Villeneuve broke into the Formula 1 field in 1977. He was a new character, unknown to the most even if well appreciated in his own Country, already snowmobiles champion and little champion in minor competitions. At his second race he had already become a Ferrari official driver; nobody knew why and the choice of the Maranello team management was openly criticized.
character grew quickly, he was always the fastest, he was always venturing the most, he won when his car lacked in competitiveness, he fought for the first, but also for the last-but-one position, he showed a resolution unknown to most of the people, he never surrendered.
His teenager face couldn't but touch our hearts. Everybody liked him: men and women, old and young people, children, adult and he spread his virus in half of the world.
have the Villeneuve fever too!
raced his first Formula Atlantic competition on May 26, 1974 on the Westwood circuit, close to Vancouver; he placed himself third, and shocked his competitors for his agonistic determination. The following two races, at Edmonton and at Gimli, respectively ended with his twenty-second position and his drop out. In the following circuit, at Mosport, Gilles faced another side of car competitions: accident with physical consequences.
It was the first day of July and only nine laps were finished from the start of the race; the front wheel of his March hit the back one of the car before him and
in a desperate attempt for a braking, Gilles car crashed against the protection barriers and he broke his left leg.
Villeneuve couldn't move for about a month, but at the beginning of the month of August he could not stand inactivity any longer: he got rid of his plaster and drove his Ford Mustang up to Halifax in order to get his foot used to the clutch again.
He qualified for the practices and started the race, but pain in his foot forced him to retire. He started racing again on regular basis only at the last competition, in the city circuit of Trois-Rivierès, but also on this occasion he had to drop out for an accident.
The following years were luckier and Gilles could show his value by dominating the category in 1976 and 1977, winning the championship for two consecutive years.
made his debut in Formula 1 on July 16, 1977 at Silverstone, on a McLaren, but after three months only he was driving a Ferrari at the Canadian Grand Prix in Mosport.
On October 23 of the same year, during the sixth lap of the Japan Grand Prix on the Fuji circuit, his Ferrari ran into the Tyrrell of the Swedish Ronnie Peterson, Gilles' Ferrari flew in the air, fell on its front, flew again and re-fell among some people standing on a forbidden area.
This tragic accident caused the death of two
people and another ten were injured, one of the dead was a marshall who was desperately trying to move the public to a safer area.
Gilles was deeply sorry about that, but never felt guilty: "Us drivers risk our lives every single moment of the race and the mistake always may happen, we cannot get worried about the fans too. I am terribly sorry for the people who have died, but they were standing where they were not allowed to and I can't feel responsible for their death, those people shouldn't have been there, it is the organization fault.
" This was his short comment.
is a transition year for the Canadian driver. Almost all championship tracks are unknown to him. He learns tracks, knows and evaluates his opponents; he makes mistakes, but in some races he shows all his potentials, his top-notch rhythm, his talent that will explode soon and he realized his first victory.
The year 1979 arrives this way and Villeneuve becomes famous not only in sport, he becomes a character for his intemperance and for the risks and the hazards he takes in driving his Ferrari 312T4, but he also becomes a symbol for whoever see in him his will of never feel defeated, his will of being the number one in every activity without sacrificing his fundamental values such as honesty, sincerity and friendship. There are quite a few examples in that year that make increase the passion for the little flying Canadian.
Grand Prix of France: on Dijon circuit we could see one of the most unforgettable duels in the Formula 1 history. It was 2 o'clock p.m., Villeneuve reached the first position, he overtook everybody and kept a constant high speed, but round about half of the race, Jabouille overtook him at the bottom straight track, close to the pits. In the meantime Arnoux recovered many seconds. Three laps were missing at the end of the race, Arnoux's Renault was at the back of the Ferrari, which came second after the Jabouille's Renault; after several attempts
Gilles was overtaken by Arnoux, but with a sharp braking he managed to overtake his competitor, the two proceeded this way, one close to the other, their cars hit on some curves, they went on wheel to wheel for another two endless laps. In the end Gilles got the better of his opponent and reached the second position.
On the podium emotion was great "Was I scared? Not at all, it was really good fun.
" said Gilles. "I thought I could have gone out of track, but everything was fantastic, really sporting.
" said Arnoux. But something special had happened on that track...
few weeks later, during the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, Gil was the main character in a situation that created some arguments, but that surely gave an idea of his unbroken spirit.
Villeneuve was leading the race but soon realized that the wheels were deteriorating and one of them was deflating.
