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Ferrari and Jacques Villeneuve come together in tribute to Gilles
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Jacques Villeneuve - Ferrari image
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 May 2012   |  4:52 pm GMT  |  57 comments

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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57 Comments
  1. Sebee says:

    Knowing what you know while looking at this car is there any doubt that it took a man with no fear of death to drive these things at limit?

    I have seen a version of this car in the Ferrari museum in Maranello a few years back, safety has come a long, loooong way in F1. It may have a special meaning, but I bet you Jacques would never race this thing after racing modern F1.

    1. Canadian F1 Fan says:

      I got to know Jacques a little bit during his Formula Atlantic days, and I would bet all I have he’d be completely in his element racing in that era. His main complaint during his time in F1 was that the bravery had been taken out of the sport, and the driver had little impact on a deficient car – he is absolutely correct.

      In Gilles day, and prior, with the circuits they races on, in the machines they raced, the driver could make up dramatically for a sub-par machine. But, the costs were awful.

    2. Allan says:

      Very true! It is sobering to reflect that the 1970s was a decade that saw a lot of improvement in safety relative to the even more frightening conditions of the late sixties and seventies.

  2. JF says:

    Snow mobiles, interesting. Perhaps F1 is looking in the wrong place for new talent these days.

    1. Kevin Green says:

      does not seem to look too hard for talent these days just rich sponsors supplying drivers or ex stars sons or relatives!!

  3. Kevin Green says:

    What are we saying here Gilles was taken in and transformed from snowmobile directly into F1???

    1. Marcus in Canada says:

      No, he did Formula Ford and Formula Atlantic after snowmobiles, before F1.

      1. Kevin Green says:

        thankyou.

  4. Steven says:

    R.I.P. Gilles.. We need more drivers like him.

  5. David Young says:

    James, I’m curious as to what your opinion is of J.V. as a driver.He came on like a house on fire – Rockie of the year in CART in 94 and 2nd at Indy, then CART Champion and Indy 500 winner in 95, runner-up in F1 WDC in 96 and champion in 97. Then his career sort of fell off the cliff.

    1. Mark says:

      I can’t speak for James but I think Jacques was an incredible driver. Aggressive like his father, but a bit more analytical, perhaps even an intellectual. But it was his critical mind and outspokenness that got him in trouble with many people in the paddock that IMO ultimately led to his faded reputation and eventual ouster.

      Many now think him an overrated and undeserving WDC but they forget his bravery and speed which gave fits to Schumacher and others. At one point he passed Michael on the outside of the parabolica turn at Estoril, a feat Schumi thought impossible. He also won the Indy 500 despite being two laps down at one point.

      1. Kevin Green says:

        dido best actual driver between Senna-Alonso era in my opinion

      2. hero_was_senna says:

        Not only Schumi, his actual race engineer questioned his thinking when they were setting the car up for just an eventuality.
        Don’t forget also, that he completed the pass in 1996, his rookie season.

        I think JV went the same way as Emerson Fittipaldi, by tying themselves to their own team, in Emo’s case it was his brothers team rather than his own.
        What more could they have achieved in front line equipment?

    2. Sebee says:

      Sometimes the fuel burns bright, but doesn’t last long. That’s Jacques.

      Let’s not forget how important car was. He came into the best car on the grid. Funny, I was just saying in another post that if we didn’t lose Senna, it would have been Hill, JV and Mika that would have probably not seen a championship. I think Schumi would have taken 94 and 95 even with Senna on the grid. And Senna would have retired by 2000 probably – likely with 7 or 8 crowns.

      1. hero_was_senna says:

        Considering Hill had to be driven into to prevent him winning the 94 championship, I’d question whether Senna wouldn’t have tied it up by then.
        I know Schumi and Benetton were punished in 4 races that year but I think Senna would have raced more successfully than Hill did.

    3. Don says:

      I understand he had an accident that killed a track worker and he has never driven the same since.

    4. anonymous says:

      His adventure with BAR was the beginning of his career’s end. He could probably have limited damage by leaving BAR at the end of 2002, when Pollock was kicked, declaring their common project had failed – but that’s what Captain Hindsight says. With Prodrive and Dave Richards coming in, it certainly looked pretty promising, and eventually the team improved two years later, as we all know. Too bad Richards didn’t seem to be his best fan. Possibly Villeneuve’s management was just a tiny bit too greedy too. Who knows?
      Anyway, he seemed to recover in the end of 2005 at Sauber, but when BMW came in 2006, getting less backing from the new management must have been like a little bit of history repeating.
      Tough luck, I’d say.
      Without his BAR-adventure things could have looked a lot better.

    5. Mark Gibbons says:

      Jacques was in a difficult place as his father was held in such high regard, such that he was always going to be in his shadow.

