Formula 1 Racing

The tale of F1’s most tragic rivalry which makes for compelling viewing

Drawn together as Ferrari team-mates, the differences and similarities between the two are exposed in the documentary

The history of Formula 1 is full of intense rivalries and bitter feuds that have come to define the championship. From the infamous clashes between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, to more recently, the fractious battles of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, grand prix racing certainly isn’t lacking in the drama stakes. 

But perhaps the most tragic rivalry and one which seemed almost bound by fate is that of Ferrari team-mates Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi. Their friendship, the infamous events of the San Marino Grand Prix in 1982 and horrendous sequence of events that followed are the subject of a new documentary from the Noah Media Group and director Torquil Jones. 

It’s a story that’s been well-documented before – how Villeneuve felt Pironi robbed him of victory at Imola, vowing never to speak to him again before the popular French-Canadian was killed just two weeks later at Zolder.  An appalling crash for Pironi at Hockenheim later that year – eerily similar to Villeneuve’s accident – ended his F1 career when on the cusp of the title, before he too was killed during a powerboat race off the Isle of Wight in 1987. 

But even for those who think they know the topic well, the documentary – which has a running time of one hour and 40 minutes – is a must-watch.  

The rise of both drivers to the pinnacle of F1 is covered and is very much narrative driven – Villeneuve the all-out hero, adored by the Tifosi and even considered a second son by Enzo Ferrari himself. It’s a direct contradiction to Pironi’s more methodical approach, the Frenchman portrayed as cold and calculating – essentially taking on the role of the villain to some extent. 

Former F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone suggests he could have become a politician, which given Pironi’s decision to pick then-Ferrari sporting director Marco Piccinini as best man for his wedding just a week before Imola certainly fits this narrative. 

What’s particularly striking is that despite being two very different people, the documentary does a brilliant job of empathising that they are essentially two sides of the same coin. A passion for racing and determination to win was the same in each of them, but they approached it from two very distinctive points of view.  

Drawn together as Ferrari team-mates, the differences and similarities between the two are exposed in the documentary

Photo by: Ercole Colombo

Where the film excels is with archive footage, some of…

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