The Tyrrell Years

In 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 1.

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.

Nevertheless, 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:

"Renault and 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 coming.
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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