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Following Gilles Villeneuve on Twitter
Posted By: James Allen  |  07 Jun 2013   |  4:44 am GMT  |  61 comments

One aspect of the Mercedes testing saga which drew some brief interest this week was Lewis Hamilton tweeting about Miami when he was actually at the controversial Pirelli test in Barcelona.

The team explain it away thus: Hamilton was in Miami until the Wednesday of that week on a Blackberry sponsor event and tweeted a photo on Thursday about where he had been, not saying that he was still there.

It highlighted once again the potential pitfalls of Twitter. Hamilton fell foul of the medium last year when he tweeted – and made public – a set up sheet of his McLaren team mate Jenson Button, which caused some ructions.

Despite the occasional problem, many of the leading drivers have increasingly found Twitter a useful tool for self-expression; in the highly controlled corporate pr environment in which they now operate, it is the only outlet which allows them to express themselves as they want to be perceived. It also allows them to cut through the swirl of rumour and internet gossip to state their version of things when required.

Alonso, Webber, Hamilton and Button in particular have made extensive use of the medium.

But it made me wonder, what would it have been like if Twitter had existed in the days of some of the great F1 drivers of the past – the Sennas and Prosts and Villeneuves of this world?

Can you imagine following Gilles Villeneuve on Twitter?

Tonight on the BBC 5 Live F1 show in Montreal we looked back on the short, brilliant career of Gilles Villeneuve, still to my mind the most exciting F1 driver. Villeneuve was from this part of the world and drove for Ferrari; he electrified F1 in the late 1970s and early 1980s before his death in 1982. He was the ultimate free spirit, a rocket ship of a racer, who took insane risks and made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. He was also a no-nonsense kind of guy, by all accounts.

Imagine what he might have tweeted after the classic wheel banging race at Dijon against his friend Rene Arnoux in 1979, or about his team mate Didier Pironi when he broke their agreement at Imola in 1982.

Beyond that, imagine what F1’s ultimate rivals Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna would have tweeted about each other from 1989 onwards, after their collisions in Suzuka those two years running. Or Senna’s thoughts after one of his legendary run-ins with then FIA president Jean Marie Balestre.

In those days F1 had a visceral quality, allied to a free spirit, which is not so evident today. Kimi Raikkonen’s recent outburst about hoping someone would soon punch Sergio Perez was a rare example of the gloves coming off and drivers saying what they really feel.

Twitter allows more freedom of expression than the drivers can manage today with a PR hovering over them, but it’s still fairly tame compared to the past legends whom it would have been fascinating to follow.

* You can listen to the 5 Live F1 show with the Villeneuve tribute as well as a great interview with man of the moment Nico Rosberg, who tells us what he knew about the tyres he was testing in the controversial Barcelona Pirelli test which is now the subject of an FIA Tribunal. Listen HERE

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I am on Twitter and often wonder why I am on it but then this week I read one of Chris Hoy’s tweets saying he was doing a tour of the UK and coming to Sheffield where I am from and I wouldnt have known about it had I not been on twitter and I could name other exmaples like that but I dont use it to state what im doing personally.

From the drivers points of view again I think there can be interesting things tweeted but that as you’ve said James they sill dont come across anywhere near as ‘free spirited’ as drivers from years gone by…you mentioned a few drivers but imagine James Hunt on twitter!

Also from the Brits point of view, despite this use of social media by in particular Button and Hamilton they are not anywhere near as popular/liked in this country, in my opinion, as Mansell and Hill were.


Its not just about Twitter James…. Its about, as you rightly put it ‘The Free Spirit’.

Its rather appalling to see the drivers race aggressively on track and come out and be all polite and politically correct about it.

The free spirit in F1 is required. Kimi is a prime example of which. He is aggressive on track and gives it ‘as is where is’ outside the car.

I think the teams should allow their drives to develop their personalities outside the car and not constrict them.

Formula one should be about doing things which others dare…. even when you make a mistake… make em’ spectacular.

