In the beginning - Formula Renault and Renault Europe

Didier's cousin and half-brother, the late José Dolhem was eight years older him. He attended the famous Winfield Racing School at the then named Circuit Paul Ricard at Le Castellet in the South of France,
where he won the Volant Shell award in 1969. It was after watching him race on several occasions that Didier announced that he too wanted to become a racing driver. This came as a great disappointment to his family as it was assumed that he would go into the family business. They even insisted that he do two years of study before deciding on anything else.

By all accounts Didier would have made an excellent businessman. He was very well spoken, highly intelligent and extremely well educated. Personal traits that would be very beneficial later on in his motor racing career. At an early age Didier was into everything, at 15 years old he was doing wheelies on motorbikes in the streets of Paris with his friend Jean-Pierre Jarier as a spectator. Little did they know that a few years later they would be team mates in a Formula One Team! However, it was no good, Didier wanted to race.

After being the dutiful son and studying engineering as per his parents' wishes, he eventually managed to talk his them into financing his racing venture.

Like all good French racing drivers, at 18 years of age, Didier also attended the Winfield racing school, along with the likes Jacques Lafitte, Rene Arnoux, Alain Prost and Jean Pierre Jarier (who was later thrown out for being too boisterous !).

He always turned up in his powerful blue Ford Capri 2600 RS. "With this car I can appease my need for speed on the road at least a bit.". Here he won the Pilote Elf competition in 1972 and so took the first steps to satisfy his need for speed on circuits from then on.

Didier was a great analyser, he was often accused of being dour and calculating, but he was in fact just highly motivated, he took everything on board and learnt a great deal in his first year. He was very quietly spoken, never raised his voice and spoke only if it was totally necessary, often very slowly, as if to make sure he structured every sentence correctly.

He often communicated by looks only which if you knew him appeared to be no problem however if you didn’t it was often taken as arrogance. Didier grew tulips and studied astronomy in an attempt to understand his life and where it was going. He never complained, just worked very hard on improving himself, he wanted to be the best of the best. He felt there was no point taking part in anything unless he was the best at it, and he worked extremely hard and was totally focused on achieving his objectives.

In 1973, with Elf backing Didier contested the National Championship, but was plagued with bad engines and ended up 6th in the championship.

In 1974, disillusioned with the package he was driving the previous year, he felt he could do better himself
so he asked Elf if he could enter next years championship with his own team. They agreed to this and with a change of engine tuner, Didier won the championship with his team mate Richard Dallest coming 4th. However this was not enough for Didier, he had set his sights much higher, and he now wanted to be the first ever French Formula 1 World Champion. Nothing else mattered, this was his dream and he was going to do all he could to achieve his ambition. He was not well liked at the circuits. Many considered him spoilt, many people reckoned that his family gave him money to go racing. He would sometimes turn up at circuits in a Mercedes 450 SE. He could see no problem in this what so ever, he enjoyed good fast cars, why should he not own one? He just did not understand, anyway, it was everybody else's problem not his.

In 1975 he moved to Formula Renault Europe and once again Elf provided the backing and Martini the chassis. Unfortunately once again Didier was beset with engine problems and only finished half of the 17 races leaving him 3rd in the championship which was not good enough for the move into Formula 2. This meant that he had to stay another year with Formula Renault. Didier was highly motivated although having to "repeat the class" and he himself put a lot of energy into the improvement of the Martini Mk.18 car. For example this resulted in a very effective rear wing that was presented at Zolder leading Didier to his then third consecutive win of the season, lapping up to one second faster than the rest of the grid and finishing 15 seconds ahead of Danny Snobeck.

Didier Pironi, Alain Cudini and Dany Snobeck, were the trio that with few exceptions shared the podium at the end of European Formula Renault races that year. Pironi was usually the fastest, luckiest and thus the most successful of all of them.

Jackie Stewart once claimed that a champion needs excellent material, excellent qualities as a driver and - luck. This was to be proved at Monaco where Didier spun at St Devote damaging the rear suspension in a practice session but afterwards claimed pole. He started the race perfectly leaving Snobeck, Cudini and Saulnier way behind and extending the lead to up to more than five seconds when a water hose on the Boyer car of driver/constructor Marc Boyer burst leaving a huge puddle of water at La Rascasse. No flags were shown so all the drivers were completely surprised when the puddle suddenly appeared in front of them with Didier being the first to encounter it. With a mixture of driving skills and probably even more luck he slid through and avoided a spin. Second placed Alain Cudini on the other hand was not that lucky. He spun his Lola and rejoined the race in sixth position and although he finally managed to come home fifth after having overtaken Sarazin he had to accept that he was out of the race for the title. Didier's lead had grown to nine seconds on Snobeck.

However, Pironi's Martini began to develop a problem. The engine didn't run at full revs due to a sticky accelerator. Snobeck edged closer but in the end he was still four seconds behind the very lucky Pironi who won the race.

At the end of the season Didier was rewarded with 12 wins from 16 races and the championship. He was now on his way to Formula 2.
Mail : info@didierpironi.net