Gilles proceeded all the same, followed by Alan Jones and his car did an extraordinary spin. He did not pit for a wheel change, as it was expected but went on and again he went off track with his back left tire down. He had to take one complete lap in order to pit and he did so with the idea not to waste much time. He drove too fast and the rim started to scrape the asphalt till the suspension as well broke completely. Villeneuve proceeded with his back stub which was now sparkling, frightfully waving and nearly torning up. He stopped in the pits, there was nothing to do and he had to retire: this was the bitter end of a race that turned the enthusiasm of the audience on, but that at the same time aroused hot controversies.
Now Gil had signed his own way of driving and his own way of conceiving the races; somebody accused him of frantic starts, somebody stated that he had to be convicted for his behaviour, but he was creating his own history, he was showing that his ventures were not only a way of driving a car, but also his personal way of living.
the Italian Grand Prix on Imola circuit, in September 1980, Gilles faced the most spectacular and terrifying accident of his career. It was the sixth lap and his Ferrari 312T5 went off track before the Tosa curve (the curve that would be entitled to him after his death).
"I was driving at 280 km/h
- he stated - and maybe the wheels were still too cold. What happened was that at the braking close to the Tosa one wheel exploded and the car violently turned left, breaking up on the protection wall; it was a terrible crash.
" The car rebounded on the track and Villeneuve was miraculously avoided by the group that was following, only the Bruno Giacomelli's Alfa Romeo hit the fragments and holed a wheel, thus forcing him to a withdrawal. Luckily enough Gilles faced no physical consequences and went out of his car, now stopped in the middle of the track; just a good fright for everybody.
1981 was an historical date because it would always be remembered for the first victory of a turbocharged engine in a city-circuit, especially on the sea level. The winning car was the Ferrari 126C number 27 and the driver who helped its triumph, the man who could make up for the lack of his car with his determination, was Gilles Villeneuve.
He was in first row on practices, close to Nelson Piquet, who was in pole. During the race anyway the Brazilian driver made a fatal mistake and was forced to retire. Lady Fortune gave Villeneuve the opportunity to lead the race, as Alan Jones' Williams, which was leading after Piquet drop out, started to face some problems and had to pit; Jones started again with a good advantage but this was not enough. Villeneuve's wild recovery, even with the poor road holding of his Ferrari, become real at five laps from the end with a superlative overtaking before the fearful turn Ste. Dévote.
It was delirium, Gilles overtook the Australian driver on a difficult point and his supporters stood up enthusiastically. The Ferrari had not been winning for eighteen months and Gilles was the first to cross the finishing line. Mechanics ran up to him, crying for happiness.
It was an unforgettable afternoon...
days later on the Spanish Jarama circuit, the press declared: "The best race in the last ten years, maybe comparable only to the fantastic Clark race in Monza dated back to 1967. The winner was the Ferrari drove by the fantastic, inimitable Villeneuve. The red Maranello car persuaded here more than in Monte-Carlo; the Canadian driver can be compared to a wild animal for his exceptional high class and determination; he has left his breathless competitors back for eighty laps as only champions with a great heart can do.
Believe it or not the Ferrari chassis has the highest number of problems in the Formula 1 group, a swinging chassis that on the Jarama circuit took the car from one side of the track to the other, ruining the wheels consequently. Gilles was no bothered and drove his red car, correcting it in an incredible way on the difficult curves, not even the best English chassis could do this. The reliability of the turbocharged engine has now been reached and with a Nuvolari-Villeneuve like that we can expect everything...
the beginning of his career, Villeneuve was nicknamed "The Aviator" for the high number of accidents due to his lack of experience and a bit of ingenuity; such a term was used in a critical way cause he occasionally exceeded in impetuosity and competitive spirit, wasting favorable opportunities and possible good results.
The way Villeneuve approached the races was maybe too passionate, too instinctive and direct to provide him with the world title and many episodes have characterized his career, but Enzo Ferrari was always on his side for the way Gilles was and the way he drove. Sometimes it was necessary to have no limits when driving vehicles not really competitive and Gilles always gave the best of himself:
"If I drive 110 percent it's normal I might face an accident or go off track, this is my job and I can't live without racing.
