30 years ago: a totally shamelessly subjective, but yet honest view on Gilles Villeneuve.
OK, if you want an honest and objective article on Gilles Villeneuve, please go somewhere else. Don't even read further. Click 'Next article'. Please.
He could walk on water. He could still race without a front wing and yet finish on the podium. He could drive at race speed on three wheels. He could be eight on the starting grid and yet fight for the lead 200 meters later. He could be 9 (yep, nine) seconds faster than his teammate and 22 (yep again, twenty-two) seconds faster than the third guy on one single lap. He could 'defend his position' in front of four (much) faster cars for 70 laps without making a single mistake and still win. He could do everything behind the wheel of a race car. And the worst the conditions were, the better he was.
It seems that each and every of the 67 Grands Prix he raced in were a fireworks of driving abilities, crazy drift action, wheel banging, and unexpected yet brilliant racing maneuvers (Alan Jones is probably still trying to figure how he got passed on the outside at Tarzan in Zandvoort). He was not part of the show; HE was the show, despite the fact that for most of his F1 career, he never had the best equipment to race with.
The 1979 French GP has become such a classic that beyond the insane wheel banging action with banzai French driver René Arnoux, what is left to remember is that Gilles proved wrong the most famous adage in sports saying that 'Only the winner counts, no one will remember who finish second'. From that glorious summer day of 1979 in Dijon, no one remember who won, but everybody remembers who came in second: Gilles. This is how great Gilles was: he didn't even need to win.
And it symbolizes him, too: in his mind, it didn't matter if he was fighting for the lead or for 20th position; he was always pushing the hell of out his (seemingly limitless) abilities and those of his car. He was an equal opportunity fighter: same lap, a lap down, battle for the win, battle for the 15th spot, it didn't matter to Gilles. He would fight his competitors again and again, relentless, until someone finally drops.
But then came May 8, 1982, 13h52. The minute that will remain dark forever, to me and to millions of fans around the world. Many still thinks that this was inevitable, with Gilles' racing-on-the-edge approach. Maybe… Geniuses always die young, so it seems.
At any rate, he was the most amazing, spectacular and fearless race car driver I've ever seen. The last romantic racing hero. And to this day, I miss him, still.