Gilles Henri Villeneuve was born January 18, 1950 at 6 o'clock in the morning at the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu hospital, close to Chambly, the same city in which his parents, Seville and Georgette, had married in 1947 and where they had been living since. His brother Jacques was born three years later and the Villeneuves were now a complete family.
Gilles had been fascinated by any mechanic tools since his early childhood; his favorite toys were little bulldozers and trucks, provided that they looked real, otherwise he refused to play with them. He was a lonely and quiet boy, whose character was brave enough to make him claim to ride his bike with no trainer wheels, and after many falls he learnt the technique and managed to do it. He started primary schools in 1955 and he was a serious pupil, he felt he had to be the best; although he was not a precocious child he was a smart boy; he was stimulated by his older friends and always did his best to compete with them. This side of his him soon developed in a constant and persevering character Gilles always tried to improve himself, whatever he did, as if he were looking for something in which he could be the number one. When he was eight years-old he moved with his family to an old farm in the suburbs of Berthierville city, about seventy kilometers far from Montréal.
new area did not lack in big spaces and fresh air and Gilles soon started to prefer physical activities to the boring school. In summer time he rode his bike cycling till he was exhausted, and in winter time he enjoyed skating and playing hockey. He loved snowstorms, but most exciting and stimulating of all was for him to go where he was told he couldn't.
In 1959 his father Seville bought a brand new Volskwagen van. This was the first vehicle Gilles drove on his own and this became the most vivid recollection of his childhood. "We were driving on one of those long, straight country streets close to Berthierville. It was a bright and warm summer day, nobody was around, so my father let me drive his van. How exciting
". From that day on he literally pestered his father until he was allowed to drive the family car in the path of the house. When Gilles was eleven his father let him drive an old, half-broken van in the fields around their farm Gilles was bewitched by the "four-wheels"; he even managed to manufacture a strange funny vehicle with an old lawnmower's spare parts. At the age of fifteen he received as a present an ancient MGA and, with the help of a couple of friends, he fixed the car just to be able to drive on a lonely street not far from there.
this was not enough, he could not wait to drive the new family car. Gilles' father had been allowed to drive such car in the path only, as he was too young to get the driving-license, but temptation was too strong and he secretly got a copy of the keys. One night he silently pushed the Pontiac out of the garage and drove the car to the nearby city. It was pouring with rain but Gilles reckless drove the car at 170 kilometers per hour; at a sharp curve on the wet asphalt he suddenly lost control of the car and violently crashed against the telephone pole. The car literally curled up but luckily enough Gilles faced no physical consequences. He walked home under the rain for more than eight kilometers.
His parents were very indulgent on that occasion and did not punish him hard, but the motor-adventures of the young champion stopped for a while.
sixteenth birthday finally came and the driving-license came with it. It was the year 1966 and cars were always in his mind but them were no longer his only one passion because he started to be interested in girls. He liked a girl who lived in Joliette and one evening he decided to see her; on the way he tried to overtake the car before him but the other driver pushed the accelerator to the bottom to challenge him and the pursue started. A herd of cows suddenly appeared and both drivers were forced to a desperate braking and Gilles ended his race in a ditch. His car was destroyed and he ended up in hospital where he was given eight stitches in his head.
In spite of all this Villeneuve was never scared of the high speed dangers and he bought a small Czechoslovak car, a Skoda. He enjoyed driving in the streets of the city much faster than the Québec speed limits allowed him to and the police started to be interested in his case. Gilles started to be fined for excessive speed and never protested, he immediately paid his fines. His passion for fast driving was too strong, it was useless to fight against it. He raced with his Skoda in the slaloms organized at the supermarket parkings. His driving style and his spectacular technique in facing the white-and-red cones made him famous in the area of St. Thomas, the little city he used to cross to go and see his future girl friend, Joanna Barthe.
was a French-Canadian too, but she had lived In Connecticut for a little while before going back to Québec. Joanna's family was poor and government helped, but she was an optimistic and self confident girl and she met her future husband on a blind date. Joanna's sister had in fact convinced her to meet a friend of her boyfriend and after many persistent requests Joanna accepted, so the four of them met at a disco club. Gilles as well was a bit reluctant to accept that blind date, but in the end both of them were there. Joanna did not fall in love at first sight: Gilles was handsome enough, not very tall, nice and shy but was fascinated her most were his integrity and frankness. Their first evening together was nice and after that they kept on meeting at week-ends. Some problems started when Joanna found out that Gilles had another girlfriend, but she didn't know he had just left her. A clarifying telephone call was enough, and they become a couple in the August 1967.
soon learnt that her life with her new boyfriend would be strictly connected with motors.
Soon after his seventeenth birthday Gilles ended his school education and started to "study" cars and races magazines. He realized that there were people who built their lives and careers on something he did every single day on the streets of his city. He gradually introduced himself into this field by watching acceleration races and by modifying by himself his Ford Mustang to be able to attend that kind of competitions. His interest in these kind of races soon vanished because he found them boring, emotions were too quick, there were no curves to test his bravery.
He had also tried to drive on the oval circuits but even this was not enough to satisfy him. He wanted to feel more involved to give the best of himself, he wanted to race in straight and curve tracks, he wanted to have the opportunity to explore the grip limits of a car.
was enchanted by the European races' reports he could read on car-racing magazines, he was fascinated by drivers such as Jimmy Clark and Chris Amon who challenged each other on their Lotus and Ferrari in Formula 1, who could keep average speed much higher than 140 kilometers per hour on the Nurburgring circuit in Germany or the wonderful Targa Florio and its sports Porsche and Ferrari.
Unfortunately Gilles could only watch other people race because his financial situation did not allow him to do anything different. To keep on going out with Joanna he had to work with her parents in a little cloth company, then he started to work with the uncles of her by driving trucks full of gravel up and down the hills, but all in all this was good fun to him.
The place where Gilles was living at was covered each year by over one and a half meter of snow and Gilles, as many Canadians of the time, was enthusiastic with the new trend of driving snowmobile; previously inaccessible spots could be reached and the snowmobile was also a convenient means of transport in the winter season. To Gilles instead, the snowmobile became another motor vehicle he could race with.
