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32 years today since the legendary Gilles Villeneuve death at Belgian GP

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Gilles Villeneuve F1 Racer
Thirty two years on, the legendary Gilles Villeneuve (RIP) keep in mind. On this day we lost one of the most talented drivers ever to race in Formula 1, well-known Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve, known as Gilles Villeneuve (January 18, 1950 – May 8, 1982), was a Canadian racing driver.

“Right away I could see he was one of the rare ones, he settled right down in one of the school’s racing cars and set out to go faster than anyone we had ever seen before.”

The chief instructor of the “Jim Russell race driving School”, talking about student G. Villeneuve – 1973

He attentive with mechanical things at an early age, he reportedly wouldn’t play with his toy trucks and cars unless they were very realistic. He grew up cycling and skating and playing hockey, but when his father let him drive the family VW van when Gilles was still but a child, the fever had struck him. His father bought an old beater of a van and let Gilles drive it around the fields near their home when Gilles was just 11 years old. Gilles somehow made himself a sort of go-cart from a conglomerate of lawnmower parts.

Gilles at Zolder

The Canadian started his professional racing career in snowmobile racing in his native province of Quebec. He moved into single seaters, winning the US and Canadian Formula Atlantic championships in 1976, before being offered a drive in Formula One with the McLaren team at the 1977 British Grand Prix.

“He came to me and said: I sold our home to buy a car. I thinked maybe he’s going mad.” Joann Barthe, Gilles’ wife – 1974

He was taken on by reigning world champions Ferrari for the end of the season and from 1978 to his death in 1982 drove for the Italian team. He won six Grand Prix races in a short career at the highest level. In 1979, he finished second by four points in the championship to teammate Jody Scheckter.

“If someone said to me that you can have three wishes, my first would have been to get into racing, my second to be in Formula 1, my third to drive for Ferrari…” – Gilles

“Gilles was the last great driver. The rest of us are just a bunch of good professionals.”
– Alain Prost, 1982

Gilles at Zolder

Gilles at Zolder

Gilles was no more

That was the fateful day at Zolder in the 1982 Belgian GP. Gilles was still mad over the incident at Imola, and the fact that some on the Ferrari team were backing Pironi. During qualifying for the race, Gilles set out for a last shot, probably wanting to best the time of Pironi, who was ahead of him on the grid. While on a flyer, Gilles came upon the slower car of Jochen Mass.

Just as Gilles ducked to the right to pass him, Mass moved to the right in an effort to get out of the way. There was no way to avoid the collision, and Gilles struck Mass’s car and became airborne. It landed nose first and cart wheeled, ejecting Gilles from the car and throwing him into a catch fence.

Several drivers stopped and rushed to the scene. John Watson and Derek Warwick pulled Villeneuve, his face blue, from the catch fence. The first doctor arrived within 35 seconds to find that Villeneuve was not breathing, although his pulse continued; he was incubated and ventilated before being transferred to the circuit medical centre and then by helicopter to University St Raphael Hospital where a fatal fracture of the neck was diagnosed. Villeneuve was kept alive on life support while his wife travelled to the hospital and the doctors consulted with specialists worldwide. He died at 9:12 that evening

Marshal post next to the Villeneuve accident

Marshal post next to the Villeneuve accident

The Final Word

“Most people believe my father was crazy and I am very happy about it.”

– Jacques Villeneuve, 1997

“He left us for still unknown reasons. Destiny deprived us of a great champion, who I loved very much. My past is full of sad memories: my father, my mother, my brother, my son. I now look back on myself and see all the people I loved. Among them there is also this great man, Gilles Villeneuve.”

– Enzo Ferrari

“He will remain as a member of the family of the truly great drivers in auto racing history. He did not race to finish. He did not race for points. He raced to win. He was small in stature, but he was a giant.”

– Juan Manuel Fangio

“We will not forget him, as we are talking about a wound that will never heal completely. Nobody can fill the void he left.”

– Patrick Tambay

“I know no human being can do miracles but Gilles could really surprise us sometimes.”

– Jacques Laffite

Two quotes from Gilles himself:

“I know what I can and what I cannot do; I admit it, I am a bit crazy with cars but this is the way I am. I adore driving my racing car to the limit, when I race a couple of seconds slower just because I am leading, I get bored.”

– Gilles

“I love and respect my fans because races exist thanks to them. This is the reason why one must always give the best of himself, we are to offer our audience a real show.”

– Gilles

Montreal: Tribute to Gilles Villeneuve on the start-finish line at the circuit.

Montreal: Tribute to Gilles Villeneuve on the start-finish line at the circuit.

At Villeneuve’s funeral in his home town of Berthierville, Scheckter spoke of his former team mate: “I will miss Gilles for two reasons. First, he was the fastest driver in the history of motor racing. Second, he was the most genuine man I have ever known. But he has not gone. The memory of what he has done, what he achieved, will always be there.”

And so it has been. Though he never had the chance to claim a title, it doesn’t matter. He raced in 67 Grands Prix and won just six, but in four short years Villeneuve established a legend that has outlived even his own son Jacques’ title-winning Formula One career. (Credit: f1-grandprixhistory, Wiki)

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