Having raced against Villeneuve in a one off appearance at a Canadian Formula Atlantic race, James Hunt was so impressed by Villeneuve that he rushed back to the UK telling McLaren boss Teddy Mayer he HAD to give this bloke a go. Mayer was convinced and offered Gilles a one off drive....
So Gilles very first Formula One race was with the McLaren # 40 at Silverstone, England. His 1st time to sit in an F1 car was at the track, and while the others were honing their setups, he was finding the limits of the car and track. His technique to do this would define his style, brutal, inventive, uncompromiosing but mostly shocking. He simply went faster and faster through a corner until the car spun, and then he made note of the speed, and backed it off. It is said he spun over 20 times on Friday, and the paddock was abuzz that Mayer had gone mad in signing this. crazed lunatic. Fact is that Villeneuve was learning the cars limits. 20 spins maybe, but he never spun twice in the same corner for the same reason.... and he never once damaged the car
But Gilles surprised everybody that Saturday, driving a year-old McLaren, qualifiied 9th, AHEAD of Jochen Mass , the #2 driver at Mclaren in the new model, and less than 3 tenths behind WDC Hunt! In the race he was running in fourth place when a faulty gauge took him back to the pits taking any chance of championship points away from him. Despite this he finished with the 5th fastest lap and was named "driver of the race by the fans"
It is worth noting that in 1979 Gilles, won 4 races, but his win at Brands Hatch was not considered by FISA due to their feud with Foca. This win would have given Gilles the title. Gilles led more races, and led more laps than anyone else that year. He missed the WDC by 4 points.
May 31st, 1981 Gilles in a still difficult Ferrari, earns the 1st ever win for a turbo at Monaco. The late Harvey Postlethwaite mentioned how impressed with this win. "I know how BAD that car was" he once wrote, the throttle was like a lightswitch, ON/OFF, no modulation.
June 21st, 1981, Gilles repeats the feat at another twisty 'drivers' track, Jarama. His last, and in many ways his most best win. His car was 1.2 seconds slower on Saturday, good for 7th on the grid. In his now trademark style, he blasted away from row 4 to lead at the 1st corner, and there he held the 6 faster cars for 80 laps, not once having to block or weave, in fact he went side by side many times with the other cars constantly changing positions behind him, but he always came out on top. In the end only 1.2 seconds seperated the top 5 cars.
September 27, 1981 Montreal 1981. The front wing damaged during a collision with another racer is considerably blocking his view in the rain. A couple of laps later, just before being black flagged to pit to replace the nose, he swerved into a barrier intentionally to knock it off completely, and his nose was then a tangled mess of wires and metal. Despite this minor inconvienance, he no longer needed to pit. He finished the race on the podium in third place in a demonstration of his great abilities, no matter what...
Oct 5th, 1979 Watkins Glenn. Pouring rain, the friday session is led by WDC Jody Sheckter in a time of 1:46. Until Gilles went 11 seconds faster. In the Saturday session, dry this time, the Ferraris are slower, but on race day he won't be denied and wins convincingly from 4th place. People have said that he had new improved 'wets' for this. Maybe, but so did his teamate is my answer to that. No tyre is worth 11 seconds a lap. Sheer ability is!
Of that wet practice, I have never seen video, but there is an audio file in existence.....(I dont have it)...It was sent to Nigel Roebuck (F1 writer at the time), who had this to say about it
"On it is the sound of a lone racing car, unmistakably a Ferrari flat-12, and its clearly audible all the way round the lap. There is a lot of wheelspin - you can hear the revs abruptly scream out of every turn - and then the volume builds until the car swishes by in a welter of spray.
Conditions were as bad as I have ever seen at a race circuit. In places the track was flooded, and only eight drivers ventured out. One of those was Scheckter, who was fastest behind team mate Villeneuve. Eleven seconds behind ...
The tape is of course Gilles, and it revived memories of a day when we forgot the wintry rain until he came in, the Ferrari breathless and steaming. In the pits the other drivers, aghast, had giggled nervously every time he skittered by at 160 mph. "Why do we bother ? He's different from the rest of us," Jacques Laffite said. "On another level ..."
"I scared myself rigid that day", Jody remembered. "I thought I had to be quickest. Then I saw Gilles's time and - I still don't really understand how it was possible. Eleven seconds !"
"Motor racing was a romantic thing for him, you see." Scheckter went on. "We were close friends, doing the same job for the same team, but we had completely opposite attitudes to it. My preoccupation was keeping myself alive, but Gilles had to be the fastest on every lap - even in testing. He was the fastest racing driver the world has ever seen. If he could come back and live his life again, I think he would do exactly the same - and with the same love."