The snowmobile manufacturers did in fact start to organize races to promote their products, and many amateurs were invited to compete together with the representatives of the official teams. Gilles' father bought a snowmobile to his son and Gilles raced and won many competitions near Berthierville. His natural and reckless courage and his innate ability made him beat his competitors whose vehicles' performances were higher than his own, it was like driving in a terrible storm but his skill allowed him to accelerate to the maximum supreme possible without using the brake. He learnt very well to balance his vehicle and soon developed an exceptional driving sensibility. It wasn't easy to manage such a vehicle at 140 kilometers per hour in that cold weather but this helped him to become a persevering and brave man. After only a few races his name started to be famous in the competitions field.
At the age of eighteen he received a Skiroule snowmobile from a family friend, this was manufactured to race and Gilles won so many competitions that the following winter, between 1969 and 1970, he was directly employed by Skiroule company as a mechanic-pilot in their Québec team.
sentimental relation between Joanna and Gilles had in the meantime become critical: she was pregnant, and they decided to get engaged. They got married on October 17, 1970 and only their families and few friends were there. The bridal procession noisily marched in the streets of Joliette, the city of the bride, and after the wedding party, the new Villeneuve couple spent their first honeymoon night in a motel room nearby.
Gilles had in the meantime broken the contract with Skiroule company because he had been refused the permission to attend the richest and best known American competitions due to rivalries and envies inside the racing department. Gilles suddenly found himself just married, waiting for a child, and unemployed. His real nature came out. He refused the idea of being defeated and did not surrender. The right opportunity came from another snowmobile company, the Motoski, that provided Gilles with three snowmobiles and some technical assistance, some money to race and of course, support for his new family. That year, in the 1971, Gilles earned quite a lot by becoming the Québec champion and by winning the world champion title for the 440 cc. category in the state of New York.
No long after these victories, on April 9, 1971, the Villeneuves become the proud parents of a little boy, Jacques. Gilles bought a motor home; this solution would have allowed him to be close to his family and to reach the racing circuits. He towed the motor home to a field close to his parents' house, he organized water, electricity and phone connections and left Joanna to do all the rest. If in the motor area Gilles was tidy, scrupulous and well organized in the other activities of his life he was just the opposite.
the time being his attention was addressed on a yellow school bus: he shared it into two sectors, the front part was meant to be used for sleeping and the back one as a workshop for the snowmobiles. In the winter 1971-'72 these snowmobiles were Alouette and with these Gilles won once again the Québec champion title, by being winner in ten races out of fourteen. He could not end the four missing races because of mechanical problems and Gilles worked hard on the modifications of the transmission system, the main reason for his drop out.
Villeneuve was now quite famous in the sport field thanks to his attitude for the show; his presence was much required by the organizers and the following season Gilles opened his horizons up. He drove his little bus for many kilometers outside Québec, where races took place; at the end of the winter he was the Canadian champion.
The sacrifice of being away from his family for long was partially compensated by better money but money was really needed as another child was about to come, Joanna gave birth to a little girl, Mélanie, on July 26, 1973.
But the higher responsibilities as a father did not make Gilles' enthusiasm for the races vanish, races had become the only way to make ends meet, just like a job. More races meant more money, but how to manage in spring and summer time, when the snow thawed and the snowmobile races were interrupted? Gilles was suggested that his superior talent could have been applied to cars as well. A French engineering whom he knew explained to him how to get the necessary license and recommended the Jim Russel's drive school in Mont Tremblant as a start.
was a raining day when Gilles appeared with other people at the entry gate of the small circuit of the school. During the theory lessons all candidates paid much attention to all the information relevant to the proper use of a racing car and to the best way to face the motor racing track. Gilles quietly waited for the end of the lesson and the time to test the Formula Ford school cars finally came; all candidates boarded the cars and fastened their safety belts to take their first test on the wet track. One of the cars was soon the first and left all the others at its back. Gilles felt perfectly at his easy and his trainer was favorably surprised, as he did not expect such a performance from his shyest candidate. The following week Gilles was again the fastest of all, he raced greatly and soon obtained the driver license.
Gilles left Mont Tremblant with the feeling he could do even more, he had been fascinated by the sensibility and the handiness of the small Formula Ford car, this was a sort of revelation for his future.
Once again helped by a friend, Gilles bought a two years-old car with which he raced the Québec Formula Ford championship. In the first race he only took an hard third place but in the second one he was the winner.
The cars in that category were reliable and Gilles could dedicate himself to the driving of his car in the fastest possible way. His driving style on the track was similar to the one he had showed on the snow: not really regular but mainly acrobatic, spectacular. He went off the track many times but won 70 percent of the races he had performed. He won the title of "Rookie of the year" by winning seven races out of ten. Useless to say, he also won the Québec Formula Ford championship in the year 1973.
He did it even if his car was much older than his competitors and the other drivers were much more experienced than him.
was now a prey to the racing fever. He spent much time away from his family, sometimes he stayed away for three or four weeks to be able to take part to the winter snowmobile races. This situation created some real problems to his family as Joanna found it difficult to look after the children and to manage the short money, debts were in fact piling up. Positive enough, Gilles won also in the season 1973-'74 with a vehicle he had projected himself, modifying its suspensions.
The first snowmobile Alouette with the "Villeneuve" cushion system was born.
In the meantime he managed to get some money by the race organizers in exchange for his participation and this helped him to race and win the Canadian championship.
He also participated some American competitions together with the best international drivers and also on these occasions he did not miss to win. Unfortunately, in spite of his numerous victories, the money he made in a season was not enough to pay debts and so the Villeneuve family found itself in trouble to make ends meet.
Money problems shouldn't have interfered with Gilles ideas: he wanted to get better in different car racing categories, which in the end could take him to the international races of the world championship. After his successes in Formula Ford, Gilles widened his own horizons and thought to himself: "Dear boy, if you'll not do the same out of Canada, this world will miss the opportunity to see a great driver
those years the highest single seater category in Canada was the Formula Atlantic and Gilles decided to try it. He discussed it with the Écurie Canada owner, who was a driver himself and was managing a garage and a car accessories shop. Kris Harrison, this was his name, was really impressed by the self-confidence the young Villeneuve showed, but wondered how a snowmobile driver, whose only experience was a ten Formula Ford races, could have helped his team.
After speaking with some insiders
, Harrison decided to take that guy into consideration as, everybody stated, he was extraordinary.
The agreement foresaw that the team would provide two March chassis and a set of Ford engines, and Gilles would pay an amount in between fifty and seventy thousand dollars.
But how could he find that money? Gilles thought the only opportunity he had was to sell his motorhome and he did so, without thinking it over too much and forcing his family to move with him into a little caravan and soon to follow him in his wandering about the circuits.
