|Born||18 January 1950|
Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada
|Died||8 May 1982 (aged 32)|
|Formula One World Championship career|
|First Grand Prix||1977 British Grand Prix|
|Entries||68 (67 starts)|
|Career Points||101 (107)|
|Drivers' Championships||0 (2nd in 1979)|
|Final Grand Prix||1982 Belgian Grand Prix|
Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve, better known as Gilles Villeneuve (January 18, 1950 – May 8, 1982), was a Canadian racing driver. He was offered a drive in Formula One with the McLaren team at the 1977 British Grand Prix. 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 team-mate Jody Scheckter. Villeneuve died in a 140 mph (225 km/h) crash caused by a collision with the March of Jochen Mass during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. His son, Jacques Villeneuve, became Formula One world champion in 1997 and, to date, the only Canadian to win the Formula One World Championship.
Villeneuve was born in Richelieu, a small town just outside Montreal, in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada and grew up in Berthierville. Villeneuve began his racing career in snowmobile racing before moving to the regional 1973 Formula Ford championship in Quebec. He ran his own two-year-old car and won seven of the ten races he entered winning the overall championship. In 1974 Villeneuve won the international snowmobile championship and then moved up to Formula Atlantic which he competed in for four years. He won his first race in 1975 at Gimli Motosport Park in heavy rain. The following year he dominated the season, winning all but one of the races and taking both the US and Canadian titles. He followed this up by winning the Canadian title again in 1977.
During a non-championship Formula Atlantic race at Trois-Rivières in 1976 Villeneuve beat several Grand Prix stars inclduing McLaren driver James Hunt. After being impressed by Villeneuve, Hunt's McLaren team offered him a Formula One deal for up to five races in a third car during the 1977 season.
Villeneuve made his Formula One debut at the 1977 British Grand Prix, where he qualified 9th in McLaren's old M23, splitting the regular drivers Hunt and Jochen Mass who were driving newer M26s. In the race he set fifth fastest lap and finished 11th after being delayed for two laps by a faulty temperature gauge. Despite this, shortly after the race McLaren's experienced team manager Teddy Mayer decided not to continue with Villeneuve for the following year. His explanation was that Villeneuve "was looking as though he might be a bit expensive" and that Patrick Tambay, the team's eventual choice for 1978, was showing similar promise.
Villeneuve was left with no solid options for 1978, although Canadian Walter Wolf, considered giving him a drive at Wolf Racing and also recommended him to the Ferrari team's founder, Enzo Ferrari. In August 1977 he flew to Italy to meet Ferrari, who was immediately reminded of the pre-war European champion Tazio Nuvolari: "When they presented me with this 'piccolo canadese', this minuscule bundle of nerves, I immediately recognised in him the physique of Nuvolari and said to myself, let's give him a try." Villeneuve signed to drive for Ferrari for the last two races of the 1977 season and the 1978 season. Villeneuve later remarked that: "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..."
Villeneuve's arrival was one factor that prompted Ferrari driver Niki Lauda to quit the team at the 1977 Canadian Grand Prix having already clinched his second championship with the Italian team. Villeneuve retired from the race after sliding off the track on another competitor's oil. He also raced in the Japanese Grand Prix, but retired on lap five when he tried to outbrake the Tyrrell P34 of Ronnie Peterson. The pair banged wheels causing Villeneuve's Ferrari to became airborne. It landed on a group of spectators watching the race from a prohibited area, killing one spectator and a race marshal and injuring ten people. After an investigation into the incident no blame was apportioned and, although he was "terribly sad" at the deaths, Villeneuve did not feel responsible for them.
The 1978 season saw a succession of retirements for Villeneuve, often caused by problems with the new Michelin radial tyres. Early in the season, he started on the front row at the United States Grand Prix West, but he crashed out of the lead on lap 39. He finishes a then career best fourth at the Belgian Grand Prix followed by three non-points finishes. Despite calls in the Italian press for him to be replaced, Ferrari persisted with him. Towards the end of the season, Villeneuve's results began to improve. At Austria he took his first ever podium. He finished second at the Italian Grand Prix, however he was penalised a minute for jumping the start, ending up seventh. Villeneuve ran second at the United States Grand Prix before his engine failed. Finally at the season-ending Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Île Notre-Dame Villeneuve scored his first Grand Prix win after Jean-Pierre Jarier's Lotus stopped with engine trouble. As of 2016, he is the only Canadian to win his home race.
Villeneuve was joined by South African Jody Scheckter for 1979 after Carlos Reutemann moved to Lotus. He started the year well, winning rounds three and four. This was followed by two non-points finishes and a retiremnt at Monaco. The following race, the 1979 French Grand Prix, is remembered for Villeneuve's wheel-banging duel with René Arnoux in the last laps of the race. Arnoux passed Villeneuve for second place with three laps to go, but Villeneuve re-passed him on the next lap. On the final lap Arnoux attempted to pass Villeneuve again, and the pair ran side-by-side through the first few corners of the lap, making contact several times. Arnoux took the position but Villeneuve attempted an outside pass one corner later. The cars bumped hard, Villeneuve slid wide but then passed Arnoux on the inside at a hairpin turn and held him off for the last half of the lap to secure second place.
