Jacques Villeneuve retraced his legendary father’s footsteps in a special event at Ferrari’s Fiorano test track today as he took to Gilles’s 312 T4 to mark the 30th anniversary of his death.
As a team firmly in touch with its past, May 8 remains a date firmly ingrained at Maranello as the day Gilles Villeneuve, considered one of the most exciting and inspirational Formula 1 drivers of all time, was killed in a high-speed accident during qualifying for the Belgian GP at Zolder in 1982.
Given Jacques never drove for Ferrari during his F1 career, and actually famously battled directly against the Maranello marque and Michael Schumacher to win his world title in 1997, what would have been a symbolic reuniting of the Villeneuve and Ferrari names never materialised in an official capacity – but this week the two finally came together on the 30th anniversary of Gilles’ tragic death.
On Monday Jacques was given a tour of Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters before having a seat fitting in the 312 T4 ahead of today’s run on the 1.9-mile circuit. The 1979 Ferrari was the car with which his father enjoyed his most successful season in Formula 1, winning on three occasions and finishing second to team-mate Jody Scheckter in the drivers’ championship.
Jacques, who was just 11 when his father died, was joined at the event by his mother Joann and sister Melanie along with some of his father’s old crew of mechanics. Modern-day Ferrari was represented by current race drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, Ferrari vice-president Piero Ferrari and president Luca di Montezemolo, whose first spell at the team in the 1970s and 1980s coincided with Gilles’.
“I remember when Enzo Ferrari told me he had found a youngster with a great temperament and talent who was racing snow mobiles in Canada,” Montezemolo said. “He had a pre-contract with McLaren but The Drake (Ferrari) wanted to bring some new blood into the team. He was an amazing driver and man.”
Speaking after completing several laps in the 1979 Ferrari, Villeneuve recounted his childhood memories of his life as son of a world-famous racing driver: “The whole family always went to the races and we lived in the motorhome…it was much better than going to school! Most of the memories I have are from the race track, sitting down watching the races. So ninety percent of what I remember of my father is him as a driver, not home very often, always on the go and if he wasn’t in a car, then it was a helicopter or a plane. But that seemed normal, he was my father.
“I think I am lucky to be driving at a time when cars are safer, otherwise maybe I’d be dead too, given that like him, by nature, I tend to go always right to the limit.”
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