A Stab in The Back?

klemcoll, Ferrari, Gilles Villeneuve, Imola

It was an infamous race. The San Marino Grand Prix was held at the Autodromo Dino Ferrari (as it was then called) at Imola on April 25, 1982. In this photograph are the two Ferrari 126C2 1.5 liter V6 turbo cars driven by Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi. They would occupy the first two positions at the finish but in reverse order.

This race was controversial even before practice started. The controversy was between the regulator of Formula One the Fédération Internationale du Sport Automobile (FISA, a part of the FIA) and the Formula One Constructors’ Association (FOCA) in what became known as the FISA-FOCA War. This political divide was about who ran Formula One, FISA led by Jean-Marie Balestre or the F1 car manufacturers in FOCA, led even then by Bernie Ecclestone the owner of the Brabham team. This being F1, the arguments were primarily about money and its distribution to the teams and then also about the enforcement of regulations which the independent British teams viewed as being dependent on the identity of the transgressor. As a result, a number of the smaller teams announced a boycott of the Imola race, but FISA and financial pressures forced some of these teams to participate.

However, the small field of 14 cars meant that Renault and Ferrari would be the only really competitive entries and so it was with the Renault RE30Bs of René Arnoux and Alain Prost qualifying fastest followed by the Ferraris of Villeneuve and Pironi. Renault had some potential worries as both their cars blew engines in the initial practice on Friday, while Pironi also had cause for concern when he essentially destroyed his 126C2 against a guard rail.

At the start Arnoux was quickly in front as Prost ran fourth behind the two Ferraris before retiring on the fourth lap with loss of power. Arnoux, Villeneuve and Pironi continued in close company with the lead shifting back and forth. Shortly after half distance Arnoux’s RE30B blew up on the front straight thus leaving the race to be a Ferrari benefit.

Although given the slow sign to preserve their cars to the end, Pironi did not take that Gilles Villeneuve, Imola, klemcoll, Ferrarias a form of team orders and attacked his teammate’s position more than once in the final laps. With Villeneuve leading, Pironi dove past Villeneuve into the Tosa hairpin on the final lap and held on to win. Villeneuve was beside himself at what he considered a total lack of sportsmanship by Pironi, as he shows here on the podium. Villeneuve said he would never speak with Pironi again. His fatal accident in qualifying at Zolder in Belgium two weeks later was probably partially caused by his absolute need to outqualify Pironi.

Photos by Nigel Snowdon ©The Klemantaski Collection – http://www.klemcoll.com

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