Some quotes from other drivers and F1 notables.........
Alan Jones: on the 1979 Canadian GP
[just after having passed Gilles for the lead] "I've done it, and once I was into the lead I built up a bit of a cushion. But as soon as I backed off a fraction there was that bloody red shit-box in my mirrors again ! Villeneuve was unbelievable like that - I mean, he never gave up. He was the best driver I ever raced against, I think, and I certainly enjoyed my fights with him more than with anyone else, because I always knew exactly where I was with him. He'd never drive straight at you or edge you into a wall, or any of that stuff
" ...with me and my competitors it's battle for pole position as that's important but with Gilles you will see a battle for everything ...including 10th place ..."
"He made the fastest start of anybody here. I thought he must know a trick ...all season he had quicker starts, no one could compare"
"I liked him even more than I admired him. He was the best - and the fastest - racing driver in the world."
"Gilles was the perfect racing driver who knew where to take which advantage where ...."
"Villeneuve had the best talent of all of us. Whatever car that you put him in he would have been quick."
Juan Manuel Fangio
"He will remain as a member of the family of the truly great drivers in auto racing history. Mr Enzo Ferrari, who is an authority on these matters, has compared Villeneuve to Tazio Nuvolari. Nuvolari in my younger days was the great idol. All drivers wanted to equal the great Nuvolari. They struggled to match but could only imitate him. To be compared to Nuvolari is to receive the highest praise.
Villeneuve did not race to finish, he did not race for points. He raced to win. Although small in stature he was a giant."
"I know that no human being can do a miracle. Nobody commands magical properties, but Gilles made you wonder. He was that quick."
"To Gilles, racing truly was a sport, which is why he would never chop you. Something like that he'd look on with contempt. You didn't have to be a good driver to do that, let alone a great one. Anyone could do that. Gilles was the hardest bastard I ever raced against, but completely fair. If you'd beaten him to a corner, he accepted it and gave you room. Then he'd be right back at you at the next one !
Sure, he took unbelievable risks - but only with himself - and that's why I get pissed off now when people compare Senna with him. Gilles was a giant of a driver, yes, but he was also a great man."
Jean Sage, team manager, Renault
"Gilles was extraordinary. Everyone of us, every team would have loved to have a Gilles. The mastery he had, the ability. He could do absolutely anything he wanted to do with his car. Most considered him the best competitor of Formula [One] cars of our time.
[during the middle of the 1979 season:]
"Oh, I think he's superb, and I believe he'll get better and better. At the moment he still makes mistakes, misses the odd apex, gets up on a curb, uses a little too much road on the way out sometimes, but i'm being hypercritical here. His level of natural talent is phenomenal - there's real genius in his car control."
"It was terrible when Gilles died. I cried that day and the next one, too, even though I had to race ...and I remember the feeling that we were all starting equal, from now on. Villeneuve was gone. We all knew he had a talent beyond our reach."
[on Canada 1979]
"I was very proud of Alan that day. We had the best car at the time, without a doubt, and the only driver on the track we feared was that little French Canadian ..."
" He was quick!We were driving identical cars for the same (Formula Atlantic) team, so I knew. Ok, he was doing what he was used to, and I wasn't, but in Formula One I reckoned I was as quick as anybody of the time, and I couldn't get near him" -
"This guy (GV) is something else again. In 15 years of racing I've never seen anyone behave like he does after a shunt. - I mean, he doesn't react at all! It's just like nothing has happened although the state of the car tells you different... (question - Is he quick?) - Quick? He's quicker than anybody I've ever seen!"
" That (Járama, 1981) is the greatest drive I have seen by any driver. You can't believe how evil the Ferrari was! With all that pressure on him Villeneuve never made a mistake."
"Although in his brief F1 career, he never had a car remotely a match for his ability it never compromised his effort or commitment. He had a pure genius for driving race cars that was sublime. There was no one like him."
"That car, the original [Ferrari] 126C turbo had literally one quarter of the downforce that, say Williams or Brabham had. It had a power advantage over the Cosworths for sure, but it also had massive throttle lag at that time. In terms of sheer ability I think Gilles was on a different plane to the other drivers. To win those races [the 1981 GPs at Monaco and Jarama] - on tight circuits - was quite out of this world. I know how bad that car was."
Enzo Ferrari after Gilles' death
My past is scarred with grief ...father, mother, brother, sister, wife ...my life is full of sad memories. I look back and I see my loved ones ...and among my loved ones I see the face of this great man: Gilles Villeneuve."
ecapox wrote:The fact that his blood type was patched on his overalls is creepy. I would assume everyone had that. A sign of the times?
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