Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari, Zolder, Belgium, 1982

On this day in 1982: Gilles Villeneuve killed at Zolder

1982 Belgian Grand Prix flashback

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Formula One lost one of its most beloved heroes on this day 30 years ago.

Gilles Villeneuve was killed in a crash during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982.

Villeneuve’s death came in a turbulent and tragic year for the sport which led to wide-ranging safety changes.


It began as a normal weekend in an abnormal year for the sport. Two weeks after more than half the field had boycotted the San Marino Grand Prix, a full entry assembled at the 4.261km (2.648 mile) Zolder circuit.

The previous Belgian Grand Prix had also been struck by tragedy and changes had been made to the pits and paddock as a result. Osella mechanic Giovanni Amadeo was struck by Carlos Reutemann’s Williams in the crowded pits, and died following the race. In response the pit lane had been widened.

Reutemann announced his retirement from F1 after losing the world championship in the final round of 1981. He then changed his mind, and returned to Williams for the first two races of the new season.

But following the Brazilian round he reconsidered, and returned to retirement. Williams called up Mario Andretti for the Long Beach race but his IndyCar commitments prevented him from continuing with the team.

At Zolder Derek Daly was in the second car alongside Keke Rosberg. Daly had raced for back-of-the-grid single-car entry Theodore at the beginning of the year. Now he was entrusted with giving Williams’ new FW08 its competitive debut.

There was change at Brabham, too, who had returned to BMW turbo power which they last used the first race of the season. BMW demanded the switch, threatening to pull the plug on the project if Brabham did not run their engines at Zolder. The team suffered a string of engine-related problems in practice.

Before qualifying began the field had to be whittled down from 32 cars to 30. As had been the case in every preceding round that year with the exception of under-subscribed Imola, Riccardo Paletti failed to make the cut in his Osella. He was joined by Emilio de Villota (whose daughter Maria is now a test driver for Marussia).

The turbo Renaults were comfortably quickest in qualifying, Alain Prost edging Rene Arnoux for pole position by 29 thousandths of a second. Rosberg delivered on the strong testing promise of the FW08 by setting a time a tenth of a second slower.

Niki Lauda, just four races into his comeback and already having won at Long Beach, claimed fourth for McLaren ahead of Michele Alboreto’s Tyrrell.

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Alboreto was using a different suspension to team mate Brian Henton. But even so the other Tyrrell driver, making his second start for the team, was dismayed by the 2.8s gap between them.

Villeneuve’s crash

Another driver was feeling the urge to beat his team mate much more keenly. Villeneuve had been infuriated by Didier Pironi’s duplicity at Imola two weeks earlier, stealing victory when Ferrari had instructed them to hold position while Villeneuve led.

With just over ten minutes left in qualifying, Villeneuve handed his engineer the paper scroll of lap times which had told him Pironi’s 1’16.501 was a tenth of a second quicker than his best. He left the pits with his last set of super-sticky qualifying tyres.

As he flashed past at the end of his flying lap, engineer Mauro Forghieri signalled him to return to the pits. With no onboard lap timing, Villeneuve could not be certain that he had failed to beat Pironi’s time, but he probably guessed it. At any rate, he continued to drive flat-out on his way back to the pits – because that was the way he always drove.

As he accelerated towards Terlamenbocht, he was catching the March of the experienced Jochen Mass. Mass was also returning to the pits, but had backed off. He saw the Ferrari coming and pulled right, off the racing line. But Villeneuve had already committed to passing him on the same side, and he slammed into Mass’s right-rear wheel at around 225kph (140mph).

The Ferrari reared up into the air, flipped over, and crashed nose-first into the ground. Its nose penetrated the soft earth and the front of the car was wrenched off with enough force to tear Villeneuve’s helmet from his head and throw him driver across the circuit.

