning. In a session characterized by heavy rain, Pironi did not notice the Renault of Alain Prost in front of him, thanks to a wall of water raised by the transalpine car which makes it almost invisible for the oncoming drivers. The impact between the two single-seaters, which occurred at full speed, was inevitable: the Ferrari driver took off, falling back onto the track with the car in a thousand pieces. The dynamics of the accident immediately suggests the worst, but the screams of the unfortunate Didier give hope to be able to save him. The scene that presents itself to the rescuers and the other pilots who have come to help his colleague is however heartbreaking: the Frenchman has numerous fractures in his legs, some of which shock Piquet and Prost, who were the first to intervene at the scene of the episode.
Immediate hospitalization further secures the chances of survival, while immediately highlighting a critical condition of the lower limbs. From that moment on, in fact, Pironi will have to undergo 33 surgeries, all aimed at recovering the total functionality of the legs and to avoid the risk of amputations. An ordeal which, however, sees its conclusion towards the 1986: in that year, despite being tried by his convalescence, Pironi amazed the world by declaring himself ready for return to Formula 1 in view of 1987. Public opinion remains positively displaced by such an announcement, with the French specifying that he wants to get back behind the wheel of competitive cars ready to win, thus avoiding other assignments such as that of the test driver.
However, on August 12, 1986, Pironi’s intentions met a real opportunity thanks to the French AGS, which offers the former Ferrari driver a private test to the Paul Ricard. Villeneuve’s former teammate completes 70 laps after four years of absence from a Formula 1 cockpit, repeating with another test a few days later this time at the wheel of the Ligier, team in which he had already played in 1980: despite another 60 laps completed on the track of Dijon, and with times not far from those recorded by René Arnoux, to definitively break the hypothesis of a return to the circus is precisely the person concerned: prey to pain in the legs, unable to withstand the efforts and solicitations of a single-seater, Pironi definitively abandoned the idea of returning to the track at the wheel of an F1, also due to a lack of attractive offers for 1987.
However, the will to question itself in a motoring category remain intact. The idea of relaunching in another series comes thanks to the French’s passion for i motorboats: already during his activity in F1, the former driver of the Red number 28 was activated for the import of some hulls produced in Italy by Tullio Abbate. Unable to continue his career in the circus, Pironi completely dedicates himself to his love for the sea, founding the team in Saint Tropez Euronatique Leader. The team, initially participating in the 1986 offshore European championship, will have the opportunity to make the great leap in quality for that 1987, initially marked by the return to F1: thanks to the creation of the Hummingbird, entirely made of kevlar and carbon fiber, the newborn team manages to register for the world championship, with the hope of becoming champion at the first attempt.
To make this dream more concrete, Pironi hires two other compatriots pilots, with whom he forms the official crew: Bernard Giroux and Jean Claude Guenard. In the first tests the superiority of the very light Colibrì emerges, which begins to lay the foundations for the title victory. Exactly as it happened in 1982, Pironi is at the head of the world championship on the eve of the stage scheduled off the Isle of Wright, in England. However, in the course of a head to head with the direct rival “Pinot di Pinot”, in front of them another boat raises a wave that Pironi and his companions cannot avoid. Also in this case, in a circumstance as similar as unfortunate as that which occurred in Germany five years earlier, the motorboat takes off at over 150 km / h, falling ruinously to the surface of the sea. The impact, this time, leaves no way out for all the pilots, who lose their lives in that dramatic accident.
On August 23, 1987, the tormented life of Didier Pironi tragically ends in a British afternoon, without ever realizing his desire for international affirmation that had pushed him to compete at the highest levels. A few months after his death, the wife of the unfortunate Frenchman gave birth to twins, who will be renamed Didier and Gilles in honor of teammate Villeneuve, with whom there was a conflict at the end of the 1982 San Marino GP. put an end to their friendship.
FP | Alessandro Prada
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