retro. F1: Gilles Villeneuve… 40 years ago – Le Mag Sport Auto

May 8, 1982. At the Zolder circuit, where the Belgian Grand Prix (5th round of the 1982 Formula 1 Championship) takes place. Gilles Villeneuve, Canadian driver for Scuderia Ferrari, was killed during qualifying. Between 1977 and 1982, Gilles Villeneuve took the start of 67 Grand Prix (66 of which at the wheel of a Ferrari), won 6 victories and took 13 podium finishes. With his highly spectacular driving style, sometimes closer to that of a rally man than an F1 driver, a trackside determination rarely matched, he left his mark on his time winning motorsport enthusiasts over.

Without being the first Canadian driver in F1, he opened a path followed by his son Jacques Villeneuve (163 GP, 11 wins between 1996 and 2006, 1997 World Champion) and still relevant today, with the presence of Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) and Nicholas Latifi (Williams) in the 2022 F1 Championship.

Gilles Villeneuve, an atypical career

Gilles Villeneuve began his motorsport career by competing in drag races behind the wheel of his 1967 Ford Mustang, then riding snowmobiles, including the famous “Bibitte”, largely designed by him. The victories are linked. Gilles Villeneuve became a reference, winning the world title in 1974. In 1973, after taking driving lessons, the Quebecer took the Quebec Formula Ford 1600 Championship (which he won for his 1st season!) and the following season’s Formula Atlantic (It will three times: Formula Atlantic Canada in 1976 and 1977 and Formula Atlantic United States in 1976).

Start in Formula 1

It’s James Hunt (92 GP, 10 wins between 1973 and 1979, 1976 World Champion), beaten by Gilles Villeneuve (in 1976) during his participation in the Formula Atlantic Grand Prix de Trois-Rivières, who suggested Teddy Mayer, the boss of McLaren F1, to test the Canadian driver. Gilles Villeneuve gets the chance to start his first F1 GP with James at the 1977 British GP. Hunt and Jochen Mass drive a Marlboro Team McLaren McLaren M23.

Gilles Villeneuve is recruited by Enzo Ferrari for the last two GPs of the 1977 season: Canada and Japan alongside Carlos Reutemann (Niki Lauda, ​​assured of the 1977 World Drivers’ Championship title for these last two rounds of the season, withdrew from Canada and did not travel to Japan before leaving Scuderia Ferrari)† These first two GPs for Ferrari ended with an accident and a collision for the Canadian driver. Despite his achievements, Gilles Villeneuve was founded at Scuderia Ferrari for the 1978 season. He stayed with Ferrari until 1982.

The Ferrari years

Team-mate of Carlos Reutemann for the 1978 season. Gilles Villeneuve, in October at the last round of the championship, signs his first F1 victory on his country, during the Canadian Grand Prix which will be held for the first time on the circuit of Île Notre- Lady in Montreal.

In 1979 Jody Scheckter replaced Carlos Reutemann at Ferrari. The two Ferrari drivers each draw three wins. The South African is crowned drivers’ world champion in 1979, Gilles Villeneuve as vice world champion and Scuderia Ferrari wins the constructors’ title. Of this season remains in the collective memory the fierce duel in which Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux fought during the last six rounds of the French GP in Dijon. A wheel-to-wheel battle, full of determination, confidence, respect and control for second place in this French GP (G. Villeneuve finishes ahead of R. Arnoux). This anthology duel relegates, in the background, another historic moment, that of the 1st victory of a French F1 (Renault), the 1st victory of a turbo engine in F1 and the 1st victory in the GP of Jean-Pierre Jabouille!

The 1980 season was much less brilliant, the Ferrari 312T5 was inefficient and reliable. Gilles Villeneuve finished the Drivers’ Championship in 14th place (his worst ranking in a full season) and Jody Scheckter was 19th.

For the 1981 season, Ferrari switched to the Turbo engine and Gilles Villeneuve teamed up with Frenchman Didier Pironi. Although he had 2 wins (in Monaco and Spain), the Canadian driver only finished 6 races, overwhelmed by technical incidents and collisions (9 retirements). Gilles Villeneuve finishes the Drivers’ Championship in 7th (Didier Pironi is 13th).

Scuderia Ferrari confirms its driver duo for the 1982 season and hopes to compete for the driver and constructor titles. The start of the season is complicated for the Maranello drivers. In the first three GPs, Gilles Villeneuve did not finish a race and Didier Pironi scored only one point (6th in Brazil).

For the 4th round, the San Marino GP at Imola, the Ferraris are in the foreground. Qualifying is tight between the Renaults (René Arnoux and Alain Prost respectively 1er and 2nd on the grid) and the Ferraris (Gilles. Villeneuve 3rd and Didier Pironi 4th). In the race, taking advantage of the technical difficulties of the Renault drivers, the Ferrari drivers took over the GP with a comfortable lead. A Ferrari double, on Italian soil, is possible and Scuderia officials are asking the drivers to “take it easy”. Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi continued the fight and took command in succession. On the last lap, Gilles Villeneuve takes the lead and thinks the positions have been taken… Didier Pironi, overtakes him, takes the lead and keeps it until the finish.

For Gilles Villeneuve, the disappointment is immense. He views his friend and teammate’s attitude as disloyal and does not feel supported by those responsible for Ferrari. In that state of mind, he drove the Belgian GP at the Zolder circuit two weeks later. His goal: to beat Didier Pironi.

Article published on 08/05/2022 at 06:12

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