In the meantime some sponsors took the challenge and helped the low team budget increase.
In the pre-seasonal tests Gilles destroyed both chassis, but Harrison did not care too much and did not even try to restrair Villeneuve's exceptional speed. The two March were repaired and, with a number of tyres just enough for four races, the team moved westwards to take part to the first race of the Canadian Formula Atlantic championship.
the Westwood circuit close to Vancouver Gilles reached an encouraging third position over twenty competitors, starting from half of the line and recovering lap by lap. In the following race, at Edmonton, he was betrayed by an engine malfunction and ended the race in twenty-second position, in spite of his sixth qualification lap time. In the following start as well, at Gimli, Gilles could not end the race due to engine troubles.
But the tyres supply started to run out, and this was a great disadvantage for the race on the Mosport circuit, where he qualified himself only fourteenth. The yellow single seater numbered 13 was the most spectacular to be seen; it was always crosswise and to its grip limit, as if it was driven by a demoniac. But the car suddenly flew out and disappeared in a dusty cloud, until it crashed on the steel guard rail. When the dust cleared away, you could see the car pressed on the protections and both the front wheels and the front part of the car were destroyed. The race went over, while Gilles was loaded on an ambulance and taken to the circuit emergency area. The doctor diagnosed him a fracture to the left leg; it was badly broken in two points. Gilles refused to believe it and was annoyed not be able to race for a while. "My leg cannot be broken
" he kept on saying, while the doctor and Joanna told him it was so. When the shock was over and the pain lightened, Gilles accepted to be taken to the hospital, even if he did so to please the others, as he as sure the X-ray would show he was right and the others were wrong.
July of 1974 a desperate Gilles went back to Berthierville; inactivity on his wheel-chair frustrated him so much; every day he stripped away pieces of his plaster and started to consult different doctors until he found one ready to change his plaster with a smaller one, which would allow him to bend at least his hip and his ankle. As soon as he could move his leg, Gilles decided that his ankle was ready to press the clutch pedal and that he himself was ready to race. But Joanna made him promise that he could race only if he could get out of the cockpit of his single seater in sixty seconds, the minimum safety margin required in case of fire of the car.
Then all of them moved eastward of Canada, to St. John's, where the next Formula Atlantic race would take place. Gilles drove a lot to exercise the broken ankle, he clenched his teeth every time he had to strain it to use the clutch, but unfortunately he could not pass the "60 seconds test" and he was not allowed to race.
Six weeks later Gilles raced in Halifax, and in spite of his great bearing of pain he could not end the race. The following race on the Trois-Rivières circuit things were not better: he soon went off track due to the spinning of the driver before him in the first lap.
Nobody could say the result of the year was good: a third and a twenty-second position, a broken leg, many cars destroyed and a debt of forty thousand dollars with the bank. However Gilles was sure that bad luck was nearly over and that the following season could only be better. So, in prey to a dreadful financial crisis Gilles found the courage to ask for more money to the organizers of his engagement in the snowmobile races and he could show everybody that a broken ankle was not such an insuperable obstacle; he made his fans enthusiastic with his usual determination thanks to the innovative suspension recently projected, patented and used on his snowmobile.
Some disagreements arose with Joanna, as she claimed a better accommodation for herself and the children, but Gilles decided that the family needed to be even more close on the racing tracks for the following season.
was really expensive and demanding to support a driver such as Villeneuve, and the owner of Écurie Canada, Kris Harrison, invited Gilles to race the Formula Atlantic for the 1975 season. The two men disagreed on many items: Gilles wanted to be the only driver in the team, he wanted to test his car every day but this was not an advantage to the team, so the two could not find an agreement and Harrison signed up another two drivers. Three weeks before the beginning of the championship Gilles went through a crisis and he was ready to quit, but Joanna was always on his side and urged him to react, to try all he could to be able to race. "Make your car in order, buy the best engine and start getting all you need; we will think about how to pay later
" she said, and Villeneuve ordered a March chassis and a Ford engine; the mechanical part was OK, the financial one was dreadful.
But snowmobiles could sort the matter out: the Skiroule directors invited him to race for them as a main driver and this happened just one week before the Formula Atlantic race and Gilles offered a strange exchange: he would race for them if Skiroule sponsored him in the coming car championship. It was a daring situation but the directors accepted and provided Gilles with the money necessary to support his manoeuvres on track.
At the half of May the little team left on their caravan, carrying the brilliant March on the undercarriage. As soon as they arrived at Edmonton, where the first race would take place, Gilles realized how hard it was going to be. It was going to be difficult not so much because he thought the others were smarter than him, but because he knew money made the difference. The other teams were super organized and owned tools and materials; he was polishing his green and white car himself, and the sponsor name was handwritten.
On that occasion enthusiasm could not compensate the technical lacks of his single seater, Gilles ended the race in 15th position but strongly believed that his opponents had won thanks to their engines and not thanks to their skill. He concentrated himself on the set up of his March for the following race in Westwood, a rather hard circuit.
He got an encouraging 8th time in practice and a gritty 5th position in race. Optimism came back in the Villeneuve family and they drove towards Gimli for the race dated June 22nd.
flatted out in the qualifying tests, but some mechanical problems forced him to settle for a 19th position. Before the race a terrible storm hit the circuit and flooded the track; this gave Gilles the opportunity to show his value, and this occasion could not be missed. In such terrible conditions, with all his ability and courage, Gilles inflexibly overtook his opponents, he fearless shot into the big sprinklings of water raised by the cars in front of him and in the end he left everybody on his trail up to the winning post, that he reached 15 seconds before Bobby Rahal. It was a mad venture as visibility was close to zero; this time his instinct prevailed on the quality of his equipment and on the experience of the other competitors.
His performance at Gimli was not just a flash in the pan, and this was clear in the following race at St. Jovite, where Gilles qualified with the 4th time and ended the race in second position. At Halifax Gilles was 7th in tests and 14th at the winning post, even though he was harassed by mechanical troubles.
He got no scores and this result damaged his position in the general charts which he ended in 5th position. This was a remarkable result for a private driver at his debut and rather short of money. His fame was increasing and during the race at
Trois-Rivières (not valid for the Formula Atlantic Championship) Gilles had the opportunity to be noticed, as the organizers had invited many famous European drivers to make the number of participants increase, allowing him to race close to Brambilla, Jarier, Depailler, Dolhem and Jassaud but Gil was not impressed by the celebrity of his famous colleagues and obtained an incredible third time with his usual aggressive and spectacular style.
