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#1 Dunc

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Posted 30 July 2020 - 15:02

I've been reading David Sedgwick's book about him and have found it a really good read, with a very tragic ending - fighting back from injury then dying and leaving pregnant partner and stepchild behind. 

 

Like most people who weren't around at the time, i had only heard about him in negative terms before, essentially people blaming him for Gilles Villeneuve's death. Sedgwick says his book is an attempt to paint a more favourable picture, which he does.

 

The book is a bit of a polemic though and it doesn't really address why he got such a bad reputation, can any of the TNFers enlighten?



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#2 guiporsche

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Posted 30 July 2020 - 16:50

I won't comment on Pironi but rather on the book you refer to. Regardless of how one views Didier Pironi, in my humble opinion the book is under-researched (to be polite) & hagiographic (to be blunt). When you have read a little about early 1980s Ferrari, it's hard not to be angry about all the fact-twisting and carefully, biased selection of third-rate sources (take a look at the book's footnotes). I know it might be shocking, but it's not because one finds that 'x' said 'y' that it is automatically true: who that 'x' was and what kind of access he/she had with the issue at question matters. It's something one learns in the first year of any undergraduate course in History, but then, it seems the author is known for publishing books denouncing the BBC for spreading 'cultural marxism'...

 

One big example: the book's argument that after Imola 82 everything was well and nice at Ferrari and that at Zolder Villeneuve was at peace with what had happened the previous race. I remember that one of the footnotes supporting such claim consisted of an interview with an unamed Ferrari workers at the gates of the factory or something of the sort published in the Italian press (so it appears in the book...).

Meanwhile you have testimonies (published before that book had appeared in Forghieri's bio or the Mehes book on Gilles, per instance) from Mauro Forghieri, Antonio Tomaini (Gilles' race enginner), Tommaso Carletti (Pironi's race engineer) stating the exact opposite. You have Alain Prost who in the Folley book (Prost vs Senna, 2009!) tells the story of Gilles calling him in the week after Imola angry as hell (and some interesting reflections on Pironi's lifestyle and disregard of danger). Furthermore, you can very easily find on youtube TV interviews from RAI with key Italian journalists (as well as Piccinini & Gilles' wife) telling you a very different story, not to say of a 'recent' number from AISA (https://www.aisastor.../monografia-99/) on the same vein.

I doubt, however, that the author actually reads and understands Italian (or anything other than English for that matter).

 

So far, the best balanced portraits that I have read on Pironi are Martine Camus' biography published only in French by Ed. du Palmier, which although very classic (on the 'and then they went to Monza' style) puts in several revealing testimonies; and Mark Hughes articles for Motorsport (which you can find on their archive). They tell the story of a man who although not as gifted and fast as Gilles' was not that far behind and was professionally determined to pull in all factors towards becoming a WDC, including shifting the intra-politics of Ferrari towards his own benefit. Gilles' death triggered an anti-Pironi reaction, which has since been tempered by the (in hindsight) assumption that he was simply being professional and trying to do what racers are supposed to do: win. One constant that always comes to the forefront, though, is that in his obsession with speed the man courted danger uncessarily & too often (see Prost's comments on the Folley book).



#3 William Hunt

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Posted 30 July 2020 - 23:22

The book was indeed an enjoyable read but I consider it a 'fan book' and not written very objectively. I do however not recommend his other, non F1, books.

#4 E1pix

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 03:38

Though with some bias — see avatar — I do know that one of the two Ferrari drivers in question was a man of his word in the highest terms, at a level we see fading today.

I also know that people of highest character tend to be much angrier when slighted directly in the face of their honor.

Hence I must say in this case that no work in print can ever convince me otherwise, nor can it ever make me interested in reading about the lesser man.

#5 john aston

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 06:06

The only good thing about the Pironi book was that it was written at all - its subject merited a biography , and I think a counterbalance to the Saint Gilles school of journalism was overdue

 

But , against strong competition , it is by far the worst written motorsport themed book I've read this century. To term it a hagiography is to imbue it with an objectivity it doesn't merit . and some of the prose borders on the homo- erotic. Awful . 