Adrian Newey Jnr

Stuff the drivers – I wish Bernie had a twitter account!



Just think how brilliantly misleading it would be!


What’s this talk of Jacques digging at Michael? They’re actually friends now, and have been for years. Jacques even joked when he drove his dad’s Ferrari last year and was shown the crushed wheel of Schumacher’s Ferrari from 1997, when Schumi tried and failed to take Jacques out. Jacques is outspoken but he’s not an ass.


Surely you’ve answered your question in your article. You’ve mentioned how the thing that makes Twitter attractive these days is that we get to see a side to the drivers that we don’t see in their PR-driven, don’t-rock-the-boat interviews.

Yet in days gone by drivers were unafraid to speak their minds and were more approachable. Prices for a Grand Prix were cheaper and access to the pitlane more accessible than now. As far as I can gather, this was very common in the early days of F1 but even in the 1980s – from what he’s told me at least – my Dad was able to chat to Nigel Mansell in the pits, or McLaren mechanics bemoaning another weekend spent rebuilding whatever Andrea de Cesaris had broken! And we’re not talking Paddock Club status here.

With increased accessibility, better affordability and more drivers speaking their minds, Twitter wouldn’t have been necessary. The only way it would have been, arguably, was in isolation; if Twitter existed but no rolling news did, then it might give you the driver’s view before it’s printed in the press. But that’s it I think.


I don’t really see the big deal here. Twitter is twitter, and if drivers want to tweet then that’s that – end of. If Hamilton tweets a picture of something then it’s not really a big deal, no matter when he tweets it.

Twitter is the same for everybody – just posting whatever we want to.


I would like to see the Piquet Senior’s tweets. In my opinion, he was one of the greatest driver in his era and said to the press whatever he had in his mind. He was the free spirit in the F1, indeed.


I wish Twitter had existed in the 80’s to follow Piquet. He had a particular personality and never worried a bit if he had to say things the way they were.


If you are going to criticism people who use twitter to tell untruths you should at least have a photo of the real Gilles villeneuve to start the article, that is not a picture of Gilles!

SPYKE (canuck)

It sure looks like his helmet


All twitter does for me is to confirm what we already knew before.

Hamilton – impulsive, slightly insecure, caring with an emphasis on his image

Alonso – intelligent, insightful and manipulative

Webber – blunt

Button – clever, teamworker, careful and relatively normal

We kind of already knew all of this before twitter and all twitter has done is confirm our suspicions.


I mostly agree with you. Button comes off as boring fitness-obsessed, Webber seems very WYSIWYG, Hamilton immature, Alonso — off the deep end with the samurai stuff. He doesn’t actually believe that, does he? The more I know about most of these guys, the less I want to know. I like that Vettel and Raikkonen haven’t succumbed to social media.

Somehow, I think Gilles would have been a bit like Webber. Very honest, a regular bloke. Probably too honest for Ferrari.


I don’t know James, but I’m still hoping someone punches Sergio Perez in the face. Hard to tell which of the current crop would…I could reference Adrian Sutil here but it might be a bit harsh. Maybe Grosjean could do it to curry favor with Lotus, perhaps if he was less polite off track he’ll be less violent on it.


This is an interesting thought. I think the likes of Senna and Prost and also Mansell (if twitter had existed when he was driving) would have got themselves into trouble for the things they wrote about each other and FISA. I think Gilles Villeneuve would definitely have made vwey interesting reading.

However, I think the idea that drivers need Twitter to express how they really feel shows how the sport and the drivers have changed.

We didn’t know need to read Twitter to know what Senna, Prost or Mansell thought about something. If they believed something and particularly if they felt aggrieved they just went on and said so. I think twitter would have just reinforced what we knew already.

In a way that is the case today. For example after Spa qualifying last year everyone knew Hamilton was disgruntled because he felt Button had a better car that day. It was clear from his words and his body language. What the incident did show was Hamilton’s desire to prove categorically why he wasn’t as quick that day and show that as far as he was concerned it wasn’t his fault.