He was soon second at the start but while chasing Jarier, the brakes of his March did not stand up to the hard treatment and he started to lose positions up to the definite withdrawal, for the relief of his better known opponents.
on the snowmobiles oval circuits Gilles raced with no doubts his best season that winter. He took part to thirty-six races: three withdrawals due to mechanical problems, he was once second and obtained thirty-two victories to become champion of Canada for the second time! His financial situation had also definitely increased and Gil bought a motorhome that allowed him to give shelter to his family, who could now go with him to the majority of the winter races.
Future gave no worries: after his good performances on track the agreement for the 1976 season in Formula Atlantic had already been reconfirmed; many teams were requiring him. The Skiroule too had provided Villeneuve with its complete economic support for the following season.
Once reached the familiar peace, his main aim was now to choose a team whose means were sufficient to satisfy the primary necessities of its own driver. Gilles was fed up with getting his car ready and set it up personally. This got his concentration away from the race itself and he did not mean to be second driver to any one. Only Écurie Canada would accept to race with one car only offering him also the advantage of the support of a familiar atmosphere and Gilles signed the contract for the 1976 season in Formula Atlantic. The key factor to this decision was the presence in the team of Ray Wardell, a very skilled English technician who had formerly worked for people such as Niki Lauda and Ronnie Peterson. The esteem between the two of them was mutual, as Wardell himself was sure that Gil was the stuff champions were made of, having seen him at Trois-Rivières in 1975 he said: "He was talented, he was a really strong young guy, ready to hard sacrifices if somebody would give him a good car. Gilles was with no doubts one of the main reasons why I decided to move to the Écurie Canada.
Villeneuve dropped the snowmobile races forever.
first commitment in 1976 was an endurance race in Florida, where he had been invited to drive a Camaro Chevrotet together with Maurice Carter, at the 24 Hours of Daytona. Gilles had to drive a car he had never driven before on a circuit he had never seen, and yet he was faster than his teammate. Both of them were not lucky on that occasion: the engine was faced with a rather serious trouble and after an attempt in fixing it they were forced to withdrawal.
At the beginning of that spring Ray Wardell started to go round with Gilles and was bewildered by him for some of his eccentric behaviours. In order to test the circuit where the first Formula Atlantic race would take place Ray and Gilles hired a car to cover the racing course, although Gil started to drive at his fastest, facing every curve on two wheels and making the tyres smoke at every brake. Wardell was shocked by this way of driving but was soon aware of Gilles' ability, whose sensitiveness allowed him to to find the limits of every single component of every single car: "He didn't do so to enjoy his supporters or to be noticed; he felt this was the right way to behave and he was fully aware of his own limits. He thought his job was to get into a car and never to surrender. This was the way he worked and the way he lived. Whoever didn't do so could not get along well with him
So with the help of Wardell Gilles started to be involved in the complex mechanisms required by a single-seat car setting. The two of them established a strong professional relationship and they spent hours together discussing the course configuration and the car structure. They examined every single detail that helped improve the car's performace on the track. When he was not busy with races Gilles spent all his time with his family, who followed him at all the racetracks. It was a very happy time for the Villeneuves; Gilles parked his motorhome close to the fence, in the paddock. He taught his children to keep away from the pits when cars were around. When watching cars on track Jacques and Mélanie wore headphones to avoid hearing problems; during the races they applauded and cheered on their dad and this seemed to work, as Gil won nearly every race.
the half of April Villeneuve reached the Road Atlanta circuit for his first race dated 1976. Gilles showed the best of himself on that occasion: he drove his car with his usual determination, and he won. Many drivers, who were favourite for the Formula Atlantic, were there; many rookies were there too but none was able to cope with the French-Canadian driver on his March, set by Wardell. Gil stroke past everybody at the start and he was never overtaken, he ended the race with a thirteen seconds margin on the American Tom Pumpelly. He did the same in the following race at Laguna Seca, in California, where Elliott Forbes-Robinson was second, with a minute gap from a supersonic Villeneuve. There was another success in the second Californian race on the Ontario circuit, where Gilles had gained the pole position and beat Forbes-Robinson once again.
The Villeneuves celebrated the American victories with a tour to Disneyland, before addressing to North, towards Edmonton. Gilles was the fastest on the qualifying tests, he led the race from the beginning to the end and he also recorded the fastest lap. But that time winning was not an easy task, anyway. The euphory of the Écurie Canada faced a bad stroke at the end of May, at Westwood: the rain caused troubles to what seemed to be, from its very beginning, a triumphal march. Gil started in his now usual pole position and his determination did not fade in those bad wheather conditions. The engine of his car did but not cooperate. Villeneuve was on lead with a 18 seconds margin on his most direct competitor when the Ford BDA suddenly stopped: the back wheels lost their grip and his car went out track. Game over. Ray Wardell considered himself fully responsible for the malfunction of the carburator, which had created the blocking of the engine and the following withdrawal, but nonetheless he was struck by the fact that Villeneuve never made him guilty for such mistake.
The fame of this talented North-American driver had now reached Europe; Ron Dennis, who would have later managed the McLaren team, invited Gilles to drive one of his Formula 2 March in the city-circuit of Pau, in France. At the beginning of June, Villeneuve flew to the striking Pyrenean city to compete with the most talented drivers Overseas. During the flight Gilles started to realise he could have the opportunity to avoid the usual procedure that leads to the Formula 1.
Many Canadians had disputed the Grand Prix of Canada in the past, but the Formula 1 was basically an European show and the race on the Pau circuit could be a great occasion for him to be noted even though, but in practice, the race was not a good real step towards that direction.