Mass swerved left as the Ferrari cartwheeled back across the track in front of him, then came to a stop and ran to Villeneuve’s aid. The appalling scene was captured live on television screens, Motorsport magazine’s Denis Jenkinson recalled the circuit commentator “became so hysterical it was sickening”.

The session was stopped and a medical vehicle arrived moments later, followed by Professor Sid Watkins. Villeneuve was rushed to the University St Raphael Hospital in Louvain where he was found to have a fatal neck fracture at the base of his skull.

At 12 minutes past nine that evening, seven hours and 20 minutes since the wrecked Ferrari came to a rest, Villeneuve was pronounced dead. The world of motor racing went into shock. It had lost one of its greatest stars.

1982 Belgian Grand Prix grid

In the aftermath of the crash, Ferrari withdrew Pironi’s car and left the circuit.

In an unfortunate and ironic twist, the withdrawal of the two Ferraris promoted Mass into the race.

Row 1 1. Alain Prost 1’15.701
2. Rene Arnoux 1’15.730
Row 2 3. Keke Rosberg 1’15.847
4. Niki Lauda 1’16.049
Row 3 5. Michele Alboreto 1’16.308
6. Andrea de Cesaris 1’16.575
Alfa Romeo
Row 4 7. Nigel Mansell 1’16.944
8. Nelson Piquet 1’17.124
Row 5 9. Riccardo Patrese 1’17.126
10. John Watson 1’17.144
Row 6 11. Elio de Angelis 1’17.762
12. Manfred Winkelhock 1’17.879
Row 7 13. Derek Daly 1’18.194
14. Eddie Cheever 1’18.301
Row 8 15. Bruno Giacomelli 1’18.371
Alfa Romeo
16. Jean-Pierre Jarier 1’18.403
Row 9 17. Jacques Laffite 1’18.565
18. Eliseo Salazar 1’18.967
Row 10 19. Derek Warwick 1’18.985
20. Brian Henton 1’19.150
Row 11 21. Teo Fabi 1’19.300
22. Marc Surer 1’19.584
Row 12 23. Chico Serra 1’19.598
24. Raul Boesel 1’19.621
Row 13 25. Jochen Mass 1’19.777
26. Mauro Baldi 1’19.815


Didier Pironi, Ferrari – 1’16.501
Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari – 1’16.616

Did not qualify:

Roberto Guerrero, Ensign-Ford – 1’20.116
Jan Lammers, Theodore-Ford – 1’20.584

Did not pre-qualify:

Riccardo Paletti, Osella-Ford – 1’21.784
Emilio de Villota, March-Ford – 1’22.879

Race day

Villeneuve’s death cast a dark shadow over the race weekend and few of the drivers were keen to embark on 70 laps of the circuit.

“The fact of having seen him on the ground after the accident troubled and shocked me deeply,” said Prost. “He had a lot of luck in his accidents and one thought nothing could happen to him, which made what happened a greater shock.”

Aside from the gap where the Ferrari transporters had been, there was nothing to signify the tragic events of the day before.

Jo Ramirez, who was with Theodore at the time, recalled the day in his autobiography: “One of the best racing drivers of the last six years, if not the best, had been killed and yet there was no acknowledgement of it on race day – no minute of silence, no space on the grid, no mention of his name.”

“It was really sad, as if the world hadn’t noticed his absence, and I felt it was dreadfully wrong,” he added.

The Formula Ford 2000 series was one of the day’s support races. Ayrton Senna, whose own death 12 years later rocked the sport in much the same way, started from pole position and led convincingly before retiring.

Renault hit trouble

Had it not been for the dreadful developments on Saturday, the weekend might instead be remembered for a close race that was only decided in the final laps.

Rene Arnoux assumed the lead from Rosberg as Prost slipped back to third. But, running true to their 1982 form, the Renault threat faded quickly.

Arnoux’s engine faltered on lap four, letting Rosberg by into the lead. He was out soon after, and Prost followed him after dropping further down the order.