Hamilton’s tweets are interesting because he doesn’t always think before he posts them. In theory a driver could think carefully and edit what they say to create an ideal image if they wanted.

In my view I think drivers actually seem to be at there most spontaneous on podium interviews an innovation that I really like. Its a shame that this is limited to the top 3 drivers.


I don’t know if I’d follow Gilles Villeneuve on Twitter, I wasn’t born when he was racing but my Dad told me a lot about him and especially the circumstances of his death… I guess he could be interesting! For sure I’d have loved to follow Ayrton Senna (RIP).

I’m not a fan of Gilles’s son Jacques that I barely watched on track! In Italy, even if Schumi left the sport we still love him; someone even ‘worships’ *wink* him but goddammit Jacques can’t never seem to let it go, he’s always had a dig at Michael so that it makes him less likable to my eyes and I’m also scared of his bald head *nicknamed ‘Jacques L’oeuf’ 🙂

About Lewis Hamilton, I see nothing wrong with his tweet nor bother me if he feel like he should tell us where he is & what he’s doing when he isn’t racing… But I’m extremely happy he has stayed away from all this Pirelli-testgate, focusing on his own issues (car adaptability and other stuff).

I’m also surprised to read that ‘him tweeting from a different location while being in Spain’ was a ‘matter of concern’ Firstly because of the rumors about Testingate which emerged throughout some F1 forums and fans had it that Nico Rosberg leaked this story at the Drivers’ meeting letting it slip through his teeth to Vettel during the Monaco GP…

Lewis has learnt a lesson from previous experiences with McLaren between 2007 & 2012, the last one being an embarrassment and so far he has behaved pretty well!

What happened there? Mercedes Team have done well to clarify this situation for both drivers.

Jenson, Lewis, Alonso, Perez or DiResta also used Twitter to share their day-to-day activities with their fans! We should appreciate the fact these sportsmen get time to do that… And also F1 Teams do the same which is great for us and the sport! Yes, there could be an improper use of social media but I don’t think an athlete should get the stick for the use he makes of it all the time!

Wish people could move on!


Hopefully driver’s genuineness on Twitter will slowly eat into their rehearsed speeches for TV and Brands.

Hopefully Corporates will notice that the angel in their branded overalls are actually the fan’s loveable devil elsewhere…where it matters most?

And we could lose the fake impressions.


I would love to have been able to follow tweets by Mario Andretti, but more specifically James Hunt. Could you imagine his tweets and photos of the totty he was seeing before races!!

Adrian Newey Jnr

Mario has a twitter account.


I personally think it is a very good thing as every now & you get to hear what the drivers really think instead of the ‘stock’ PR spun media answer.

I think it has also brought fans more behind the scenes of the sport with people like Dickie Stanford of Williams, former F1 Doc Gary Hartstin, Lotus & Caterham all tweeting pictures & news from the bit you don’t normally get to see.


Prost, Senna, Gilles were what we wish F1 drivers would be today. They captured the essence of what we romanticize about today. They are the reason why I sometimes think today’s drivers aren’t “men”.

Thank goodness they didn’t have Twitter and Facebook in my view. They said all they wanted to say on the track. That’s exactly the way we liked them.

Bring Back Murray

If Hamilton or Button won at Silverstone you wouldn’t get hundreds / even thousands of fans break rank and pour out onto the track like they did for Mansell. Its a long way from what it used to be.

Yeah I still follow the F1 and am still pretty passionate about it… but I don’t know there’s certainly something missing from 15/20 years ago.


I can’t say about Silverstone, but in Melbourne 2012 I can indeed verify that the crowd broke and filled the entire main straight after Button won…I was in it. I have the pics taken with a 500mm lens over people’s heads to catch JB on the podium with the champagne – and I needed a lens that long because I couldn’t get closer because of all the crowds filling the main straight, all having jumped the fences as I had myself!