Villeneuve qualified quite well his new March 762-Hart: he was tenth on a very difficult circuit he had never seen before. His opponents knew people such as Arnoux, Tambay, Cheever, Laffite, people that Gilles himself would have time to get in touch with. On the tortuous streets of Pau, Gil unchained his typical aggressive driving and he soon found himself to fight among the first six, but he was soon betrayed by his engine, that kept on overheating; he was forced to reach the pits, and he withdrew with his March sponsored by the "Gran Prix Molson" of Trois-Rivières. He would have had to wait till that race to compete with the Europeans again.
the meantime there were other Formula Atlantic races to be won and his lucky time went on at Gimli, where he was once again on the top of the podium. The Écurie Canada moved towards Mosport with a slight optimism about the possibilities to win both the North American Championships. There were another three races in Canada and one in the United States to be raced, but the financial situation of the team was bad after three cheques, issued by the Skiroule to pay the suppliers, were overdrawn. There wasn't enough money to race at Mosport and the organizers refused to increase Gilles' fee, forcing him not to race. Villeneuve was furious, all his efforts had vanished because of money troubles; he was desperate as the lack of money would compromise the whole season. But money came from John Lane, an American guy fascinated by the car races who had become part of the team and had decided to invest the profits he had obtained in the stock exchange. John was very impressed by Gil's personality, they were more or less the same age and soon became good friends, in spite of their cultural differences. As a real businessman Lane offered 25 thousand dollars to buy the two cars of the team at the end of the season; he had understood that if Gilles had won both the Championships, the two March would have become interesting goods; he spent all his savings to allow Villeneuve to race.
John Lane's contribution to the team was enough to race the following race at St.Jovite. When they reached the circuit early in the morning they were the only ones to test the track; Gilles was driving very fast but suddenly, from the pit, Ray Wardell and the insiders realised that the driver was not arriving. There were no marshals and Ray got on the first ambulance he could find to go and find him. They found him climbing the slope just after the straight of the finishing line. He seemed to be in good conditions, even if his car was in pieces. He could not explain what had happened but all he wanted to do was to get on the spare car and go on track again. This is what he did: the accident had not reduced his determination. After that terrible crash he proceeded as nothing had happened. In the qualifications he recorded the best time, then Klauser and Rahal raced and beat him. Villeneuve looked mad: he got on his car again and he obtained his new best time. He went on this way for the whole qualifyings; someone did better than he, but at the end he could gain the pole position. During the race Villeneuve was always the first, he recorded the fasted lap and he ended the race as the winner.
In the interviews, an euphoric Gilles explained his philosophy: "Before the beginning of the season I was sure of something: I would not have ended the Championship in second or third position; I have always believed that the best way to obtain the title is to win all races
". As the celebrations for this success were at their top, the Skiroule declared bankruptcy and Harrison was forced to stop any activity in the races. The Écurie Canada did not move eastwards, for the following race in Halifax; they moved to the opposite direction, towards the headquarter. If Gilles's career had to go on, other money needed to be found. With the Halifax race going by, in only a month time, it was a run against time.
days before the appointment at the Atlantic Motor Sport Park in Halifax, Gil was hopeless: he needed at least 5 thousand dollars to race, but he didn't give up. He explained the situation to a friend who was working for a businessman in Montreal in the advertising and promotion field. His name was Gaston Parent, at that time a 53 year-old man close to retire and with no intention to support a young driver, but when he heard about Villeneuve's story, about how special he was and how much talent he had he decided to meet him, maybe just to be polite. Together with his friend, Gilles sat in front of the man who, while touching his beard, listened to the details of the season and the financial matters. Gil was sure he could
easily win the Canadian Championship and not only, he was sure he could win the North American title and the race at Trois-Riviéres. Nothing could stop him... except 5 thousand dollars.
Parent could well weigh the character of a man and was struck by the absolute honesty of a boy who looked shy and resolute at the same time, he saw a guy full of hope and faith in his own possibilities. Parent was attracted by the situation and followed his own instinct. 45 minutes later, after a few phone calls, the necessary money was transferred to the team account. Gilles was euphoric and exclaimed: "Wow! Look, now you are the sponsor, how would you like the car to be painted?
" Gaston Parent had nothing to be advertised and said that the car could be varnished white, with a blue lily as the Québec symbol.
The following week Parent read the morning newspaper and saw the picture of the white car and the lily that triumphally won at Halifax, Gilles had gained the pole position, the fastest lap and had preceded the second driver of 16 seconds. Besides, the article said, that victory glorified Villeneuve as Canadian Champion. Parent felt proud of how things had gone and was happy to meet Gil again. He had indeed gone back to settle his debt with the money earned in the last race, but the wise businessman, knowing the Villeneuves' money troubles, suggested him to use that money to settle some other debts. Gilles explained that he needed additional finances to be able to end the season and Gaston Parent confirmed he would subsidize if he had the right to get such money back. "Perfect
- Gilles said - I see no problem
". This was the beginning of a business relation that later became a relation between two men, as if they were father and son.
At the half of September the Monday newspapers informed Parent that Gilles Villeneuve had won on the circuit of Road Atlanta in Georgia. He had gained the pole position and the fastest lap in race, becoming the Formula Atlantic Champion in 1976. All this would go unnoticed compared to the race, out of championship, of Trois-Riviéres: on this track Gilles's exploits would have gained the titles of the whole international specialized car press.
"Molson Grand Prix" of Trois-Rivières was indeed the most important car appointment of the whole Québec and the presence of some of the Formula 1 axes gave the race international importance. That year James Hunt lead the group of the great names (only 4 races divided him from the conquest of the Formula 1 championship). The McLaren driver was given a March identical to the one that had won almost all the American Formula Atlantic races; his team-mate would just be Gilles Villeneuve.
Another important name to participate the race was the Australian Alan Jones, also Vittorio Brambilla, then Patrick Tambay and the rising star Patrick Depailler had guaranteed their presence. These were the guests to compete with the best Formula Atlantic drivers.
underlined the importance of the race in this way: "I would gladly barter all my victories with a success at Trois-Rivières; this is in my opinion the most important race of the season because it draws the attention of many European teams and of many foreign journalists. It is very important for me to win
In the pits of the Écurie Canada, Ray Wardell got three March ready: one for Hunt, one for Depailler and the other for Gilles. The timers were ready for the qualifying, fundamental tests on that narrow city circuit that would offer little overtaking opportunities to the drivers during the race. Gilles soon ran at full speed, immediately rising the enthusiasm of his supporters but also a bit of concern to his team for this boasting attitude. During the first qualifying laps his March often spun right round, but Villeneuve was able to concentrate and soon give the best of himself, with no need of much warming up. After a few laps there was an extraordinary exploit. Nobody was able to compete with the wild Canadian, with this ability, his familiarity with the car and the circuit. Gilles gained the pole position in spite of some problems with the oversteer, using every meter of track, occasionally letting the back wing against the walls with a lot, a lot of courage.
