The Tyrrell Years
November 1977 the Elf-Tyrrell Team announced that Didier Pironi
would become Patrick Depailler's teammate for the 1978 season.
Ken Tyrrell had already been a member of the 'Pilote Elf' jury in
1972 when Didier won the famous trophy.
Didier's victory at
Monaco Formula 3 Grand Prix as well as his third place in the
European- Formula 2 Championship (behind René Arnoux and
Eddie Cheever) finally convinced him to put Didier into Formula
After two years using the spectacular P34 six-wheeler the
Tyrrell Team returned to a more conventional construction, the
Tyrrell-Ford 008. The media had expected a turbo-charged engine,
six or even eight wheels but the only sophisticated thing about
the 008 were the electronical measuring instruments of American
Karl Kempf, a kind of predecessor of today's telemetry.
The season surely didn't start the way Didier had hoped. While he
qualified 23rd, Depailler started from tenth and even managed to
get onto the rostrum with Andretti and Lauda. Didier came home
14th. But already in the next race in Brazil he scored his first
championship point with a sixth place.
Next station of the
championship was Kyalami, South-Africa, and Didier drove another
inconspicuous race bringing home another point. Moreover he had
managed to nearly close the gap between him and his experienced
teammate. However, the Tyrrells had problems. They weren't
nearly as good as they had hoped at the beginning of the season.
A permanent change between oversteer and understeer made the 008
a difficult car to drive but still a reliable one.
at Monaco, the first victory for Depailler and an excellent fifth
place for Didier followed, having fought and finally won a
long-lasting duel with Arrows driver Riccardo Patrese. Especially
this Grand Prix made obvious that Depailler clearly was the
number-one-driver - in the beginning Didier wasn't qualified but
he reached a conciliatory 13th place on the grid after he had
been allowed to use Depailler's special qualifying tyres.
Normally this was forbidden by tyre manufacturer Good Year but
nobody was able to prevent the teams from 'confounding' the tyres
in the heat of the moment. Apart from a collision with Riccardo
Patrese the rest of the season proceeded rather unspectacularly.
At Monza he was able to win the qualifying duel against Patrick
Depailler for the first time but he couldn't take advantage of
the better place on the grid. At the start there was a mass
collision, probably triggered once again by Riccardo Patrese,
that the Tyrrell twins fell also victim to. Much more serious was
that Swedish Lotus driver Ronnie Peterson lost his life in this
accident while Vittorio Brambilla was badly injured. At the
restart Didier had to cede the t-car to his teammate.
Altogether Didier collected seven points in the 1978 season. If he didn't
reach the finish line, it was due to technical problems or to
other drivers e.g. Patrese.
In the meantime the drivers' carousel for 1979 had begun to turn.
Elio de Angelis had already been announced as a Tyrrell driver,
Didier was connected with
Renault and Jean-Pierre Jarier was supposed to join Team Lotus as
a substitute for the late Ronnie Peterson. It was even published
that Renault had already bought Didier Pironi out of his Tyrrell
contract but in the end he had to stay with Tyrrell while Renault
hired his old rival René Arnoux. Didier's comment on this
and his analysis of the last season:
Ken (Tyrrell) didn't come to terms on the transfer fee. So Ken
insisted on the fulfilment of my two-year-contract. But this is
not the end of the world. Neither my nor Renault's career has
come to an end yet. I went through a real apprenticeship this
year. Still I'm not totally satisfied. The Tyrrell 008 was a
misconstruction but in some races I could have accomplished more.
I have made some mistakes but they may be put down to my youth."
After a long to and fro it was announced in december 1978 that the new
number one at Tyrrell would be Jean-Pierre Jarier. Indeed both
drivers were supposed to have equal rights but Ken Tyrrell's
statement "If Jean-Pierre sets great store by the denotation
'number one' than he may have it..." meant more than he was
willing to admit. The Tyrrell Team had a problem, the main
sponsor, the 'First National City Bank', had taken leave of
Formula One and so far the team hadn't been successful to get
hold of a substitute. The car for the new season, the
Tyrrell-Ford 009, was probably the best copy of the Lotus 79, the
victorious car of the 1978 season but nevertheless nobody
expected much from the team and the season began even worse.
While qualifying for the Argentinian Grand Prix Jarier lost his
rear wing and sailed off the track, in the race Didier was
involved in a mass collision that was started by Jody Scheckter
and John Watson.
For lack of a t-car Didier was degraded to a
spectator. But already at Interlagos the situation was turned
upside down. A fourth place for Didier, his best result so far in
a Formula One race.
As if it had been too much of a good
thing his enthusiasm was damped at Kyalami. With only ten minutes
to go in the final qualifying session the right rear wheel broke
off the Tyrrell No. 3 in a 200+ km/h left turn. The car crashed
against a rampart and was totally destroyed. Didier was able to
free himself but then suffered a shock and had to lay down in the
grass. Hans-Joachim Stuck who had stopped to help him said "He
climbed out of the wreck like a phoenix from the ashes."
Nevertheless he fought through his race until he retired due
to a broken throttle linkage. Long Beach was another low when an
over-zealous Jan Lammers kicked him out. In the meantime Ken
Tyrrell had finally got rid of his financial problems - Italian
company CANDY, a manufacturer of domestic articles paid three
million dollars for a two-year-contract. Strengthened by this
Didier was able to gain his first ever place on the podium at
Zolder, he reached a third place behind Scheckter and Laffite.
Totally different was what happened at Monaco. Didier
qualified seventh, a good starting-point, and he drove like
unleashed, sadly without a good end. First he touched Laffite's
Ligier, than the one of Depailler and on the 20th lap he finally
tried to overtake Lauda at Mirabeau. But he had miscalculated,
crashed into the Brabham and at last he found himself in the
crash - barriers. And the next moment of shock wasn't long in
While qualifying for the French Grand Prix at Dijon -
Prenois a wheel broke off once again, this time at 230 km/h. The
car was torn into two pieces. Once more Didier escaped from the
wreck unhurt. In the race he was stopped by a broken suspension.
At the German Grand Prix Didier surprisingly got a new teammate,
young Englishman Geoff Lees. Regular driver Jarier suffered from
a viral disease. In the meantime rumours occurred that Didier
would drive for Ligier the following season, he was also supposed
to be under discussion at Lotus.
For the next race the
number 4 Tyrrell was occupied with another driver, Derek Daly
from Ireland. Although Jarier felt healthy Tyrrell preferred
Daly. He made his job well and accomplished an eighth place
behind Didier. At Zandvoort Didier lost a secure third place,
once again due to a broken suspension. The reliability of the
past season was gone. Two more points followed at Montreal and
the season ended with a spectacular incident at Watkins Glen.
Jarier and Daly who drove a third Tyrrell collided. Didier on the
other hand gained a third place and that was it with Didier
Pironi's years at Tyrrell.
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