#6 Michael Ferner

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 06:54

"Saint Gilles school of journalism", very well said! Count me in when it comes to questioning the widespread hagiographical characterisations of Villeneuve senior ("a man of his word in the highest terms" - oh, c'mon! I have a very different view of the man), which almost automatically entails a lot of unfair criticism heaved itno Pironi's lap, but I haven't read the book, and based on what's been written about it I won't do so in the future. Yet, if it helps offset the one-dimensional "popular history" ("... people blaming him for Gilles Villeneuve's death" - oh my!) then it's all good, I suppose. Sometimes, BS won't go away until it's countered with BS.



#7 Dunc

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 11:14

The book was a bit of an impulse purchase caused by the excitement of being in a bookshop for the first time in months post-lockdown, I also came out with a copy of Superforecasting just because it had been in the news a few days before thanks to Dominic Cummings. It is very much a polemic and a 'fan book' but I do feel that it is quite explicitly stated in the introduction that that is the case so I do not have a huge problem with that. I agree on his other books, at least from the blurbs I have read.

 

My reason for reading was more wanting to read about DP from a perspective that was not trying to blame him for the death of GV, which seems to be a pretty common feature of almost everything else I have ever read about him. At the end of the day, GV was 32 when he had his crash, old enough to know he is responsible for his actions. My reason for starting this thread is just to find out more about where the DP blame came from. I have heard it said Nigel Roebuck was one of the chief blamers, is there any truth to that?


Edited by Dunc, 31 July 2020 - 13:59.


#8 Vitesse2

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 11:20

I don't think it's a secret that Roebuck was one of Gilles' biggest fans and has written not a few articles about him ...



#9 jcbc3

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 11:25

11 seconds!!!!!



#10 Sterzo

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 12:24

...My reason for starting this thread is just to find out more about where the DP blame came from. I have heard it said Nigel Roebuck was one of the chief blamers, is there any truth to that?

Isn't it just the world's love of sensationalist cliché over reasoned perspective? Most of us are susceptible from time to time, including the best journalists. A mere moment's thought tells us there have been endless examples of a driver being disgruntled with a team mate, and it's ridiculous and almost obscene to suggest a top driver dies as a direct result. It's even sillier when you remember Villeneuve is revered for driving always on the ragged edge, whatever the circumstances.

 

It's an echo of that fifties nonsense about Musso and Castellotti dying because they were overdriving for the glory of being top Italian, rather than just having a fatal accident like other nationalities did.



#11 jtremlett

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 12:35

I've never seen Nigel Roebuck or anyone else explicitly blame Pironi for Villeneuve's death.  Nor should they because he clearly wasn't to blame.  That's not the same as the issue of Imola however.

 

Personally, I quite liked the book.  Some of the writing was a bit annoying.  The "fan" perspective didn't bother me too much and I agree with Dunc above that it was stated right at the beginning that it would be the case.  Regardless of the author's perspective, I have read enough and seen enough to form my own opinions.  I get fed up with driver biographies that I could have written myself from a set of race results.  This book was not that and told me things I didn't know so I could put up with some of the faults.  Oh and I didn't read any homo-eroticism into it anywhere but perhaps I need to get out more!!



#12 jcbc3

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 12:44

Donaldson made the Villeneuve hagiography. So this is just balance.



#13 Tim Murray

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 14:28

Has anyone read the Lorie Coffey/Jan Möller biography? Is it any good?

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#14 jtremlett

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Posted 31 July 2020 - 18:55

Has anyone read the Lorie Coffey/Jan Möller biography? Is it any good?

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Yes I have but not for a long time.  I didn't think it was very good at the time.



#15 Collombin

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 00:00

I've never seen Nigel Roebuck or anyone else explicitly blame Pironi for Villeneuve's death


Roebuck stated that just prior to the start of the Canadian GP, as Pironi was on the PA saying that he was dedicating his pole to Gilles because "if he had been here he would have been on pole", the driver he was talking to said "if it hadn't been for you, he would be here". Roebuck named that driver and I remember who he said it was, but as I can't find the actual quote I won't name him.

#16 E1pix

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 01:43

I’m not sure any of us knows where the exact line is between blame and circumstances, but when the latter plays a definite part in causing the former it is often deserved.