      However he took some of the best elements of his dad, (risk taking and speed) and added some (more) intelligence / analytical skill and was a deserving champion.
      He was clearly a risk taker and you could see in the aptitude of the car how hard he was trying a pleasure to watch, always.

      I actually think he drove better in 98/99 that in the years when the results came, but I agree with the other comments here, after the 2001 accident when he was messing about with Ralf and a track worker was killed, he never drove with the same commitment.

  6. Bru72 says:

    A fitting way to remember. Well done Ferrari and Jacques.

  7. strangely says:

    hmmmm, is it just me who finds this quite a weird way to mark the tragic occasion…? i know it wasn’t the same model of Ferrari that was there in 1982, but this just feels slightly ghoulish to me.

    on Gilles though – too young to have seen him race, but the clips i’ve seen of him show him to be truly the heroic, devil-may-car racer that so many loved. R.I.P.

    1. David Ryan says:

      It’s no different to Bruno Senna driving one of Ayrton Senna’s Lotus around Imola in 2004, on the 10th anniversary of his uncle’s death. I can see how it comes across a bit ghoulish in some respects, but in others it’s quite an effective tribute. Absolutely right about Gilles though, definitely one of the top natural talents of his day and very much missed.

    2. Neil Barr says:

      Any expression of tribute to Gilles can’t and shouldn’t avoid the elements that fed his passion for the presence of lethal danger: the aluminum deathtraps of his era, the siren song that is Ferrari, the highest summit that was and is F1. Those people present LOVE Gilles as, it seems, does anyone who saw him race. Even if their embrace of that time seems awkward, remember, its source is deep, genuine affection.

  8. Richard B. says:

    i thought it was james hunt who brought gilles to f1?

    1. Doohan says:

      It was James who effectively it him the race in an old Mclaren at Silverstone I believe. Then Enzo dragged him over to Ferrari for the last two races of that season.
      Peterwindsor.com there’s a great piece by Peter describing Gilles.
      As for this display I personally think its a beautiful moment and got chills seeing Jaques in the car.
      His dad was the personification of a “champion”

  9. fausta says:

    I wish JV had never done that BAR venture and stayed with a proper team. I always liked him as a racer. It was his move to F1 that got me watching the sport when I was a kid, having followed him in CART.

    RIP Gilles!

    1. tim says:

      Me too.

  10. Mark says:

    They should also put Jacques in Felipe’s seat. Maybe he wouldn’t be faster, but he would be far more entertaining.

    1. DanWilliams says:

      Would love to see JV driving like he did in his early career!! Would really spice up the order currently and give Alonso a hard time at Ferrari!!

  11. Andrew Carter says:

    I’m firmly of the opinion that Gilles was the best driver to have ever graced our sport and that his passing was a great loss. Wonderful tribute from both Jacques and Ferrari.

  12. Alex says:

    It’s the least that Ferrari can do!!!!, after all Mauro Forghieri-Ferrari director or something like that- decided to favour Didier Pironi in the previous race -Imola- so Gilles had no other option than try to be the fastest and the result was his deadly accident.

    1. Doohan says:

      You’re blaming “team politics” for Gilles death?
      Both cars were told to save fuel. The key words there are “Both Cars” Pironi paid no attention to the advice as would pass Gilles when he was conserving.
      It was a frustrated Gilles who wouldn’t let his team mate beat him after such an act ( remember he handed the championship to his team mate the year before. He was fair and believed in team work & driver respect)
      He was driving on edge in a car he didn’t like and due to rules and regulations limiting the tyres available during qualifying had to commit to his lap when he came upon a backmacker. Unfortunately they collided and we lost a champion.

      1. Doohan says:

        Sorry I meant years before had helped Jody.

      2. James Allen says:

        From reading back Peter Windsor’s story from the time it looks like a compbination of lots of cars on track plus a rule forcing drivers to use no more than 2 sets of qualifying tyres was to blame, it meant you had to push and couldn’t afford to lift off in traffic and blow the lap

      3. Al (21prods) says:

        Around the circumstances of the death of Gilles Villeneuve (and more), I strongly recommend you to read one of the best pieces I have found in the Internet. It is a series of posts written in Spanish by one of the best motorsport journalist in Spains (if not simply the best), Carlos Castellá:

        http://carloscastella.wordpress.com/category/gilles-didier/

        Hope you enjoy it!

    2. Neil Barr says:

      Forghieri wasn’t present at Imola – he was ill and took Gilles’ side following that incident.

    3. Wade Parmino says:

      In Malcolm Folley’s book “Senna vs Prost”, Alain Prost is quoted as saying that Gilles had been so enraged by the events at Imola that he did push way beyond the limit at Zolder. “He was absolutely out of control” (Alain Prost, p.88 of ‘Senna vs Prost’).