Zolder’s narrow start/finish straight had produced predictable chaos at the start. When Nigel Mansell’s clutch failed a crash was almost inevitable.

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Bruno Giacomelli and Eliseo Salazar collided trying to avoid the Lotus and were out on the spot. Salazar’s retirement meant ATS’s involvement in the race ended on the first lap – team mate Manfred Winkelhock failed to get off the line with clutch failure.

Mansell made a charging start to the race before his clutch gave up for good on lap ten – though it probably only spared him being disqualified for a push-start.

Up front Rosberg was leading Niki Lauda, who had Andrea de Cesaris in close attendance. He held the Alfa Romeo driver back until the 30th tour, when they came up to lap Chico Serra.

The Fittipaldi driver spun in front of them and as Lauda braked hard to avoid him, de Cesaris nipped by into second. It was a reversal of the situation in Long Beach, where Lauda had taken advantage of de Cesaris being delayed by a backmarker to take the lead. But just four laps later the Alfa’s transmission failed and Lauda was back into second.

Watson hunts down Rosberg

Meanwhile the other McLaren of John Watson had passed Riccardo Patrese’s Brabham and was up into third place. As Lauda began to struggle with his tyres Watson took advantage, passing his team mate for second at the first corner on lap 47.

Rosberg looked on course for his maiden F1 win. But he too was beginning to struggle with his tyres, and Watson gradually reeled him in. He paused briefly in his charge when he spotted Daly’s spun Williams and mistook it for Rosberg’s car, before the pit wall urged him to resume the chase.

With three laps to go the McLaren was shadowing the Williams. As they headed into the hairpin on the 68th lap Rosberg braked later and deeper than his tyres could stand and the Williams slithered wide. Watson was through in a flash.

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Two laps later he brought his car home to score McLaren’s second win in a row – the team having missed the Imola race. But Lauda’s third-placed car was found to be 2kg under the minimum weight limit, and he was disqualified. The team had cut it very fine – Watson’s car was only legal by 1kg.

That promoted Eddie Cheever to third place. His bulky Ligier JS17B had no problem satisfying the scrutineers – it was a whopping 32kg over the minimum limit. Team mate Jacques Laffite had flown to Clermont-Ferrand on Friday after practice to conduct testing on the new JS19.

Elio de Angelis moved up to fourth ahead of Nelson Piquet. Serra collected his one and only point for sixth place.

Marc Surer, who had returned from injury for Arrows, was seventh, with Raul Boesel’s March and Laffite the only other runners. Mass had been running in seventh when his engine died with ten laps to go.

1982 Belgian Grand Prix result

Postion # Driver Car Laps Gap Reason
1 7 John Watson McLaren-Ford 70 1:35’41.995
2 6 Keke Rosberg Williams-Ford 70 7.268
3 25 Eddie Cheever Ligier-Matra 69 +1 lap
4 11 Elio de Angelis Lotus-Ford 68 +2 laps
5 1 Nelson Piquet Brabham-BMW 67 +3 laps
6 20 Chico Serra Fittipaldi-Ford 67 +3 laps
7 29 Marc Surer Arrows-Ford 66 +4 laps
8 18 Raul Boesel March-Ford 66 +4 laps
9 26 Jacques Laffite Ligier-Matra 66 +4 laps
Not classified
8 Niki Lauda McLaren-Ford 70 Disqualified
5 Derek Daly Williams-Ford 60 Spun off
17 Jochen Mass March-Ford 60 Engine
15 Alain Prost Renault 59 Spun off
2 Riccardo Patrese Brabham-BMW 52 Spun off
30 Mauro Baldi Arrows-Ford 51 Throttle
31 Jean-Pierre Jarier Osella-Ford 37 Broken wing
22 Andrea de Cesaris Alfa Romeo 34 Gearbox
4 Brian Henton Tyrrell-Ford 33 Engine
3 Michele Alboreto Tyrrell-Ford 29 Engine
35 Derek Warwick Toleman-Hart 29 Transmission
36 Teo Fabi Toleman-Hart 13 Brakes
12 Nigel Mansell Lotus-Ford 9 Clutch
16 Rene Arnoux Renault 7 Turbo
9 Manfred Winkelhock ATS-Ford 0 Clutch
23 Bruno Giacomelli Alfa Romeo 0 Collision
10 Eliseo Salazar ATS-Ford 0 Collision