This was a "one-way" race: Villeneuve was on lead from the start, driving as only he could do, crosswise at each curve. He enjoyed drawing the audience and the photographers' attention in a spectacular way. When the check flag declared his victory Gilles could enjoy his supporters' affection for that superlative day: many of the spectators who had encouraged him were now crying for joy, touched by the success of a driver who was one of them, their compatriot. The organizers as well were satisfied that the winner was a Canadian. Villeneuve had shown his value to the world and the Formula 1 drivers were struck;
James Hunt spoke very well about Gil at his return to England. The specialized European press greatly emphasised the race at Trois-Rivières, showing astonishment for an "unknown" who had dared to defeat drivers much more experienced than he was.
Many people started to show interest in the French-Canadian phenomenon: the managers of the Brabham, Wolf and McLaren were in that period looking around for the following season, and Gilles was taken in great consideration after Hunt's praising words, who had said to the manager of the Marlboro, the main sponsor of the McLaren team: "I have just been defeated by this Villeneuve. He is really extraordinary, you should employ him
formal meeting between Gil and Teddy Mayer, patron of the McLaren team, took place during the weekend of the U.S.A. Grand Prix. The Canadian driver gave a good impression due to his sincere and decisive character, even if he was terribly embarrassed. He did not speak much, but he listened carefully to all the speeches. He was later called to England where he was offered a contract with the Marlboro McLaren for 1977. The agreement foresaw that Villeneuve should run five races debuting at Silverstone and racing also in Canada and in the United States. Besides he would run in some Formula 2 races and an option was considered for 1978, all of this for 25 thousand dollars. Gilles was very excited and he soon signed, just as he felt he could hold a pen.
The new cooperation relationship was made official in December 1976 and on that occasion he explained the reasons why he had signed a contract as a part-time driver: "I think it is better to run a part of the season for a good stable than an entire season with a second-rate one. I wish I could race in Formula 1 but I want to get there in the right way. If I ran for a second-rate team I couldn't do anything and I wouldn't be taken into consideration by anybody. I have no intention to spoil my chances straight away. I want to stay in Formula 1, but not to be able to tell my children, one day, that I had once got on one of those cars
Gilles asked Gaston Parent to be his manager and they found an agreement with a simple three-paragraphs letter they both signed. That letter was meant as a temporary document while waiting for a proper contract, but Parent soon decided that further updates would not be necessary. "Villeneuve did not need any contract. Differently from other people he was truly a man of his word. His real feelings were always showing. He was one of the most honest people I have met in my entire life
", he said a few years later.
Villeneuve's first experience in 1977 took him away from his home, to South Africa, for four Formula Atlantic races where he could end only two races in third and fifth position, withdrawing in the other two occasions. He went back to Canada suntanned and hurt in his pride for his poor results, but he still decided to face another Canadian Formula Atlantic season in order to complete his future showings in Formula 1. The Direct Film would sponsor him in the championship that turned out to be the most difficult one, as Gilles found himself suddenly without his technical manger, Ray Wardel, who had decided for other activities, and with his team that had decided to line two cars up, besides the list of the participants was of great value. Among the others there was a Finnish driver, Keke Rosberg, who had faced positive experiences in many minor categories in Northern Europe. The first race was on the Mosport circuit; Gilles obtained the pole position just in front of Rosberg.
At the start the Finnish driver was leading, but Gilles was able to stay close to him up to the first curve, on the track wings sparkled when the two car wheels touched. At the fourth lap, Villeneuve and Rosberg ran side to side through one of the circuit hill, the wheels touched again and both cars lifted up together, veering to an overturn, then Gilles could go back on track and started the chasing of those who had in the meantime overtaken him. Towards the end, driving frantically, Gilles set the fastest lap and ended the race at the second place behind the winner Price Cobb. The fight with Rosberg was loyal, both of them were fast and courageous, but Joanna, who was present at every race, did not speak to Keke for quite a long time after that event.
the following race, at Gimli, there were no emotions; Gilles' car's engine drop out at the 27th lap, forcing him to withdraw. Driving is motorhome on the long street to Edmonton, through the plain and lonely meadows, Gil wanted to recover himself. There were only 12 thousand spectators on the circuit, but they all had gone crazy because of the real battle between Villeneuve and Rosberg, as usual. They hit each other and this was one of the most spectacular duels between drivers people had ever attended. Keke remembers the day this way: "Gilles was starting in pole and I tailed him. I knew I didn't have many opportunities with such a bastard, but he suddenly made a mistake and I could reach and side him. We drove an entire turn side by side, hitting each other. We ended up out of track, I was at one side, he was at the other, but we went back on track at high speed in the same place, hitting again. Gilles won and I was second. At the end of the race my car was like a slice of cake where a big bite was missing. The rear wheel of his March had opened the side of my car. He was an incredible driver, I have very good recollections of him
Villeneuve was very happy for that result, especially for the way he had obtained it because this was what he really loved about car races. Of course, at the end of the race, the two opponents looked satisfied and they both laughed at the situation. After Edmonton, Rosberg won his first Canadian Formula Atlantic race in July, just while his opponent was debuting in Formula 1, with a McLaren at the British Grand Prix. But before that, Gilles had taken advantage of an unexpected opportunity to test another category: the Can-Am series.
Canadian-American Challenge Cup Series was the highest example of speed races in North America. The shining two-seats covered wheels cars had high powerful American engines and were a breathtaking show. Big crowds were attracted by the races, and people went to see those cars driven by famous international drivers. Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren were only some of the names that made that category important and such category often turned out to be as fast as the Formula 1.
It was Chris Amon who, in that 1977, unwillingly gave Villeneuve the opportunity to drive such car. The New Zealand driver was at the end of his career in Formula 1 even though he had never won a Grand Prix. He had withdrawn in 1976, accepting to race for the Walter Wolf team in the Can-Am championship. He was fed up after a few races and he was ready to stop. He so paid a visit to Gaston Parent, Wolf's great friend, telling him he was going to withdraw. The main problem was to find somebody ready to substitute him and that Walter Wolf appreciated.