    4. hero_was_senna says:

      Mauro Forghieri was Ferrari’s technical leader, much as Newey is today except He was responsible for the engines design too. Lauda used to call him a genius.
      Marco Piccini was in charge at the track and he didn’t back up Gilles version of events which enraged him.
      Enzo Ferrari backed him up, saying it had always been Ferrari policy that once the cars were in 1-2 position, they had to hold position till the end.

      It was 1979 when Villeneuve backed up Scheckter to his World Championship win.

      There’s been much written about Imola 1982, especially by Nigel Roebuck and Gerald Donaldsons brilliant biography.
      When the Ferrari’s took the lead, they had orders to slow down to conserve fuel. The Renaults had broken down and half of the teams weren’t even present because of the FISA/FOCA war. So this was an ideal race for Ferrari to win.
      When Villeneuve led, he lapped around 1m37-38 secs. When Pironi led, they ran at 1m35. Villeneuve assumed he was playing to the crowd because they had only started the race with 10 cars, I believe.
      It was only on the last lap that Pironi overtook him and he didn’t have an opportunity to get by again.
      His anger was because it looked to the world as if they had race their hearts out, whereas Villeneuve knew he’d been duped.
      As he himself said, he had proven that if he didn’t want to be overtaken, he wouldn’t have been. Something he proved conclusively in Jarama 81.

      Bear in mind also, 2 freakish qualifying sessions to prove his speed.
      Watkins Glen 1979 in rain, Scheckter returned to the pits “having scared himself” and was 4seconds quicker than the next man.
      He looked at the time sheet in complete disbelief, as Villeneuve had been 11 seconds quicker.
      Monaco 1981, like Senna vs Prost in 1988, he qualified 2 seconds ahead of Pironi

  13. tim says:

    Salut Gilles!

    It’s great to see Jacques beaming like this (and in the post-drive video with Ferrari drivers and staff). He belongs closer to Formula One, maybe even Ferrari. They interviewed him on Italian TV, in Italian, and he spoke without difficulty. Incredible. Give the man a spot in the team, even as a figurehead. He belongs in that family.

  14. spyke says:

    Thirty years of having a toast to Gilles every may 8! 1978 canadian grand prix was the most thrilling day for me! and all canadian F-1 fans SALUT GILLES FORZA FERRARI

  15. Timwahoo says:

    BAR finished him. He was a top driver for sure in late 90s.
    Dont forget he outperformed his 98 williams which was quite a poor car. Annual reviews of that year put him rightly near the top of the field rankings.
    But a year of 0 points, unreliability, non challenging team mates, then team management and honda not being fully committed. None of that stuff are ingredients for a growing career.

  16. fastpete says:

    For those interested, this biography of GV is a must read, totally captivating. http://www.amazon.com/Gilles-Villenueve-Legendary-Racing-Driver/dp/0753507471

  17. Joel says:

    I was mesmerized when I first saw Gilles and his bravery. I’ll never forget his amazing battle with Arnoux at Dijon. I put “Gilles” on the required name tag at my job as my tribute to him.

    He refused to challenge Jody at Monza in 1979 and stood second on the podium and in the WDC, out of his sense of tradition. His belief that a team should work together towards their common goal was inspiring. His courage was unquestionable.

    His death was devastating to me. I only observed F1 from a distance until this young upstart from Brazil (you’ve heard of Senna, right?) won the Mercedes race at the inauguration of the new Nurburgring. I took an annual pilgrimage to Montreal from ’86 through ’93 with the desire to see Senna victories on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

    I was at the Canadian Gran Prix in ’93 to watch Senna, who was surprisingly leading the championship, praying for rain and another Senna win at that amazing circuit by the St. Lawrence. I knew Jacques was fighting for the Atlantic Championship and would be racing there too. I saw Jacques take the lead of the Atlantic race, nervously watched him drop back to second until near the end when he retook the lead and won the race at the track named for his father. Three wins in the last four races of the season saw him take third in the Atlantic Championship and propelled him into CART.

    In the CART and F1 Championships, I saw the speed of his father combined with a craft of patience and confidence. It was not time to push until it was time to win, and we saw some pretty awesome wins. It was not just the car that won those championships, it was Jacques.

    I have a secret dream of what happened behind the scenes today, that Ferrari just signed Jacques to take Massa’s seat for the remainder of the season. While I mostly cheer for McLaren (Hamilton) wins these days, I’d love to see a Villeneuve helmeted Ferrari take the top step on the podium again in F1.

    Thanks for the cool article, James, and the chance to share some fond memories while saluting some extraordinary men and their accomplishments.

    1. tim says:

      “It was not just the car that won those championships, it was Jacques.”

      Hear hear!

