To write the full history of Ferrari’s involvement in Formula One would be to write several books – involved in top-level motorsport since 1930 and the most consistently successful and iconic team in the sport’s history. Ferrari had been involved in every season of Formula One since its inception in 1950 and, despite the odd bad year, had never had a sustained period of uncompetitiveness until the early 1970s. In 1973, things got so bad that Ferrari actually failed to win any races and even missed two Grands Prix while they readied a new car. However for 1974, the team signed rapid Austrian Niki Lauda and saw an immediate upswing. Lauda and friend Clay Regazzoni guided the team to second place in the Constructors’ championship and the next three titles went to the red cars. Niki Lauda was joined by Carlos Reutemann for the 1977 season but the two didn’t get along and Lauda was also falling out with the team management and decided to leave at the end of the season. When they decided to run unknown Canadian Gilles Villeneuve in a third car for the last two races of the season, Lauda walked out there and then and Villeneuve got the drive full time, alongside Reutemann for the 1978 season. When Reutemann in turn left for Championship-winners Lotus at the end of 1978, Ferrari offered Tyrrell race-winner Jody Scheckter the drive and he repaid them by winning the Drivers’ title while he and Villeneuve took three wins apiece to gain Ferrari the Constructors’ title as well. 1980, by contrast, was an utter disaster for the team , one of the worst seasons in its history as the team didn’t visit the podium once, scored a meagre 8 points with no higher place than 5th, and Scheckter suffered the indignity of failing to even qualify in Canada, and retired at the end of the season. With Villeneuve finally stepping up to lead the team in 1981 and rapid Frenchman Didier Pironi signed from Ligier to replace Scheckter, the team had to hope for better in 1981 as it moved to turbo engines with a brand-new chassis to replace the 312T that had been in use since 1975
The son of a piano-tuner, Gilles Villeneuve’s developed a mechanical aptitude for cars at a young age but money was always tight and it took him some time to slowly work his way into the single-seat racing that would lead him to greater things. He sold his house to finance his career and he, his wife and two young sons lived for some time in a caravan, travelling from race to race on the Formula Atlantic circuit. After winning the 1974 World Championship Snowmobile Derby, he was able to demand appearance money as well as winning prize money and for a while most of his income came from snowmobile racing, which helped in turn give him the fearlessness, delicate handling and ability to race in low visibility that helped in his single-seater career. Villeneuve met and impressed James Hunt at a Formula Atlantic race in 1976, and McLaren put the young Canadian in an older chassis for the British Grand Prix of 1977, where he attracted favourable attention and was offered a drive with Ferrari at the end of the season. Supporting first Reutemann and then Scheckter, Villeneuve finally stepped into the lead role for 1981 with the South African’s departure, by this time already a favourite among the Tifosi for his bravery in the cockpit.
Didier Pironi began studying for an engineering degree, following in his fathers footsteps, but soon realised that sport would be his life and enrolled in the Paul Ricard racing school and was picked up by the government-sponsored Pilote Elf scheme to support young French drivers. Pironi’s rise was rapid – Formula Renault champion in 1974, Super Renault champion in 1976 and coming to wider attention by winning a 1977 Monaco Grand Prix support race. Elf’s support and this indication of talent were enough to gain him a Tyrrell drive in 1978 and, despite the team’s lack of finance, he showed his quality by taking two podium finishes the following year. In 1980, Guy Ligier called and Pironi joined the all-French team, winning his first race in Belgium and taking two more podium places on his way to 5th place, despite unreliable equipment. His association with Ligier was shortlived, though, because he was offered a Ferrari drive for 1981 to replace the outgoing Jody Scheckter.