Parent called his friend, he told the situation and suggested one name: Villeneuve. Wolf accepted with enthusiasm, but Gilles didn't know anything yet. Gaston Parent contacted his favourite driver, who was home at Berthierville, to inform him about the possible hiring, if he just wanted to take the difficult and dangerous challenge of Can-Am. Forty minutes later, Gil was by his manager in Montréal, ready to accept any conditions: he wanted no money, he just wanted to race. So, after a quick agreement, the talented Canadian was the new driver of the Walter Wolf Racing, he would drive the Dallara Chevrolet WD1 and the team would be at his complete disposal. Gilles was super happy, suddenly and for the first time in his life, he was paid to race, he could not believe it.
first race was on Watkins Glen circuit. The car was undrivable, everybody knew it, but to Gilles it was a challenge: whatever result he got would be a success. Nobody pressured him and Gil had great fun in driving that terrible car and making it obtain the 4th position. His race lasted only six laps, then the gearbox broke and he was forced to withdraw. Another three adventures followed on the Can-Am races: the only race he could end was the one on Elkart Lake, where he started in pole position, but then he bumped and ended on 3rd position. He withdrew both at Mosport and at Trois-Rivières and he placed 12th in the final ranking of the Can-Am 1977 championship. That year the winner was Patrick Tambay, who also won the following year, 1978, while Gilles took no more part in that kind of races.
In between the races anyway Villeneuve had the opportunity to fly to England for tests and to try and get qualified for his start in Formula 1 with a McLaren. This was supposed to happen on July 16th, 1977 on Silverstone circuit.
Gilles had seen that circuit for the first time the week before the Grand Prix, during some tests organized by the English teams. He was given a Marlboro McLaren Ford M23, which had been already driven by James Hunt the previous season. The car was number 40 and was serviced by a team of mechanics; their pit was separated by the main one of the team. Gil took his time at first, so that he could acquaint himself with a car and an engine totally new to him, but he soon started to emulate the performances of the other drivers who were testing their cars.
Certainly the higher the speed the higher was the number of spins and "out of track" in every area of the circuit. Many people complained for the impetuous rashness of the newcomer, who could easily get into serious troubles. Just a few careful observers noticed that his timings were shorter and shorter and started to realize what Gilles wanted to reach. They observed him with greater attention, especially noticing his "recovery technique” after a spin, and they found out that he rarely made the same mistake at the same point. Little by little it was clear that Villeneuve was actually trying to understand what the limitations of the car were, and he was doing it at every curve. It was a brutal but effective method, he just needed to understand how fast a single-seat Formula 1 car could be compared to the other cars he had driven up to that moment. He needed to learn fast all the possible situations in order to amaze everyone on his debut on a Grand Prix.
The following race at Silverstrone shew the participation of 44 people and the organization decided that all debutants would take part at a special pre-qualification session: the best timings obtained in these tests would make the difference. The quickest five drivers would have the right to reach the other drivers in the ordinary test runs, from where the final names of the 26 definite drivers would come out. Gilles was the fastest of his group with his McLaren, preceding Patrick Tambay with a Theodore Ensign.
During the official qualifying Villeneuve always seem to be on the point of making a disaster, but his control of the car was so great that his spins were less and less frequent even though his single-seat car was often in countersteer; it was so that the number of people attracted by the driving style of the Canadian increased: people stopped and observed that new phenomenon of the tracks. At the and of the qualifying the team was wordless to realize that Villeneuve had qualified in 9th position, 43 cents from James Hunt in pole position with his official McLaren and anyway preceding cars such as the Tyrrell by Ronnie Peterson, the Ferrari by Carlos Reutemann and the other official McLaren by Jochen Mass.
Journalists, even if distracted by the debut of the turbocharged engine Renault, did not hesitate to name Villeneuve as the person who could potentially make that race unforgettable. They called him a kind, polite, modest and pleasant person and they took information about his skills as a driver and as tester by his mechanics, who described Gil as extraordinarily brilliant in understanding the needs of his car. Eyes wide open, so, on that young debutant.
a warm Saturday afternoon the rumble of the twenty-six engines covered the voices of the crowd cheering the drivers. At the end of the first lap Villeneuve's McLaren was in 7th position before more famous names such as Mass, Brambilla and Peterson. Laps went by and the beginner, with his single-seat car nr. 40, kept on keeping pace with the best drivers of the world. Then Gilles realized that the water temperature was going up. At the 10th lap the water started boiling and Gil was forced to stop at the pit.
His unexpected arrival immediately created a frantic distress and the mechanics went towards the back part of the car to find out what the origin of the problem was. When the other drivers had already run two laps, one of the mechanics realized that the light of the water was broken. Gilles went berserk on track leaving behind him two black stripes of tyres. He started the race while the first single-seat cars were ending the 13th of the foreseen laps. He correctly let the first drivers go, who were racing between them, and he followed keeping their pace to the end, scoring the 5th best time on the lap and placing 11th in absolute.
At the end of the race Villeneuve was very pleased of his race. "If I had ignored the light of the water and the engine had burnt out I would have acted like a beginner who does not pay attention to the lights. I did not want to be labelled like that and so I stopped at the pit. After having gone back and let the others go, I proceeded keeping my pace and I realized that I could stay behind them; I was really satisfied
If it hadn't been for that stop, which turned out to be useless, Gilles would have surely ended the race in 4th position, but his performance gave him the title of "Driver of the day" and the approval of some important journalists. The press was unanimous in considering that driver as a natural, incredibly talented man with a brilliant future in front of him.
went back Home without knowing which other Grand Prix he would run with the McLaren. At any rate he faced a month of August full of commitments, including the Formula Atlantic races; he was in 4th position and he felt a great need to recover the wasted time. In Halifax, after having started in pole position, he spun right round and withdrew when he was 5th. At St. Félicien Gilles transformed another start in 1st position and ended with a great victory with nearly a minute before the second driver. Then he moved to Mosport for a Can-Am race, preceded by the "6 hours" in Molson, a race valid of the World Endurance Championship, where Gilles shared a private BMW with Eddie Cheever, coming absolute 3rd and first in the Group 5.
The following day, during the Can-Am race, Gilles did not end the race, as usual. In those days he unfortunately met Teddy Mayer, who informed him that he would not be hired by the McLaren the following 1978 and the was free to accept any proposal he would receive.
Gilles sadly went back to Berthierville: that news had been a bolt from the blue, and he started to wonder if his career as a driver had come to an end. He was upset, he could not understand why Mayer had changed his mind. His moral went down when he found out that not he, but Patrick Tambay, would have substituted Jochen Mass in the McLaren team the following year.
At this point a time of uncertainty started, just when the Formula Atlantic Championship was ending. Gilles felt nervous and showed this in the next races, where he missed the opportunity to gain other victories due to his own distraction. The last race on the new circuit of Quebec City was approaching and Gilles could hardly
obtain a 3rd position at the start, after having destroyed his car, and he was forced to use that of his team-mate in order to get a sufficiently good position. Gilles needed to win this time: he did it helped by a little fortune; this gave him also the title of Formula Atlantic champion for the second consecutive year.