#17 john aston

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 06:34

At Imola GV was the 'victim ' of a breach of team orders - compliance with which is often criticised (Barrichello 2002 anybody ? ) . Drivers who follow  them can be praised - GV in 79 season was exemplary - but our view of breach or compliance varies according to subjective stuff relating to how much we like the drivers involved. And it was as easy to love GV's press on , maximum attack persona as it was to dislike Pironi's more reserved , borderline haughty style .

 

Roebuck always got terribly moist about GV - which is fine , we all love some passion in reportage . But what wasn't fine at all was the fact that he , and many others, convinced themselves that despite  the causation being crystal clear , and the fact that DP wasn't even involved in the incident , he was somehow  to blame. If a driver is still in red mist mode over two weeks after the incident which gave rise to it he is not only putting himself in danger .

 

Can you imagine a Lauda or Prost allowing their judgment to be so skewed ? If , indeed it was -my view was that it was simply one of those things   .   



#18 Nemo1965

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 08:33

At Imola GV was the 'victim ' of a breach of team orders - compliance with which is often criticised (Barrichello 2002 anybody ? ) . Drivers who follow  them can be praised - GV in 79 season was exemplary - but our view of breach or compliance varies according to subjective stuff relating to how much we like the drivers involved. And it was as easy to love GV's press on , maximum attack persona as it was to dislike Pironi's more reserved , borderline haughty style .

 

Roebuck always got terribly moist about GV - which is fine , we all love some passion in reportage . But what wasn't fine at all was the fact that he , and many others, convinced themselves that despite  the causation being crystal clear , and the fact that DP wasn't even involved in the incident , he was somehow  to blame. If a driver is still in red mist mode over two weeks after the incident which gave rise to it he is not only putting himself in danger .

 

Can you imagine a Lauda or Prost allowing their judgment to be so skewed ? If , indeed it was -my view was that it was simply one of those things   .   

 

To add something to that, I recently discovered a quite surprising quote about Villeneuve from Keke Rosberg, who was a big Gilles-fan and often named as a driver in the Villeneuve-mold. I re-read Gilles Villeneuve: the Life of the Legendary Racing driver and stumbled on a quote I had overseen. And it sheds some light on how Villeneuve largely made his own fate. From the book (which took it again from Keke's autobiography): 'Gilles was a hell of a racing driver and I have very fond memories of him,' admits Rosberg,, but he tempers his admiration with a critical assessment of Gilles's attitude (...) 'Gilles took all his races personally. It was as though he had his own personal barrier he wanted to break through. He would shunt one car and five minutes later he'd be out in his spare shunting that. I'm amazed when people think I drove like that. (...) Maybe my limit was a bit hinger than some people's. Gilles was probably too high. (...) Racing with him in (Formula, JI) Atlantic I was just taking what I got. Back then I might have taken the same risks. But in my book, not in Formula One. I don't driving like that has any place there. The machines are too quick, too dangerous for that kind of driving.' And Rosberg agrees with those of his peers who censured Villeneuve and Arnoux for their controversial no-holds barred (...) battle in the 1979 French Grand Prix.'

 

Even if Didier pulled a dirty trick in Imola, he was not responsible for Gilles' accident in Zolder. IMHO, dead drivers are much too often evangelised. (Including Gilles and another favourite of mine, Mark Donohue.)


Edited by Nemo1965, 01 August 2020 - 08:34.


#19 Sterzo

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 09:21

I’m not sure any of us knows where the exact line is between blame and circumstances, but when the latter plays a definite part in causing the former it is often deserved.

There's the concept of "foreseeability" isn't there? Should Pironi have foreseen that by not giving up the Imola win, Villeneuve would die? I think not.

 

Villeneuve himself could be pretty rough with other drivers, pushing the boundaries of acceptablility, and the image of inscrutable honesty is rather undermined by his personal life. I have no wish to knock Villeneuve; a great driver and (by all accounts) a great bloke. There's nothing to knock. But he was a human being, so was Pironi. There's a point at which mythology does a disservice to the original, real people.



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#20 68targa

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 10:30

The fact that GV had his accident at a race following one where his team-mate broke some trust between them is really irrelevent but fed into tabloid sensationism. If his accident happened six races later Pironi's name would not be mentioned.  It is apparent that GV was angry about the Imloa situation but he was such a hard racer that I don't believe he tried any harder or drove and faster at Zolder just because he was angry with Pironi.  He was doing what he always did and that is drive on the limit. 