So passion does exist in F1 to this day…


Ok, I have to admit I overlooked that point. You are absolutely right Robert! They lived large because indeed it could all be over in a blink. Today they live large and the masses have a hard time to justify like they could back then. No doubt – danger is gone.


@Seebee: I do totally agree with you about the safety of the sport changing the perception of drivers, and the passion that fans have for them. Especially the newer breed of pay driver…does anybody really think Max Chiltion would be in that car if he (and his daddy) knew that he faced a 50/50 chance of death or serious injury over the course of a racing career? No, not a chance in my book. Same with Pastor, and Romain.

That is why I do hold the older drivers even on the current grid in a lot more respect – Alonso, Massa, JB, Kimi even, etc. They started when it was still considered a bit more dangerous…but still nowhere near the risk that Hunt, Lauda, Senna, etc. faced. That is why they lived so large – they expected it could all be over next race. Or the one after.

That is also why the older drivers have more reserve on overtaking…they grew up knowing that a crash could kill or maim them…it was not a video game. I watch Perez, Grosjean, Maladjusted…and just think that I bet they wouldn’t drive like that 15 years ago.

I honestly do not know if I will continue to follow F1 when the older drivers leave…the younger ones might as well be rich spoilt footballers, rather than risk-taking drivers.


First, you can’t rush circuits anymore, so anywhere it’s possible fans do it because they can. It’s a mob mentality thing.

Second, I think there is passion. But it’s true that it’s hard to have passion for mostly rich kids, vs. playboys. I know, it’s weird but that’s how they come off today. Those of years past…they clearly came off as playboys. And they clearly knew that they went out there and laid their lives on the line. I honestly don’t feel today’s drivers ever do that.

I dare say, being professionals and having top safety equipment and medical staff statistically my drive home today will be more dangerous than this weekend’s Grand Prix.


I think BBM is correct; there is not the passion there was. Frankly, being passionate about Button doesn’t seem possible; he’s turned into such a radio whiner.

Bring Back Murray

Yeah I remember doing that myself in the 2003 Melbourne GP. But it was more a desire to get onto the track and under the podium for the “F1 Experience” than being in awe of any particular driver.

Were you all running round Jenson’s car before he managed to bring it back to the pitlane?

My point I was getting at is there isn’t, or doesn’t appear to be the same level of emotional connection with the drivers as in the “Mansell mania” days.

Well maybe the Spanish and Alonso could be an exception to this.


What was the main reason JV never made champion?

Unreliable machinery? Bad luck?


Wow, a look back through history, or maybe even Twitter will show you that Villeneuve had a very successful career.

He won the 1995 Indy 500, almost won his first ever GP in Melbourne 1996, finishing second to Hill after losing oil during the race.

He won his fourth GP at the Nurburgring and won another 4 during the season.

In 1997, he won the championship with 7 wins.

After that, his career went into freefall, and maybe following the “Emerson Fittipaldi” ego trip of racing for his own team, B.A.R finished his career.

One thing I liked about JV was he was never afraid to voice his opinion. He was one of the few that called the move to grooved tyres a mistake befoore they were introduced.


Dear Jacques however could never drive the streets of Monte-Carlo very well… Though his move in Portugal (97? I forget) was Gilles esque. A formidable driver too in his day.


JV was champion in 1997 – he was Gilles’ son


sorry james, my bad. I meant GV!


He died in an accident.


GV only raced for 4 complete seasons, and in that time, only the 1979 car was World Championship contending.

1977, he made his debut at Silverstone in a year old Mclaren. He had a faulty temperature gauge which forced him to pit and lose a lap to the leaders. When he resumed the race, he let the leaders past, then ran with them for the remainder of the race setting 5th fastest lap.

In the tyre test before the Grand Prix, Villeneuve’s technique was shocking to watch. He spun at every corner around the track and then carried on, but people noticed he never spun at the same corner twice and got quicker and quicker.

When asked afterwards, he said, he knew this was his one opportunity to show his talent, and the fastest way to find the limit was to go over and spin, then he would know how fast it could go for a given corner.

