Even the press had left the Heidelberg University Hospital when two relatively short, Francophone young men entered the building. Not even a Ferrari representative was seen keeping the nosy parkers at bay.
“I’m not sure if I can allow you up”, the receptionist said sternly when the pair informed about the whereabouts of Didier Pironi’s room.
Seeing Gilles’ apparent nervousness this seemed a logical reaction but then Alain stepped in.
— “Do you have children?” he asked. The receptionist nodded.
— “A boy and a girl.”
— “And does your boy like motor racing? Did he watch the Grand Prix this afternoon?”
— “I’m not sure what you mean.”
— “I’m sure your son would love to have the autographs of two Formula 1 drivers. This man here is Gilles Villeneuve, the famous Ferrari driver!”
— “As is Herr Pironi upstairs…”
— “His team mate, no less. I know it’s late and that we haven’t announced ourselves through the proper channels, but we would very much like to see our friend.”
— “I’m not sure he is able to talk to you.”
— “What’s your boy’s name?” asked Alain, while grabbing a piece of paper from the receptionist’s desk.
— “Klaus…”, she answered, almost with a question mark rather than stating a fact.
— “So, ‘To Klaus’ – with a K, right? – ‘always race for the win’”, said Alain, dictating to himself the words he was writing down on the papier.
— “Alain Prost, Equipe Renault Elf. Here, Gilles…”
— “Maybe it’s best that I accompany you to his room”, the receptionist said.
Catherine was there, of course, who said that Mauro Forghieri had stopped by earlier in the evening. The operation had gone extremely well, she said, although it had lasted for five hours. The doctors told her he could be transferred from the intensive care unit later this week. The receptionist had been right, though. Didier wasn’t able to talk to them. He was fast asleep, the only sound coming from the machines surrounding him.
“But you can go in and have a look”, said Catherine. Hesitantly, the two agreed.
For some five minutes, the two Grand Prix winners remained silent as they stood at the bedside of their rival.
— “Would he hear us?” Gilles finally asked Alain. The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.
— “Didier?”, the Canadian said, a bit too loud, and he scared himself with the echo of his voice. — “Didier? I never really cared about the championship. It’s yours. You will have it.”
This seemed to have stung the Renault driver next to him, who gave him a very surprised look.
— “Do you really mean that?” Alain whispered acutely. — “Are you mad?”
— “Of course. If it has to be like this, I don’t need all the fuss”, Gilles said out loud.
— “But you were livid with Didier for trying to steal your championship!” Prost’s whispering got an even bigger sense of urgency.
— “Now it’s all changed. I wouldn’t want to beat a guy who’s in hospital anyway. He can have the championship, I’ll go for the race wins instead. That’s all I’ve ever been interested in anyway.”
— “Man, if you get those race wins, you’ll be champion all the same! I know what I’d do…”
— “So you’d steal his title?”
— “That’s not stealing. That’s motor racing! For all I know he could have blown his engine for the next couple of races – that’s not that strange, you know it’s happened to me all the time this season! You keep on winning like today, and you’re champion.”
Gilles seemed taken aback by that argument, and looked at Didier. “Are you sure he can’t hear us?”
— “If you won’t take it, I will”, added Alain, back to whisper mode again, and more to himself than to Gilles. Now it was Villeneuve’s turn to look to his side. Did that guy really say that?
— “And if I was in that bed?”
— “Doesn’t change a thing. I mean, we’re mates, I’m sure you will agree, but once we’re out on the track we’re on our own. With the amount of bad luck I’ve been having I’ll gladly take four wins and the championship.”
— “So at all cost?”
— “Not at all. Bad luck happens in motorsport. Didier just had some spectacularly bad luck. I pity him for it, but he’s one less rival to worry about. I’d also be worried about who would be my team mate next season. You won’t be having Didier, that’s for sure. And I won’t be having René, that’s a fact as well. I’d rather have a number two who is honest and that I can handle. We’re in the same boat on that point.”
A small detail in Alain’s words had caught Gilles’ attention.
— “What do you mean René won’t be with you next year?”
— “Well… he just won’t… And I’d be talking to Piccinini if I were you.”
Catherine Bleynie, Didier Pironi’s girlfriend, was surprised by their expression when she saw the two men leave Didier’s room. Instead of looking sad they looked puzzled. What had they been doing there? What is something with Didier? She rushed inside but found her boyfriend in the same narcoleptic state as she left him one hour earlier.
It couldn’t have been something he had said. So was it something he actually hadn’t said?