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
“I like to think that Ferrari can build drivers as well as cars,” he noted. “I admired Villeneuve. He’s the product of a bet I made with myself. Some people called [him] crazy. I said, ‘Let’s try him.’ [His] hiring surprised the public and unleashed an outcry which might have been justified at the time.” Almost 35 years later, Piero Ferrari chuckles at the memory. “As you know, my father was not one to be contradicted. No one could change his mind. He wanted to show the world he’d made the right choice.” He wasn’t immediately vindicated.
There were so many crashes and incidents – including a dreadful somersault into the crowd at Fuji in 1977, in which two people were killed – that Enzo soon nicknamed him the ‘Prince of Destruction’, and Gilles’s habit of pushing the limit tested the patience of his rivals. But he soon stopped making mistakes, and he was never – contrary to the myth – reckless for the sake of it. Watch him at work in the legendary 1979 French GP, battling René Arnoux wheel-to-wheel for 34 laps but never tangling with him, if you want proof. Or read about how he lapped Watkins Glen 9.6 seconds faster than anyone else in the wet later that year, or about how he wrestled 1981’s powerful but hideously unwieldy Ferrari 126C to victory at Monaco and Jarama (the true index of his talent, according to most experts).