Into the blue - Ligier

After two years of ups and downs with the Tyrrell Team Didier was spoilt for choice between offers of Team Lotus, Brabham and Ligier.
Although the offers of the British teams were much better Didier decided to join the Ligier team at the end of October 1979 - as a number two after Jacques Laffite who became fourth in the 1979 championship.

"I simply feel better in a French team" he said. He was highly motivated. Jacques Laffite was convinced : "Didier surely is as fast as Depailler, so I'll have to try hard to beat him."

And that's what he did at Buenos Aires, Argentina, although Didier was only 2 tenths of a second slower than Laffite meaning a third place on the grid. But Didier wasn't even able to finish the first lap - engine failure. The same happened to Laffite on lap 30.

Then to Brazil, starting-place two, first time on the front row, the team-mate clearly beaten but already on the fourth lap Didier had to come into the pits, because the mounting of a rear stabilizer was loose. The repair threw him back to 21st place but Didier impressively battled his way through again and finally reached a fourth place. At Kyalami Didier once again stood behind Laffite, even overslept the start, but was able to fight his way back to the front again and to finally accomplish his first place on the podium for Les Bleus. Behind Arnoux and - Laffite.

Then came Zolder, fifth round of the championship. Already the qualifying had been dramatic. Didier permanently alternated with Piquet and Jones at the position of the provisional pole-sitter. At last Jones won, with Didier in second and Laffite in third. Anyway, at the start Didier didn't give any chance to Jones and then pulled away irresistibly. No other driver, neither the Renaults nor team-mate Laffite had the slightest chance to go
at the same speed. In the end Didier was nearly 50 seconds ahead of Jones, nearly one and a half minutes ahead of Reutemann who came in third.

"If you win" he declared after the race " it's normally easy, you know. Today it was really easy. I've surely had the best car and that's the most important thing."

At Monaco he accomplished his first pole-position and so Jones tried to hunt and force him to make a mistake. But he overtaxed his car and dropped out of the race. So Didier was leading when the third gear jumped out once more and Didier lost control over the Ligier for a second. He slightly touched the crash-barrier and damaged a rim.

It was also a rim that prevented him from winning the Spanish GP at Jarama. The race went down in history as the pirate-race because after weeks of dispute between FISA and FOCA Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo didn't compete. Didier had huge problems with brake pressure already early in the race and so he wasn't able to follow Piquet's Brabham. Then Piquet retired, so while leading the race now he realized that his right front-wheel began to wobble, at 260 km/h on the finishing straight. He tried to reach the pits but then the wheel went off on its own. The rim had broken. Afterwards it was decided to disallow the Spanish Grand Prix.

Before the French Grand Prix at Le Castellet a sensation was announced. French car manufacturer Talbot, who had announced that they wanted to take part in Formula One already in late 1979 would take over the Ligier Team from 1981 on. The Ligiers would no longer be named Ligier but Talbot. The engine would be a revised version of the famous but unsuccessful Matra-V12 that had been mothballed at the end of the 1978 season.

From 1982 on Talbot planned to get a turbo-engine ready. It was also settled to turn away from Good Year tyres because the PSA-combine that Talbot belonged to was also a shareholder of Michelin. The team planned to carry on with the current pilots, Pironi and Laffite.

These two also dominated the race at the Circuit Paul Ricard but due to tyre problems they had to be content with the second (Didier) and third (Laffite) place and had to leave the victory to Jones who began to pull ahead in the championship.

GP England, Brands Hatch, pole for Didier, Laffite next to him.
They celebrated the pole position and Guy Ligier's 50th birthday but the Ligier Team had started to develop a serious problem. The team-mates chased each other, had more and more tyre problems and Jones or Piquet came off best from this matter.

In England, for example, when Didier quickened the pace enormously and thus had to come into the pits to change wheels already on lap 19 while Laffite crashed into a crash-barrier due to a burst tyre.

Finally on lap 64 Didier had to give up as well. At this time he was third in the championship with 14 points behind Jones, eight behind Piquet. After the race Guy Ligier proclaimed that Laffite and Pironi would drive for the Talbot-Ligier team in 1981 as well.
At the German Grand Prix Didier qualified 7th but already on the 19th lap a drive shaft of the Ligier broke. At that time Didier held a fifth place behind team-mate Jacques Laffite who later won the race.

With this win Laffite also managed to get ahead of Didier in the season’s rankings.

At Zeltweg, Austria, a defective shock-absorber forced him to give up. Once again not a single point. Meanwhile the gossip factory had begun to work. Didier wouldn't change the team, they said, nevertheless he was courted by Ferrari and Renault. Also Alain Prost was connected with the place next to Villeneuve but he was supposed to be bound to Marlboro.
At Zandvoort Didier had a bad qualifying session, only 15th place, even behind Hector Rebaque. And already on lap three he got rammed by Elio de Angelis’ Lotus who spun after an unsuccessful attempt to overtake Patrese. A weekend to forget, moreover Didier felt to be at a disadvantage, "the whole team looks only after Laffite..."

This was probably not the only reason for announcing that Didier would drive for Ferrari in 1981 at Imola. Ligier had made a generous offer but "at Ferrari I have a turbo engine for the next season, at Ligier I'd have had to wait twelve months." Even then there were many people who asked if it was a good idea to put Villeneuve and Pironi into one team.

Anyway the Ligiers had lost track, a meagre sixth place at the Italian Grand Prix was the only countable result. The championship had developed into a duel between Jones and Piquet that the Williams driver decided in his favour at the penultimate round at Kanada. Didier was first at the finish line but the race organization gave him a penalty minute for jumping the start , so he finally accomplished place three.

At the same time it became known that Ferrari had an option on Didier since March, 6th. Enzo Ferrari had been deeply impressed by Didier's performance at Brazil that he watched on TV and he's quoted "I want Pironi." Nevertheless Didier earned much less at Ferrari than at Ligier.

At the last round of the season at Watkins Glen Didier accomplished another third place that lifted him up to fifth place in the final list of rankings.
Mail : info@didierpironi.net