      JV may have ended on a relative low, but that doesn’t take away from his speed and performance earlier in his career, and not just in ’97. Mark Webber had a dominant car last year and managed to win one race. JV had a dominant car, as did his teammate, and in ’96 he almost took the championship. In his rookie year. I think Webber’s a great driver, so that helps to place JV’s skill and speed in perspective. He deserved to be WDC. And since he’s gotten out of F1, he’s gone on to do well in other racing, too.

  18. Simon Donald says:

    The “had Senna lived” story can have so many permutations. Seeing as Hill ran Schumacher to within 1 point (well Schuey kind of did it to himself), would a driver of Senna skill not have been able to go that little bit further? Then again in 95, Senna may have been a lot closer to Schuey? If Schumacher had not won those two championships would he have gone to Ferrari to try and rebuild the team around him? Would he have tried to go to Williams instead? If Senna had won two or three titles with Williams would he have retired? He had said previously he didn’t want to eclipse Fangio. Or would he have been tempted by a move in Ferrari to see out his career? Or maybe even back to McLaren by Ron Dennis with Adrian Newey at the drawing board to repeat his first golden era? What would it have meant for drivers like Hill, Hakkinen, Villeneuve and all the other countless drivers whose Senna’s death had some effect on their careers.

    I suspect we may have not have seen the dominance of the 2000-2004 era Ferrari team. I suspect that Schumacher would have been denied both 1994 and 1995 titles by Senna in a Williams team cohesive around the great Brazilian after an initial difficult start. Let’s not forget he got pole three times in the 1994 Williams that was difficult to drive to say the least at the start of that season. I suspect that Schumacher having been denied the title by Senna would have not formed the cohesive bonds with Byrne and Brawn and would have left to go to Williams for 1997. I suspect that after winning three titles with Williams in 1994, 1995 and 1996, Senna would have left for Ferrari to see out his last remaining years and would have probably repeated seasons like 1993, fighting, fighting, fighting for wins, but ultimately finishing 2nd or 3rd in the championship to Schumacher in the Williams, ultimately retiring after the 1998 or 1999 seasons, happily ensconced as the most successful driver in F1 history, but equal in championships with his great idol, Juan-Manuel Fangio. Who knows what this would have meant for the likes of Hakkinen or Villeneuve. Would either have been world champs? Would JV have even come to F1? Would Adrian Newey have left Williams to go to McLaren with the fresh challenge of Schumacher in one of his cars? Maybe he would still, but unfortunately we will never know any of this thanks to that fateful day in May 1994.

    1. hero_was_senna says:

      It has been written by people who Senna that he was going to see out his contract at Williams and his dream was to finish his career at Ferrari.
      In his quoted words, “I want to race for Ferrari, even if the car is as slow as a VW Beetle”

      I think alot of this was because, as you have said, he didn’t want to eclipse Fangio, who was his personal hero.
      Funny really, because Senna was born after Fangio had retired.

  19. Matt says:

    Gilles in my opinion will always be the greatest driver F1 has witnessed. A great man and still thirty years on sadly missed. Forza Villenueve!!

  20. Nuno says:

    James, do you know if BBC is preparing a small tribute to GV this weekend?

    GV is the reason why I love so much F1 and it will be nice to have a documentary (even if short) with nice quality. Everything available is 20+ years old.

    thanks

  21. Wade Parmino says:

    Today’s cars are certainly MUCH safer.

    Consider how close the driver sits to the front of the car and the high level of the driver’s eyeline in these old cars compared to the cars these days.

    The old cars are far superior regarding driver visibility and ease of depth perception as well as being much more intune to general driver awareness/intuition than the cars that are driven in F1 these days.

  22. Wade Parmino says:

    A lot of the time it is the track attributes that are the cause of a crash be a fatal one. In G.V’s case it was definitely the car that failed. It literally broke in two in such a violent way that Gilles was thrown clear.

    I think he would have been a Champion at some point had he lived.

  23. Qiang says:

    Anybody watching NHL crowded with Canadian hockey pros? They do know how to handle speed and risk.

  24. Stevie P says:

    My favourite F1 driver… EVER! Salut Gilles.

  25. Joakim says:

    Jacques Villeneuve, the best driver in between Senna – Alonso years.

  26. Alex says:

    He belongs to a romantic era, he never gave up ,one of his closest friends Carlos Reutemann once said the Gilles had special flame in his eyes.
    Salut Gilles

  27. F1 Novice says:

    Alonso and Massa were watching on…… I wonder if they even know how to “toe and heel” ??

  28. Danielle says:

    I had the pleasure of being there in Maranello for this event. As a Canadian Ferrari fan it was a must-see for me. The highlight was meeting all of the Villeneuves after Jacques finished on the track. Melanie and Joann were very down to earth and spent a great deal of time talking to the fans. Here in Italy, people are still very passionate about Gilles and it was nice to see him truly remembered on the anniversary of his death.

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