Villeneuve’s legacy

F1 lost the most popular driver of the day on May 8th, 1982. Villeneuve lived for racing, was revered by fans and loved by many journalists who found his plain-spoken style a refreshing antidote to the caustic political environment in early-eighties Formula 1.

The terrible circumstances of his death and the events of Imola two weeks earlier meant he was deified after the crash that claimed his life.

The number 27, which his Ferrari bore for 19 of his 67 race starts, became a frequent sights on flags and banners at F1 tracks around the world in the years that followed.

Even Enzo Ferrari admitted the effect Villeneuve had on the Ferrari brand: “He made Ferrari a household name and I was very fond of him,” he wrote.

Over 5,000 people attended his funeral, including the prime minister of Canada.

The cause of the crash

Inevitably, some sought out a scapegoat for the crash and blamed Mass – though others were quick to defend the March driver.

“I was going down the middle of a straight and saw Villeneuve in my mirror coming up,” was Mass’s account of the crash. “I moved right to let him through, but he came in on the right as well. He touched my right rear wheel and somersaulted.”

Cooler heads divided the blame between both drivers. Niki Lauda saw the accident as follows: “To my mind, when you are coming in, you should either edge out towards the grass verge or clearly adhere to the ideal line, so the the driver coming up behind you knows what’s what. Moving over at the last moment simply takes the man behind by surprise.

“I don’t think Jochen Mass did the right thing but, having said this, I must say that Villeneuve was perhaps the only driver around who would have chosen the risky option of overtaking a slower car going flat out off the ideal line.”

The sport’s governing body FISA saw things differently in a statement issued 13 days after the crash: “The cause of the accident was attributed to driver error on the part of Gilles Villeneuve. No blame is attached to Jochen Mass.”

A hue and cry went up for qualifying tyres to be banned. Villeneuve himself had spoken out against them in the past, and warned of the risks involved in trying to set a fast time on a busy track with two sets of tyres which were only good for one lap.

FISA initially appeared to go along with this view, stating: “The enquiry calls for immediate action to reduce the risks posed by qualifying tyres.”

But qualifying tyres remained in use during subsequent seasons with multiple tyre suppliers, and were still in use in 1991. In that time there was no repeat of the accident that befell Villeneuve. So how were repeat accidents avoided?

Had there been too many cars on too short a track at Zolder? The circuit was longer than most on the 1982 schedule and 30-car qualifying fields were commonplace in the eighties, so we can discount that too.

Nor did the performance of the slowest cars relative to the front-runners improve. Mass’s qualifying time was only 5.4% slower than the pole sitter’s – two years later at the same track the back row were over 7% slower.

The narrowness of Zolder was a contributing factor, and the track only held one more F1 race after 1982. Other tracks have had blind crests and corners eased, and new, wider circuits were built with better sight lines.

Better pit-to-car radio communication has also played a role: listen to the team radio channel during a qualifying session today or watch McLaren’s Pitwall transcript on their website and you’ll see how drivers are fed information about the cars around them.

Car and driver safety

One week after Villeneuve’s crash, IndyCar racer Gordon Smiley lost his life in a ferocious crash during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. A month later, Riccardo Paletti was killed in a start-line accident at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Later in the F1 season, crashes involving Arnoux at Zandvoort and Mass and Mauro Baldi at Paul Ricard put spectators’ safety at risk. The spotlight turned to the high cornering speeds created by the cars using skirts (such as those on the Renault RE30B, pictured) to create ‘ground effect’, sucking the cars down onto the track.