After Lauda left Ferrari, he raced for them in 2 GP’s.

In 1978, Ferrari were up against the dominant Lotus 79, which re-wrote rules on aerodynamic downforce with the advent of the skirt. As Mario Andretti was quoted, “the car felt like it was painted to the road”

The season proved difficult for GV with retirements and issues from the new Michelin radial tyres not always performing. (and we thought tyres were a 21st century issue).

There was shouts from Italy to get rid of him by mid season but the Old Man persisted, and by season end, he had won in Canada.

1979, the team used the 312T3 from 78, before replacing it with the 312T4 which GV won in Sth Africa and Long Beach. He would also win the US GP at the end of the year.

The story of how he played the team game at Monza has passed into legend, he only had to overtake Scheckter to win the WDC, but his handshake on being his support meant he dutifully followed him, “wishing his engine would blow up”

What most people don’t realise is that in 1979, the drivers best 4 scores from the 1st 7 races and the best 4 from the last 8 counted towards the title.

1980 was a terrible year, and 1981 was a poor car, which according to other designers was about a quarter of rival designs. Yet he won in Monaco and Jarama, both driver victories

1982 would likely have been his championship. Rosberg won it with one victory and 44 points, in second was Pironi who had 39 points and had missed the last 5 GP’s after a career ending accident.

There were many races in his career in which he drove smoothly and intelligently, but what he is remembered for is his over-driving his machinery to keep up with the competition.

There is a fantastic biography by Gerald Donaldson which I would highly recommend if you’re interested further. Immense talent.

As a footnote, on the Friday of qualifying at Watkins Glen, in heavy rain, Scheckter returned to the pits convinced that no-one could beat his time. He was over 4 seconds quicker than the next best.

He was disbelieving when he saw Villeneuve’s which was ELEVEN seconds quicker..


I think drivers should keep away from Twitter. We could have lived without Hamilton tweeting a set up sheet of Button and without Alonso’s silly samurai stuff.


Why follow them then? It’s your choice who you follow ultimately…


To paraphrase an old advertising slogan:-

“F1 is now an ace twitter feed and blogosphere with a few quite nice races attached”

The former are now just as, if not more, important than the latter in driving the popularity of the sport.

I believe a few F1 journalists have more fans and followers than the drivers and teams themselves.

Bring Back Murray

Hmmm.. why would he wait until Thursday to text the picture instead of the day he took it – or even on Wednesday evening after the first days practice session! It’s a cover up!

Perhaps Hamilton should spend less time poncing about in Miami anyway and more time trying to figure out how to drive around the tyre degradation problem a bit more…


Why don’t you read the article, he was there because of sponsorship responsibilities. ie his job.

Not out of choice.


For example – maybe someone asked him about something related, prompting an “oh yeah, I should twitter that”.


Please — I want to be a fly on the wall when Kimi and Perez “accidentally” meet somewhere during the pre-race shufflings…… 🙂

James is right — Kimi, Webber and possibly Alonso are probably the only drivers that I can imagine putting an opponent against the wall AFTER the race — as used to happen in the “good old days” when tempers flared and risks were taken. Now it’s too WWF-esque 🙁


Kimi had an opportunity to do that to Perez, but would obviously prefer it if someone else did it for him…I dont think physical confrontation is really his style.


monday morning (my bad)


yes , Lewis was in Miami ; he took off fr barcelone on early Monday morning and came back Thursday , his plane stayed at general aviation till Friday afternoon then left to Nice .


Nice post James, thank you.

There is actually some hope that the controlled environment media wise drivers are in will change and provide more freedom.

One of the greatest benefits of the Internet and social media is that it empowers people. We all have easy access to vast amounts of information and opinions, making it harder for brands to market their products at us in the way they have.The relationship between brands and consumers is becoming a much more equal and open relationship and I am convinced that in a few years time the sponsors in F1 won’t scrutinise every word a drier utters and in fact will look for drivers who are open and honest (as long as they don’t slag the sponsor off of course!)

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