After years of trundling through the foothills of averageness with uncompetitive teams, Patrick Tambay finally secured his maiden Grand Prix victory while driving for Ferrari at Hockenheim in 1982.
It was a popular win and one that salvaged the Maranello-based team from the depths of despair following Didier Pironi’s career-ending accident during qualifying for the race.
Having set the fastest lap during practice for the 1982 German Grand Prix, Pironi was assured of pole position when Saturday morning’s session took place on a soaking wet track.
Nonetheless, the Ferrari driver ventured out and was circulating rapidly when he hit the rear of Alain Prost’s Renault – hidden in a ball of spray – which sent his car skywards and caused him to suffer terrible injuries in the ensuing accident. An accident he was able to recall with much clarity.
“I touched his rear right tyre and my Ferrari took off,” he told reporters several weeks after the incident. “My car was flying very high. I could see the tops of the trees and I thought, ‘This time, it will be very bad.’
“I was sure I was finished because I was perhaps eight metres high and the speed of the car was always fast. I didn’t feel any pain. I was upset at damaging the car and disappointed that I would have to use my spare. I couldn’t imagine I was broken.”
But ‘broken’ he was for his injuries were severe: two broken breaks across the right shin, almost severing his foot from his leg; left leg broken at the thigh and shin; left arm and nose broken; cuts and bruises around his head.
There was a certain amount of indecision about the starting grid as Ferrari had not officially withdrawn Pironi from the race, so the Frenchman was still classified as being on pole position, despite being attended to in hospital.
Had his entry been withdrawn the entire grid would have moved up one, meaning Tambay in the lone Ferrari would then start from fourth – on the dirtier side of the grid. Pironi’s entry was therefore left in, and the first place on the grid remained empty, with Prost second and Rene Arnoux and Nelson Piquet in third and fourth respectively.
Unexpectedly, Arnoux shot off into the lead followed by Prost, while Piquet in the Brabham made a somewhat tardy start having got too much wheelspin when the lights went out. He quickly gathered pace, however, and at the end of the opening couple of laps, the Brazilian was leading the way – ahead of Arnoux, Prost and Tambay.
Piquet was now making great strides at the front of the field. Tambay, meanwhile, was proving his worth in his lonely battle for Maranello – picking off Prost on lap 4 and out manoeuvring Arnoux for second place on lap 10.
Despite no threat from Tambay – who was the best part of 30 seconds adrift – Piquet continued to press on rather urgently, and the Brabham came up to lap the ATS of Eliseo Salazar on lap 19 at the Ost-Kurve chicane.
Piquet dived through the inside on the right-hand curve which forced Salazar out to the left, and as they braked side-by-side it quickly became apparent that the ATS wouldn’t be able to stop at the same rate as the Brabham, which was on the grippier side of the track.
The ATS struck the side of the Brabham and both cars slid off, Piquet spinning through the tyre barrier and coming to an abrupt halt.
And then, as we all know, Piquet reacted in a rather tempestuous manner once he had managed to clamber out of his car. Shove-punch-punch-kick went the rather irate Brazilian, much to the bemusement of Salazar.
As a consequence, Tambay sailed into the lead and eventually took the chequered flag ahead of Arnoux – the only two cars still on the lead lap at the end of the race.
And while he had no pretensions about being as good as either Pironi or Gilles Villeneuve – who passed away several races prior – Tambay had given his team a much-needed boost and done enough to secure himself a place in Ferrari folklore.