After the 1982 season, both F1 and IndyCar announced ground effect aerodynamics would be banned for 1983. In order to give F1 teams time to redesign their cars, the South African Grand Prix was moved from the beginning of the new season to the end.

Regulations changes and advancements in car design improved the chances of drivers surviving similar accidents in the future. McLaren had introduced all-carbon-fibre construction the year before which offered improved chassis rigidity which benefited performance and safety.

Ferrari were working to catch up and the Harvey Postlethwaite-designed 126C2 raced in 1982 used Nomex honeycomb wrapped around carbon fibre bulkheads. Following the crash Ferrari impact-tested another of the cars plus a 1981 126CK to understand how the structure had deformed.

At the Hockenheimring Pironi suffered a similar aerial accident to Villeneuve’s but, crucially, landed with the rear of the car first. He survived the crash, but suffered horrific leg injuries and never raced in F1 again.

By 1983 Ferrari had their own autoclave at Maranello for building a full carbon-fibre chassis. This was used for the 126C3, introduced at that year’s British Grand Prix.

While all-carbon-fibre construction became the norm in car design, the sport’s governing body raised safety requirements including requiring the drivers’ feet to extend no further than the front wheel axis.

Villeneuve paid the price for a split-second misjudgement with his life. Today there are several reasons why that error would not happen to begin with, and several further chances to save a driver’s life in the event their car is launched into the air. Mark Webber’s escape from injury in a violent aerial crash at Valencia two years ago demonstrated the progress that has been made.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “On this day in 1982: Gilles Villeneuve killed at Zolder”

  1. Lovely article, Keith. Really enjoyed that. Thank you.

  2. Would be cool to perhaps hear about San Marino 1994 and a more personal account from you?

      1. I more meant of the 1994 San Marino weekend! Thanks for the link, anyway.

        It’s just I know Keith was probably watching it at the time, so it’d be interesting to hear more of a first-hand account.

  3. Great article! RIP Villeneuve, you’ll never be forgotten. I live in Belgium, so I feel even more involved.

  4. Nige.B (@nigel2509)
    8th May 2012, 9:56

    I went to this race, on the sunday only but i can remember quite clearly sitting on the coach and the courier announcing that Gilles had died. The whole atmosphere changed on the coach to a very sombre mood. A great driver and a great loss to motorsport. Very sad.


    1. @nigel2509 What else do you remember about the race? Where did you watch from?

      1. Hi Keith, just seen your question. To be honest i cannot remember a lot about the race except that it was a fine drive by John Watson coming through from 10th on the grid to win, probably fortunate due to the demise of the Renaults, Brabhams and the Williams cars. i do remember where i watched from, it was on a grassy bank just after the first corner, quite a good view if i recall but dont remember the name of that part of the circuit. i will have to go up into the loft and dig out the video of the race and watch it again. i have over 300 tapes of grand prix footage so it might take some searching! Great article, well done.


        Nige. B

        1. kowalsky is back
          8th May 2012, 19:22

          It was the first death i saw in a racing car, and it was shocking. i was 16 at the time, and didn’t occur to me that a racing driver could lose his live, what made the sport even more “appealing”.
          It was a sad moment, a lot of different feelings at the same time.
          It took a while to really accept it.
          Keke rosberg explained it very well… All race tracks are very dirty and solitary places the monday after a race. I was passing by the parkng the next day and i saw gille’s augusta helicopter parked there, that’s when it sunk in. i realized at that particular moment that we will never see him again.

        2. Thanks @nigel2509 (and Kowalsky is back) for your first hand accounts of that Zolder race weekend, and thanks Keith for the tribute article to a really superb and risk taking (dare devil?) driver.

          Good to remember why it was badly needed to improve the safety of the cars, I am very glad, that serious accidents and deaths have become less frequent since then.

