Villeneuve: The drive of his life
Gilles Villeneuve was one of the greatest natural drivers in Formula One. Thirty years on, Top Gear celebrates his genius...
Posted: 09 Jul 2012
Motor racing has punished its heroes more than most, though it’s vastly safer now than it once was. Thirty years ago, things could still go savagely wrong, and on 8 May 1982, during the final minutes of qualifying at Zolder in Belgium, they did for Gilles Villeneuve. Clipping Jochen Mass’s March, Villeneuve’s Ferrari was launched into the air, sending him hopelessly into the catch fencing, and breaking his neck. He was 32. He also went to his grave in turmoil, after his teammate Didier Pironi had apparently stitched him up and stolen victory at the previous race, the San Marino Grand Prix, held at Imola. Close friends said Gilles’s judgement had been impaired by anger and disbelief.
“Gilles was a pure soul,” Enzo Ferrari’s son Piero remembers. “He didn’t think anyone would put him in a position where he would be jeopardised. Unfortunately, unpredictable things happen. What happened at Imola was a tragic story, and there’s still a lack of clarity about exactly what happened.”
Words: Jason Barlow
This feature was originally published in the June 2012 issue of Top Gear magazine