He had won in all twelve out of the twenty-five races he had raced, a record which is today still unbeaten, but now Villeneuve's adventure in Formula Atlantic had come to an end. He realized that another season in the same category, even if possible, would be a failure, a no-way out to his fast ascent. Gilles could not imagine he was about to start his career in the most prestigious Formula of all, with the most famous racing team of the world.
1978, after the McLaren refusal to make him race in its own team, because they preferred the more experienced Tambay, Villeneuve went with his motorhome back to Berthierville driving slower than usual. He parked close to his parents' home, he organized electrical and phone connection and began to clean together with his wife Joanna. He thought about his uncertain future; his experience in Formula 1 at Silverstone had convinced him that was the world he belonged to, and the constant lack of money after ages of sacrifices and deprivations, for him and his family, would have been repaid only with a high level contract. On the other hand, he was now 27 years old and he could do one thing only: driving.
His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone; it was Joanna who answered with an amazing voice and spoke with someone who seemed to call from very far away. She turned towards Gilles and said: "It's for you. From far away. It's somebody who speaks English with a foreign accent, I believe
". Gil picked up the phone and heard a voice saying: "Just a moment please, this is the Ferrari
". On the phone came a person who said he was a partner of and was speaking on behalf of Enzo Ferrari, who had asked him to get in touch and find out if he was interested in racing for them.
Gilles couldn't believe what he was hearing and thought that was a joke, but he had to believe that when the following proposal was to book a flight to Milan immediately and meet the "Drake" in person. Gilles got rid of any doubts when, the following day, he received another phone call and was asked confirmation about his time of arrival in Milan.
On Monday, August 29, Villeneuve travelled to Italy and then to Modena. His first meeting with Enzo Ferrari lasted about one hour. Gilles was not intimidated by the important presence of the person that was sitting at a desk full of prizes and pictures of cars and drivers of the legendary Ferrari team; he explained that he was tied to the McLaren by an option which legally bound him for the whole 1978, and that to make him available he would have to obtain a liberatory act from the English team. Ferrari, who was a great expert and smart in this field, assured Gilles that there would be no problems. The meeting ended with the idea to keep in touch. Villeneuve left Maranello with the regret not to have been able to settle the matter on the spot. He could not make himself aware they had chosen him, when rumours were about names of more experienced drivers to substitute Niki Lauda at the Ferrari, after that the relationship between the Austrian driver and the Ferrari had become difficult.
After a little while, during the Italian Grand Prix where Gilles had been invited to be there, Teddy Mayer assured he would be ready to sign the liberatory that allowed Gilles to race for another team in the following season. This could happen only if such team would be exclusively the Ferrari. So Gil left Monza with the authorization to contact the Italian team and went back to Maranello for another meeting. That time the Canadian went to Fiorano, where was the private track for the Ferrari tests. A special car got ready: it had specific features for his height, and Gilles was literally sent to explore the fourteen curves of the three kilometers track. Under the eyes of many journalists his first test on a Formula 1 Ferrari did not record any special event: he showed too much enthusiasm and made many mistakes, a normal thing for a boy who came from minor races. But after that time, Gilles maybe thought he was not ready to race due to the problems he had met on the Fiorano track. The following day his times started to shorten and Enzo Ferrari, who was observing from his location in the control room, declared himself satisfied, as well as Gilles, who realized anyway that he had to work hard before being officially considered a Ferrari driver.
Back to Canada after the Italian tests, Gilles had still doubts about his future, he kept on waiting for a phone call that did not arrive, and believed that things weren't as good as he expected. But a few days later Enzo Ferrari in person called him and said: "Are you ready to sign a contract with us?
" - "Of course!
", answered Gil.
obtained the releasing from the McLaren, Villeneuve flew to Milan and then drove to Maranello together with his manager Gaston Parent. Somebody took them through a back door to an old dusty office, filled with dusty prizes. Only a desk and two chairs were in the room: being at the Ferrari was like meeting the Pope. The Old Man came soon after together with his officer and an interpreter so that all matters relevant to the contract could be sorted out. Mr. Ferrari spoke in Italian, even though he could easily speak French. He was holding a sort of agreement specifying that the Ferrari would have paid a high amount of dollars if Villeneuve had raced for his team in 1978. Gil's only condition was that he had to be free to do what he liked in his private life, with no interferences whatsoever. Besides, his family had to be able to follow him in every race, and all expenses had to be paid. Mr. Ferrari decided to think it over, and the same night the contract was ready to be signed with the clauses requested. Gilles was enthusiastic, earning money was not his primary aim, he would have paid himself to race for the Ferrari and at the end he got more than he had expected.
Now satisfied, Gaston and Gilles lodged in a hotel in Modena, and the following morning they reached Fiorano where some journalists were waiting for them. Gil got on a car, he started and span in a high grass lawn. The front wing cut the grass but Gil did not seem to care: he drove his car back on track and started to drive as fast as he could, the car filled with grass, as if nothing had happened. Mr. Ferrari was smiling...
The following press conference announced that Villenuve would soon debut in the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport and that he would race in the Japanese one soon after. He had the size of his seat taken, then he flew back to Canada, not without difficulties.
Gilles Villeneuve was the seventy-first driver hired by the Ferrari and he was probably the less experienced of them all. The decision to take him might have looked strange, but it perfectly fit with Enzo Ferrari's behaviour, the living legend who had created the most prestigious team in the history of car-racing. Gilles once said: "Mr. Ferrari is devoted to cars as no other man in the world
". Enzo Ferrari and Gilles Villeneuve were two similar spirits.
TO BE CONTINUED...
May 8, 1982
epilogue is committed on Zolder circuit, in a forest of the Flanders in Belgium. It's only a few minutes from 2 o'clock p.m., the last session of qualifying is coming to an end. The Ferrari number 27, the Villeneuve's car, doesn't show up at the pits. It's not even seen from far away, maybe slowing approaching. Then the news breaks, the first images follow: Villeneuve's Ferrari crazily darts into the March driven by Jochen Mass, who is making the tyres cool by driving slowly.
cameras don't show the violent and fatal impact on the embankment bounding the short straight track; the green trees of the wood cover the view, as if Nature protected the privacy of his last moments of life. What it's seen later is only the chrysalis of a butterfly, an empty shell, a soft throb, Gil has flown off for the last flight.
has spread his wings to immortality...