Into the blue - Ligier
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
"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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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