Of course he showed this on track as well such as during the Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal for example, under the rain, after a collision with Derek Daly's March, the Ferrari front wing bends; Gilles does not stop and drives a few laps with no visibility following the dry trace left on the track by the other cars. Then the front wing flies away and he protects his third position to the bitter end, getting on the podium.
relationship with his fans had always been peculiar, Gilles loved his supporters even if he was a shy man; he enjoyed staying with his friends and loved the intimacy of his family, two fundamental values for his inner peace. It is also true that when he was invited to any show he went for the joy of his fans.
His ability to be on the same wavelength as the crowd was incredible and this made him even more unique.
Here he is participating an offshore race on the shores of the Como lake, against other Formula 1 drivers; he is the winner on that September Sunday 1981. Then, on November 21 of the same year, at the Istrana military airport (Treviso - Italy), he played a leading role in an unusual challenge against an F104 fighter of the Italian Air Force in front of hundred thousand people. It was an incredible day with the Villeneuve's Ferrari fighted and defeated the plane during an acceleration race: a timed kilometer from a standing start. A strange Ferrari, with no stabilizers for an higher speed.
celebrity had now reached the top and he was dedicated the front page of the Time magazine, as it had happened in 1965 to Jim Clark. But in 1981 his fame was at unimaginable levels, even if he had won no titles, he had got it for his outrageous attitude on track, showing his will of never surrender, even when his car was clearly lower level than his competitors. He was sharply criticized during the Dutch Grand Prix or at Silverstone for some accidents he caused for example, but he was an exceptional driver and he always wanted to win;
any time he made a mistake he admitted it and never blamed his car or his team, he never found useless excuses.
On October 23, 1981, during the traditional press conference, Enzo Ferrari said about him: "I wish I knew who, among those who work in the Formula 1 field, who race or write, never makes a mistake. Maybe he is a bit naive, but when a driver, at Monte-Carlo, make people speak about the Ferrari as a world championship car, when a driver reaches the Time cover magazine, seven and a half million copies, this means he worth something. I love Villeneuve, the way he is, with his excesses and the risks he takes. He satisfies his audience, he is like an actor, he looks for an applause: this is the reason why an actor plays.
Ferrari reminded him this way:
"With his generosity, his courage, the destructive skill he had in driving cars, his way of braking axle shafts, speed gears, clutches, brakes, Gilles taught what it needed to be done when a driver has to find a solution to an unexpected event, a difficult time. He had a strong fighting spirit and made the Ferrari famous. I really loved him.
Gilles Villeneuve was dedicated several initiatives in the years, some of them have been quickly organized just for the sake of gain, some others have survived and are still there to remember the little great driver. Canada has always been grateful to its citizen and Gilles has become a national hero. The Town Council in Montréal officially dedicated him the circuit on the Nôtre Dame Island by naming it "Le circuit Gilles Villeneuve", in 1988 the "Gilles Villeneuve Museum" was open by the old post office of Berthierville where Gil was living with his family; in 1995 such museum was moved to a better place in Berthierville. The park as well has been named after him, in the middle of the park rises the bronze statue with Gilles countenance at his real size.
In 1997 the Canadian posts, in order to commemorate fifteen years from his death, issued a series of special stamps with his image.
The Family tomb is nearly visible among hundreds of other tombs, it is hard to find it, plunged in its fascinating simplicity. Gilles considered himself an ordinary lucky man as he could do what he loved and was paid to do that. Unluckily Villeneuve went back to his Country much earlier than he expected without leaving a joint between his personal history and his legend. His name is now synonym of incredible ventures whose outlines are vaguer and vaguer and a picture taken out of a drawer or a text with some biographical notes are no more enough to assure the car racing fans about the fact that Villeneuve was a real, authentic character and not the usual idealization of a driver. Not many people are aware about his real life, not many people are sure about his real ventures.
What do remain in the end are the certainties of those who have lived those magical years, of those loved and still love him.
Even now, many years later, his name calls feelings and tokens of love and affection. Initiatives on his memory are a lot all over the world, such as the monument on the street named like him in Fiorano, on the way to the Ferrari's private circuit.
Who knows how many times Gil has passed through that street to go on track and test his car; surely unaware that he was passing towards his eternity... We will never forget you!
ve cried and I've been happy for him, after so many years I still haven't forgotten his precepts and I've never stopped mentioning him in my prayers. Unfortunately, as many people, I haven't been lucky enough to meet him, all I could do was to kneel in front of his tombstone and dedicate him some of my thoughts. I wish I could tell him many things, but I have realized that as long as I think about him, he is and always will be with me in my mind, in my soul, forever...
This website is dedicated to you and to whom have loved you..
THANK YOU GIL.