Remembering Gilles Villeneuve

Today is Gilles Villeneuve's birthday, and in honour of one of the best Formula 1 pilots to grace a race car, we look back over that final weekend

Regarded by many as the fastest driver ever to grace the world of Formula One, the legend that is Gilles Villeneuve still lives on. It had been a tough fortnight for the French-Canadian as he began preparations for the 1982 Belgian GP, and he fought to contain the resentment he held towards his Ferrari team mate Didier Pironi following their titanic battle at Imola in the previous round.

It wasn't supposed to end the way it did. Villeneuve was the No.1 and believed team orders were in force as the scarlet duo began the final few laps. For the audience, what followed was an edge of the seat dice for the lead as the scarlet duo repeatedly passed one another to the flag. While the enthusiasts praised both drivers for their mesmerising display of grit determination, Villeneuve's face told a different story.

I'll die a happy man because doing what I do makes me feel alive.

Gilles Villeneuve

Enraged by the antics of his team mate -- who had been instructed to shadow the No.27 car to the flag -- Villeneuve informed reporters that with immediate effect, he and the Frenchman would no longer be on speaking terms except for de-briefs in the garage. He would additionally ensure he beat Pironi in every session, and every race for the remainder of the season.

Having struggled to match the pace of his teammate going into the final few minutes of Saturday's qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix, Villeneuve entered his car for the final time. Lowering his visor, those intense brown eyes focused on the task ahead, the French-Canadian left the pits and re-joined the racetrack.

Worst possible news

Minutes later the red flags were out. As is always the case when such a situation arises, folk knew there had been a serious accident and subconsciously, many knew it was Villeneuve.

The accident had been one of huge magnitude and the pictures broadcast from the local television station did little to swing opinions that the driver could not survive. Hours later the announcement came that everyone expected and feared. Formula One had lost Gilles Villeneuve.

It says much about the former Ferrari star that even though his career was brief, contemporary grand prix enthusiasts regard him as one of the most talented to have ever graced the cockpit of an F1 car. Abiding memories of his wheel-banging, no-holds barred battles with his competitors have gone into legend as some of the most dramatic ever witnessed.

"People say I drive like a madman, on and off the track," he said before his death. "They say I'm insane because I smile when faced with danger. Maybe I am a little crazy, but let me tell you something else -- I'll die a happy man because doing what I do makes me feel alive."

Gilles Villeneuve was a poet of a racing driver who was adamant that a driver should negotiate every turn on every circuit as fast as possible, then deal with potential hazards. Though this belief undoubtedly contributed to his death almost thirty-three years ago, it was a philosophy that endeared him to millions, then, as now.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Gilles Villeneuve , Didier Pironi
Teams Ferrari
Article type Special feature