 

The real culprit in the accident, in my mind, was the regulations that encouraged eleven tenths driving every lap of practice. It was a nature of the cars at that time. All accidents are a set of cicumstances and in this case GV seems to have moved to the wrong side of Jochen Mass at that particular part of the track when Mass was on a cooling down lap and GV was 'on it'.   Pironi had nothing to do with it but because he appears to be aloof, shy, arrogant - call it what you will - he was an easy target.



#21 jcbc3

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 11:26

I just remember that no one at the time was surprised that GV ended up in a massive accident that claimed his life.

 

I was at a kart race (out of town, so camping and no tv) when it happened and we only got word late afternoon/early evening. There was a collective shrug of shoulders.



#22 moreland

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 19:59

Roebuck stated that just prior to the start of the Canadian GP, as Pironi was on the PA saying that he was dedicating his pole to Gilles because "if he had been here he would have been on pole", the driver he was talking to said "if it hadn't been for you, he would be here". Roebuck named that driver and I remember who he said it was, but as I can't find the actual quote I won't name him.

If I remember rightly, it was Keke Rosberg who apparently said that and that Nigel Roebuck's take was something like 'it summed up what a lot of people were thinking, although it was obviously completely unfair'. Roebuck was a big Villeneuve fan but not, I think, to the point of thinking Pironi was actually to blame for his death.

 

I've read Gerald Donaldson's book and I really don't think it is a hagiography. I too was familiar with the "Saint Gilles" characterisation of him before reading the book and I have to say that the book is quite warts and all. It discusses his lack of involvement in raising his children, his marriage problems in a way that is not very sympathetic to Gilles, his lack of business and financial sense, for example.

 

The fact that GV had his accident at a race following one where his team-mate broke some trust between them is really irrelevent but fed into tabloid sensationism. If his accident happened six races later Pironi's name would not be mentioned.  It is apparent that GV was angry about the Imloa situation but he was such a hard racer that I don't believe he tried any harder or drove and faster at Zolder just because he was angry with Pironi.  He was doing what he always did and that is drive on the limit. 

 

The real culprit in the accident, in my mind, was the regulations that encouraged eleven tenths driving every lap of practice. It was a nature of the cars at that time. All accidents are a set of cicumstances and in this case GV seems to have moved to the wrong side of Jochen Mass at that particular part of the track when Mass was on a cooling down lap and GV was 'on it'.   Pironi had nothing to do with it but because he appears to be aloof, shy, arrogant - call it what you will - he was an easy target.

The qualifying rules were dangerous then, it's true (this is discussed in GD's book) but I've just checked and, again according to GD's book, Villeneuve had already done three flat-out laps on the tyres and that there was no more pace in them. He had been instructed to come back into the pits as he started his final ever lap. It's just about possible he was still trying to beat his previous time, but it seems more like it was Villeneuve taking crazy risks as always. Of course it's tragic that his life ended that way, but having read the book and read about his various antics on public roads, at least he had an accident that only killed himself rather than other people who were unlucky enough to be driving at the same time and same place as him :well:


Edited by moreland, 01 August 2020 - 19:59.


#23 sstiel

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 20:10

One of Didier's children, Gilles works as a Digital Mock-Up Design Engineer for Mercedes F1.  



#24 D-Type

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 21:29

My take:  Pironi's Imola action led to Villeneuve's state of mind during qualifying as Zolder; Villeneuve's state of mind in turn led to his final attempt to regain pole



#25 sstiel

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 21:42

Another factor was Pironi had gone well at the circuit before. Victory in 1980 and had outqualified Villeneuve in 1981.



#26 Thundersports

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 23:14

I've got that book and it confirmed to me what i'd always thought that Pironi was a Bellend. I'm no fan of either GV to clarify. Pironi was the classic spoilt French Brat of the 70s getting away with some pretty stupid self inflicted incidents. 



#27 D28

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 23:41

My take:  Pironi's Imola action led to Villeneuve's state of mind during qualifying as Zolder; Villeneuve's state of mind in turn led to his final attempt to regain pole

 

I am confused here, much of what I remember from that day 38 years ago has proven to be incorrect. I remember the fight was for pole, yet several sites point  to the Renaults being quicker that day. In his last ditch attempt GV was fighting for about 6th, at least the final times were 1:16.5 and 1:16.6  Pironi vs  GV.  but Prost pole time was 1:15.7 and Arnoux was 1:15.73. So when you say regain pole, did GV have best time ia little while earlier? Or was his all out attack simply to better Pironi?