  5. Today Jacques Villeneuve is driving one of his father’s earlier cars, from 1979. You can see just how little protection there was at the front of the car in his picture:

    1. show this to vitalij petrov
      …amazing, respect

  6. A-Safieldin (@)
    8th May 2012, 10:30

    *Struck by tragedy. (it says strategy)

  7. Salut Gilles…

  8. Still can’t understand why, among the enoromous progresses in terms of safety, they still didn’t nothing to avoid lifting of the cars by contact of wheels…In USA they did, in F1 not…

    1. I think that they did that there primarily because of the oval racing. Just compare a launched car that has space to go (Webber in Valencia 2010, Ralf Schumacher in Australia 2001) vs. a car that is launched into a wall/catch fence (Dan Wheldon).
      Having that said however, protection to keep cars on the ground in these sort of crashes wouldn’t be a bad thing to have in Formula 1.

      1. …if they work, the jury’s still out on how well IndyCar’s have:

        1. yeh, it looks like it needs to coming around the sides of the wheels too, or a big wall put up at the back of the car. i wonder how it will work even at a direct hit from behind, for instance in an accident like in hockenheim 2001 when burti hit schumacher, i think even with that body work on the wheels, the incoming car may just demolish that body work and still get airborn. we will probably soon find out if it can work.

          1. I seem to recall Michael Schumacher calling for wheel-protectors at a couple of points in the mid-1990s. One of the arguments wheeled out in response was that it would make drivers (not least Schumacher, some said) more willing to bang wheels, as in touring cars.

            One of the big issues is how to protect the wheels from a substantial impact without completely changing the look of the cars in the process. The new Dallara Indycar has a fairly chunky rear wheel protector but, as pointed out above, it has already failed at least once. There are also risks from enclosing too much of the cars – just ask Mark Webber about his experiences in a Mercedes CLK Le Mans car.

            The alternative approach, which F1 has arguably taken, is to ensure that such crashes are survivable – rather than to try preventing them happening altogether. The modern safety cell is now incredibly sophisticated, cockpits are more enclosed but it’s easier to extract injured drivers, helmet technology is hugely more advanced, cars are required to have crash-tested impact structures, etc.

            The circuits are also considerably safer – on landing, Villeneuve’s car dug into the grass that surrounded the circuit and dug in, so it kept rolling and ripped itself apart. Many safety advances of the last few years have been about ensuring impacts are more gradual and controlled. Compare that to Webber’s Valencia flip in 2010, which unfolded largely on tarmac, preventing the car from digging in and rolling. Compare that with Lucas di Grassi’s F3 crash at Hockenheim a few years ago – virtually identical to Webber’s crash, virtually identical outcome… until the car reaches the sand at the edge of the tarmac run-off.

        2. I had just wanted to point that out as well @keithcollantine, its not really sure those bulges really do what they are supposed to. I hope they have a good look at that one and possibly re-profile them if that helps.

  9. thejudge13+
    8th May 2012, 11:42

    love the idea oif 30 cars. Respect Gilles…

  10. RIP Gilles, one of the greatest…

  11. antonyob (@)
    8th May 2012, 12:52

    Nice article. I watched it on the news in 1982 as an 11 yr old. Of course you have no idea of the world at that age but there didnt seem to be the same shock as when Senna died. I think from anecdotal evidence, only Clarks death shocked the racing world as much as Senna.

    Anyway for what its worth, my memory of that day was watching the news that night, about 2nd or 3rd news item they showed the crash and then Villeneuve being cradled by a steward after the crash, his lips were blue, his face looked grey but there wasnt a mark on him. I remember my dad sadly saying “oh dear”, feeling slightly sad myself and that was that.

  12. JV’s life in F1 would have been a lot different if dad was around.How different who know’s.BAR was JV’s killer:(

    1. Jacques Jr. was a very competitive driver, his debut season was amazing as was his champonship year. It’s a pity that his poor choices led him to drive uncompetitive cars.