At the Dutch Grand Prix a slow puncture collapsed Villeneuve's left rear tyre and put him off the track. He returned to the circuit and limped back to the pits on three wheels, losing the damaged wheel on the way. On his return to the pits Villeneuve insisted that the team replace the missing wheel, and had to be persuaded that the car was beyond repair. Villeneuve could have won the World Championship by beating Scheckter at the following Italian Grand Prix, but chose to follow team orders and finish behind him, ending his own championship challenge. The pair finished first and second in the championship, with Scheckter beating Villeneuve by just four points. During the extremely wet Friday practice session for the season-ending United States Grand Prix, Villeneuve set a time variously reported to be either 9 or 11 seconds faster than any other driver. His team-mate Jody Scheckter, who was second fastest, recalled that "I scared myself rigid that day. 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!" Villeneuve went on to win the race ending the year on a high.
The 1980 season was a complete disaster for the Ferrari team. Villeneuve had been considered favourite for the drivers championship by UK bookmakers, but only scored six points in the whole campaign with the 312T5 which had only partial ground effects. The car was unreliable, slow and was not effective against the competition. His best result was two fifth places at Monaco and Canada along with two other points finishes, ending the season in a low 14th place.
For the 1981 season, Ferrari introduced their first turbo engined F1 car, the 126CK, which produced tremendous power but was let down by its poor handling. Villeneuve was partnered with Didier Pironi who replaced the retired Scheckter. Villeneuve won two races during the season, Monaco and Spain, along with a total of eigth retirements during the season. The Monaco Grand Prix was his first win since the end of the 1979 season. At the Spanish Grand Prix Villeneuve kept five quicker cars behind him for most of the race using the superior straight-line speed of his car. After an hour and 46 minutes of racing Villeneuve led second-placed Jacques Laffite by only 0.22 seconds. Fifth-placed Elio de Angelis was only just over a second further back. At the 1981 Canadian Grand Prix Villeneuve damaged the front wing of his Ferrari and drove for most of the race in heavy rain with the wing obscuring his view ahead. There was a risk of being black flagged but eventually the wing became detached and Villeneuve drove on to finish third with the nose section of his car missing. Villeneuve ended the season with 25 points and placed 7th in the Driver's Championship.
The first few races of the 1982 season seemed promising for Villeneuve. He led in Brazil in the new 126C2, before spinning into retirement, and finished third at the United States Grand Prix West although he was later disqualified for a technical infringement. The Ferraris were handed an unexpected advantage at the San Marino Grand Prix as an escalation of the FISA-FOCA war saw the FOCA teams boycott the race, effectively leaving Renault as Ferrari's only serious opposition. With Renault driver Prost retiring from fourth place on lap 7 followed by his team-mate Arnoux on the 44th lap Ferrari seemed to have the win guaranteed. In order to conserve fuel and ensure the cars finished the Ferrari team ordered both drivers to slow down. Villeneuve believed that the order also meant that the drivers were to maintain position but Pironi passed Villeneuve. A few laps later Villeneuve re-passed Pironi and slowed down again, believing that Pironi was simply trying to entertain the Italian crowd. On the last lap Pironi passed and aggressively chopped across the front of Villeneuve and took the win.
Villeneuve was irate as he believed that Pironi had disobeyed the order to hold position. Meanwhile Pironi claimed that he had done nothing wrong as the team had only ordered the cars to slow down, not maintain position. Villeneuve stated after the race "I think it is well known that if I want someone to stay behind me and I am faster, then he stays behind me." Feeling betrayed and angry Villeneuve vowed never to speak to Pironi again. A comparison of the lap times of the two drivers showed that Villeneuve lapped far slower when he was in the lead, suggesting that he had indeed been trying to save fuel.
On 8 May 1982, Villeneuve died after an accident during the final qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. At the time of the crash, Pironi had set a time 0.1s faster than Villeneuve for sixth place. Villeneuve was using his final set of qualifying tyres, which were probably already past their best, and many writers say that he was attempting to improve his time on his final lap. Some suggest that he was specifically aiming to beat Pironi. However, Villeneuve's biographer Gerald Donaldson quotes Ferrari race engineer Mauro Forghieri as saying that the Canadian, although pressing on in his usual fashion, was returning to the pits when the accident occurred. If so, he would not have set a time on that lap.
With eight minutes of the session left, Villeneuve came over the rise after the first chicane and caught Jochen Mass travelling much more slowly through the left-handed bend before the Terlamenbocht corner. Mass saw Villeneuve approaching at high speed and moved to the right to let him through on the racing line. At the same instant Villeneuve also moved right to pass the slower car. The Ferrari hit the back of Mass' car and was launched into the air at a speed estimated at 200–225 km/h (120–140 mph). It was airborne for more than 100 m before nosediving into the ground and disintegrating as it somersaulted along the edge of the track. Villeneuve, still strapped to his seat, but without his helmet, was thrown a further 50 m from the wreckage into the catch fencing on the outside edge of the Terlamenbocht corner.
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 intubated 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.
At the time of his death, Villeneuve was extremely popular with fans and has since become an iconic figure in the history of the sport. At the funeral in Berthierville former teammate Jody Scheckter delivered a simple eulogy: "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."
The racetrack on Île Notre-Dame, Montreal, host to the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, was named Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in his honour at the Canadian Grand Prix of 1982. At the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the venue of the San Marino Grand Prix, a corner was named after him and a Canadian flag is painted on the third slot on the starting grid, from which he started his last race. At Zolder the corner where Villeneuve died has been turned into a chicane and named after him.
Villeneuve's helmet carried a stylised 'V' in red on either side — an effect he devised with his wife Joann. There was also a red band runnngn around the bottom of the helmet. The base colour was black.
Complete Formula One World Championship resultsEdit
(key) (Races in bold indicate pole position; races in italics indicate fastest lap)