It is always with some sorrow that I (we) remember one of F1's greats that left us far too early.
We are always left to wonder what might have been.
May 8th marks the 30th anniversary of Gilles Villeneuve death. For many reading this, they might have never had the pleasure of watching Gilles race, others many have only known of his son Jacques [pictured above]. Those of you who do remember the feisty Canadian, will know that many simply considered him to be mad, ruthless and stubborn…but highly entertaining.
Villeneuve evoked emotions that many of us cannot explain. Racing around with a missing wheel or a hanging wing or bouncing off of kerbs while clashing with rivals while drifting round corners. He had ridiculous car control, almost as though it was simply an extension of his own body. Tip-toeing on the razor’s edge of the absolute limits of the car and perhaps beyond even what the engineers thought possible. He was however, very blunt, abrasive and stubborn which didn’t make him a very popular man in the paddock. If he had made his mind up about taking a certain racing line, he was going to take that line and you’d better hope you weren’t in his way. The same held true off the track where his stunts snagged him many headlines including being labelled crazy and dangerous. Perhaps it was this, in part, that made him a fan favourite. This element of danger, of unpredictability that made every moment one to be remembered.
Gilles was hand-picked by Enzo Ferrari. He believed that Gilles would complement Jody Scheckter as a team mate and that they could feed off each other as they had very similar styles. Enzo described Gilles’ physical attributes to be almost identical to F1 legend Nuvolari and his personality as a bundle of nerves.
Ferrari will be holding a tribute to Gilles on Tuesday, May 8th at the Fiorano Circuit. Gilles son and former F1 Champion Jacques Villeneuve will be on hand and will be driving his father’s 1979 Ferrari 312 T4.
With the 18th anniversary of Senna’s death just last week (and sadly sometimes forgotten or overshadowed that of Roland Ratzenberger), we are thrown back to yesteryear and the way things were. F1 has evolved greatly in terms of safety but it has lost that element of danger and thrill. Some of the old-timer F1 fans have told me that Formula One has become too sterile. And that we have perhaps seen the end of true F1 legends. It seems that one’s fate to be a legend walks hand in hand with their death. As one put it to me yesterday, Will Michael Schumacher be remembered as a “true” F1 legend? Or will the fact that he did not die contesting his 7th world championship hinder his legacy?
In the case of Villeneuve, it is a question many would love to still have the opportunity to ask. Hated by some, loved by many but perhaps missed by all.
Author: Ernie Black
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