  13. It was a tricky section of the track. With a left-hander and then a right-hander, separated by a short distance, the racing line was going to cross the straight halfway through, and that’s exactly when Villeneuve reached Mass.

  14. DK (@seijakessen)
    8th May 2012, 15:48

    Keith, great write up.

    I have always said the best way to sum up Gilles as a driver was, that he was simply, spectacular to watch.

    I dream of the battles we might have seen between Gilles and Ayrton Senna in the mid-eighties…I have no doubt that they would have been epic.

    RIP Gilles, we all miss you greatly.

  15. Niki Lauda saw the accident as follows: “To my mind, when you are coming in, you should either edge out towards the grass verge or clearly adhere to the ideal line, so the the driver coming up behind you knows what’s what. Moving over at the last moment simply takes the man behind by surprise.

    Something that should hold true today for virtually all forms of circuit racing – backmarkers shouldn’t be required (or aim) to just jump out of the way of the leaders, they should stick to the racing line because it’s the most predictable thing for the faster driver behind.

    I remember talking to a single seater driver years ago who raced one of the slower cars in a multi-class series, so was used to being passed by faster cars in qualifying and races. His view was very clearly that his obligations were to keep an eye on his mirrors and an eye out for the blue flags to tell him when a faster car was approaching, but that he wasn’t going to simply jump off line so it was the other driver’s job to find a way around. By contrast, one of his competitors routinely went off line to let others past. Guess who tangled with the leaders more regularly.

  16. Superb Article….Written with a mastery of knowledge and thirty years later I have that awful feeling I had that day. Formula One changed that day and the memory of that reason is still difficult to deal with. Perhaps the single best story you have ever written.

  17. True racing hero
    Salut Gilles

  18. these are some quotes about Gilles i hope you will enjoy

    Gilles Villeneuve :”I don’t have any fear of a crash. No fear of that of course, on a fifth gear corner with a fence outside, I don’t want to crash. I’m not crazy. But if its near the end of practice, and your trying for pole position maybe, I guess you can squeeze the fear …”

    Jacques Lafitte :”I know that no human being can do a miracle nobody commands magical properties, but Gilles made you wonder. He was that quick.”

    Enzo Ferrari :” …and when they presented me with this tiny Canadian, this miniscule bundle of
    nerves, I instantly recognized in him the physique of the great Nuvolari and I said to myself, `let’s give him a try.”

    Frank Williams:”I was very proud of Alan that day we had the best car at the time, without a doubt, and the
    only driver on the track we feared was that little French Canadian …”

    Juan Manuel Fangio:”He will remain as a member of the family of the truly great drivers in auto racing
    history. Mr Enzo Ferrari, who is an authority on these matters, has compared Villeneuve to Tazio Nuvolari. Nuvolari in my younger days was the great idol. All drivers wanted to equal the great Nuvolari. They struggled to match but could only imitate him.To be compared to Nuvolari is to receive the highest praise. Villeneuve did not race to finish, he did not race for points he raced to win. Although small in stature he was a giant.”

    Alain Prost :” …with me and my competitors it’s battle for pole position as that’s important but
    with Gilles you will see a battle for everything …[including] 10th place … He made the fastest start of anybody here. I thought he must know a trick …all season he had quicker starts, no one could compare”

    Keke Roseberg :”To Gilles, racing truly was a sport, which is why he would never chop you. Something
    like that he’d look on with contempt.You didn’t have to be a good driver to do that, let alone a great one. Anyone could do that. Gilles was the hardest ******* I ever raced against, but completely fair. If you’d beaten him to a corner, he accepted it and gave you room. Then he’d be right back at
    you at the next one! Sure, he took unbelievable risks – but only with himself – and that’s why I get ****** off now when people compare Senna with him. Gilles was a giant of a driver, yes, but he was also a great man.”

    Niki Lauda:”Gilles was the perfect racing driver who knew where to take which advantage where …”
    Villeneuve had the best talent of all of us whatever car that you put him in he would have been quick.”

