A Ferrari one-two at the San Marino Grand Prix should have been a reason for local joy, but the race will go down as one of Formula One's darkest days. Didier Pironi's victory sparked a furious row with team-mate Gilles Villeneuve, while the grand prix had already ceased to have much meaning after a mutiny by most independent teams.
A number of teams, including Williams and Brabham, refused to take part as a result of the FISA/FOCA war over commercial and technical wrangling. The decision was sparked by an FIA ruling days before the race imposing new weight limits on cars. In the end, 14 cars assembled for practice and 12 actually started the race. Bemused spectators watched Niki Lauda sitting outside the McLaren garage with nothing to drive. "I'm here because it's my job," he shrugged.
The Renaults of Alain Prost and Rene Arnoux occupied the front row, but in the event neither finished. Arnoux was the unluckier. He led until the 27th lap when Villeneuve edged past, but regained the lead four laps later and was still ahead when an oil leak ignited.
Thereafter Villeneuve and Pironi kept the crowd entertained by engaging in what seemed to be a ding-dong battle for the lead, so much so that they both received signals from the pits to ease off. As far as Villeneuve was concerned, Pironi, the team No. 2, knew, come the finish, he had to allow him to win.
But on the last lap, Pironi shot past and Villeneuve had no time to respond. The Canadian was incandescent with rage and vowed never to speak to his team-mate again. Pironi countered that he had been told to slow down and not to stop trying to win.