Edited by D28, 01 August 2020 - 23:47.


#28 Collombin

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Posted 01 August 2020 - 23:48

My take: Pironi's Imola action led to Villeneuve's state of mind during qualifying as Zolder; Villeneuve's state of mind in turn led to his final attempt to regain pole


And I see no contradiction whatsoever between this viewpoint and one that says that Pironi was in no way responsible for Gilles' death.

#29 Rob Ryder

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Posted Yesterday, 18:08

One of Didier's children, Gilles works as a Digital Mock-Up Design Engineer for Mercedes F1.

Gilles Pironi collected the Constructor's Trophy for Mercedes at today's British GP.

#30 jcbc3

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Posted Yesterday, 19:13

Toto read these boards!



#31 D-Type

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Posted Yesterday, 19:41

I am confused here, much of what I remember from that day 38 years ago has proven to be incorrect. I remember the fight was for pole, yet several sites point  to the Renaults being quicker that day. In his last ditch attempt GV was fighting for about 6th, at least the final times were 1:16.5 and 1:16.6  Pironi vs  GV.  but Prost pole time was 1:15.7 and Arnoux was 1:15.73. So when you say regain pole, did GV have best time ia little while earlier? Or was his all out attack simply to better Pironi?

I was posting without checking.  Presumably the last-ditch attempt was to beat Pironi's time rather than to set pole.


Edited by D-Type, Yesterday, 19:47.


#32 D-Type

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Posted Yesterday, 19:47

And I see no contradiction whatsoever between this viewpoint and one that says that Pironi was in no way responsible for Gilles' death.

Cause and responsibility are different things.

Play "What if?".  Had Pironi not "betrayed GV's trust" at Imola, or however you care to term it,would GV have been so deparate to beat his time at Zolder? 



#33 sstiel

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Posted Yesterday, 20:11

Gilles Pironi collected the Constructor's Trophy for Mercedes at today's British GP.

Yes. That was nice to see.



#34 E1pix

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Posted Today, 01:05

Cause and responsibility are different things.
Play "What if?".  Had Pironi not "betrayed GV's trust" at Imola, or however you care to term it,would GV have been so deparate to beat his time at Zolder?

Thanks Duncan, that’s what I was trying to say.

Seems we live in an era that focuses too much on one’s response. No initial action, no response necessary.

#35 PlayboyRacer

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Posted Today, 03:24

Thanks Duncan, that’s what I was trying to say.

Seems we live in an era that focuses too much on one’s response. No initial action, no response necessary.

Well said.

#36 Rediscoveryx

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Posted Today, 04:57

But doesn’t that open the door for an infinite amount of ”if not for X then Gilles would be alive today” type arguments? I’ll try a few just to test my theory:

”If that Belgian GP hadn’t been held at Zolder and instead had been run at Spa, Gilles would still be alive today”.

”If Gilles hadn’t chosen racing driver as his occupation he’d still be alive today”.

”If the Ferrari team management hadn’t allowed Gilles to drive in an emotionally upset frame of mind he’d still be alive today”.

Etc etc.

At the end of the day there are a zillion things that conspired to cause the incident, and it isn’t even obviously true that Imola was one of them. Is there any other point in highlighting Imola (in conjunction to Gilles accident) apart from implying that at least part of the moral culpability should be placed on Pironi?

Edited by Rediscoveryx, Today, 04:58.


#37 Michael Ferner

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Posted Today, 06:44

Makes you wonder how Alan Jones survived the Argentine GP in '81, or Alain Prost at Hockenheim in '82!



#38 F1matt

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Posted Today, 11:05

If the Imola incident hadn't happened who would the Gilles followers have blamed when he was killed at Zolder? 



#39 FLB

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Posted Today, 12:08

If the Imola incident hadn't happened who would the Gilles followers have blamed when he was killed at Zolder? 

Not 'who', but 'what'. So the car.

 

 

The 126C2s had some issues with sticking throttles in testing. With the electronics we would know for sure nowadays, but not in 1982. 


Edited by FLB, Today, 12:09.