    Didier Pironi:”When I joined Ferrari the whole team was so devoted to Gilles. I mean he was not just
    the top driver, he was much more than that.He had a small family there. … he made me
    fit right in and I felt at home right away overnight and Gilles made no distinctions either …I was expecting to be put in my place, I was not number one i was number two he treated me like an equal all the way.”
    Gilles Villeneuve:”I love motor racing to me it’s a sport, not a technical exercise my ideal Formula One car would be something like a McLaren M23 with a big normally aspirated engine, 800 hp, 21 inch rear tyres. A lot of people say we should have narrower tires, but I don’t agree because you need big tyres to slow you down when you spin. And you need a lot of horsepower to unstick big tyres, to make the
    cars slide.That would be a bloody fantastic spectacle, I can tell you we would take corners one gear lower than we do now, and get the cars sideways. You know, people still rave about Ronnie Peterson in a Lotus 72, and i understand that. I agree with them that’s the kind of entertainment I want to
    give the crowds smoke the tyres ! Yeah ! I [care about the fans], because I used to be one of them ! I believe the crowd is really losing out at the moment, and that’s bad.”

    Rip Great champion

  19. Thanks Keith for such an excellent article. I will never forget the day when Gilles passed away. His death had such a tremendous impact on me that I didn’t watch the race at all next day. I had the same feeling as when Jim Clark got killed which was also one of the saddest day in my life along with the day that Ayrton Senna died.

    RIP Mr. Gilles Villeneuve, a great driver!

  20. rm (@fanat1c)
    8th May 2012, 18:26

    Back than, I was one of those with the “Gilles Fever”
    When I was told about Gilles…I think I stopped breathing for few seconds. I still remember the lousy empty feeling. Can’t find words to describe it.
    While looking at some pictures, the level of car safety of those days is kind of ridiculous by today standard.
    I also wonder if these pictures hide the solution to the modern boring PlayStation style F1.
    -Big tyres
    -Small, single plane spoilers

    Would be interesting to experiment similar solution on modern F1 and let the driver skill and the horse power decide who has put together the best package.
    Probably we wont have to add artificial variables like DRS and “special” tyres; wont have to turn off the TV after 3 laps because by than we know already who will win unless a tyre give up suddenly or a wheel nut stick during the pit-stop.
    Somebody called Gilles “crazy” some “fearles”….whatever!…I miss that kind of F1…

  21. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    8th May 2012, 19:40

    It was such a great shame. I believe he had signed for Williams for the following season. he would have electrified us in an FW08C. There would have probably been a world championship or two in store for him in 86,87 or 88 had he stayed with Williams.

    I think it was Long Beach or Watkins Glen in 79 when for quite a while he was eleven seconds faster than anyone else in a rain soaked practice session. ELEVEN seconds, unbelievable and utterly impossible for anyone but Gilles.

    What a driver and what a man.

  22. A true legend of the sport; I’m sure that had he not had an untimely demise he could go on to win many more races.

  23. Wesley (@)
    8th May 2012, 23:43

    Great article Keith…I read every word and truly enjoyed.I follow F1 because of men like Gilles and Senna.They were the best!I love seeing their sons follow in there footsteps and keep the tradition going…..even if it is Jacques Jr.

  24. Villeneuve vs Senna…sounds too good to be true…and it was. Much like the way we were robbed with only a taste of Senna vs Schumacher
    Gilles is the epitome of courage & raw speed and always will be RIP

  25. The worst part is realizing that a “split-second” misjudgment can end one’s life. And that goes not only for the old times and not even only for motorsport, but for our everyday life as well. One small misjudgment, one small distraction and it can all end there. Drive safe.

    Salut Gilles.

  26. Another good article, thanks Keith.

    I’m starting to learn more and more about the history of the sport. This seems such a lifetime away from the F1 I know now.

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