40 years ago, in May 1982, Formula 1 lost a marvellous maverick. No-one else drove a car quite like Gilles Villeneuve. He lost his life in a crash while at the very peak of his racing powers. In this special episode, those who knew Gilles share their memories and stories with Tom Clarkson.

F1 World Champions Mario Andretti and Jody Scheckter and 7-time Grand Prix winner Rene Arnoux raced alongside Villeneuve and were close to him as friends. Jonathan Giacobazzi idolised Gilles; his family’s name appeared as a sponsor on the Canadian’s race suit, and their families travelled the racetracks of Europe together. Jochen Mass was also a good friend of Villeneuve – a fact that makes his blameless involvement in the crash which claimed his life even more tragic. They remember Gilles as a person, a teammate, a rival and a friend, and consider why he is still so adored, 40 years after his death.

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2 F1 Fan comments on “Gilles Villeneuve Tribute Beyond the Grid podcast

  1. Michael Schwartz

    In 1978 I was at Brands Hatch where, for the princely sum of GBP1, you could walk along the pitlane (yes, really!) A young driver was casually and unpretentiously signing autographs. I didn't avail myself of the opportunity. His name was Gilles. I have been kicking myself ever since. The consolation was that I saw a sensational qualifying lap by Ronnie Peterson - another wonderful driver.

    • John Grace

      The first time I saw Gilles drive was at his Silverstone debut with McLaren. I watched from Copse which was not a great corner to watch a driver closely and later in the year things didn't work out too well in the Ferrari. So at that point he didn't make a big impression.
      But 1978 was something else. In those days tyre testing preceded a grand prix by a few weeks and my local track was Brands Hatch. Spectating was available so I went along. By then Gilles had shown well and he was on my radar. The moment I realised quite how talented he was was by watching the cars entering the first corner, Paddock Bend, from the other side of the track at South Bank, quite a distance away. It was clear he was braking later than the rest, but not just that, even at that distance his crisp, fluid style was evident.
      I hurried round to the top of Paddock for a close view!
      Paddock Bend, particularly from the top, is one of the best places to watch racing cars at speed in the world. Gilles technique was different to every driver; even Ronnie Peterson. Most drivers felt their way into the corner, perhaps due to the uphill blind approach. Not Gilles. He ran the car to the highest point of the entry, the left front wheel within a foot of the armco (zero run-off at that point in those days). He then threw the car right and, well, floored it.
      Given the sharpness of turn-in, and the fact the car goes light at that point, you would expect armfuls of opposite lock, but no. Such was Gilles sublime balance that on every lap the car stayed neutral. The trick, I think, was the speed with which he reversed the wheel - throw it in, straighten up, power - one swift movement in perfect balance throughout.
      At that moment I was hooked; here was a driver operating at a different level.
      During lunch break Gilles was interviewed over the PA and asked what he thought of the track; "I like this track, particularly the first and last corners".
      Regrettably I didn't walk to Clearways to watch his style there; wish I had. But I walked down to Hawthorns, a fast banked right hander at the end of the main straight, sat on the outside bank and happily admired the the flair and precision lap after lap.
      In those days you could get very close to the track, at Brands often around 10 feet. This is the way to watch a special driver - you can see the genius at work.


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