Remembering Gilles Villeneuve

Published on 18 Jan 2017 15:07

Gilles Villeneuve, regarded by some as the greatest driver never to win a Formula One world championship would turn 67 today.

Villeneuve impressed in the junior series and it was not long before he began to attract the attention of teams in Formula One. The Canadian impressed many including James Hunt at a non-championship race in Formula Atlantic, and was offered a deal by McLaren for 1977 which could see him race in up to five Grands Prix.

Villeneuve made his debut at the British Grand Prix where he finished eleventh, but was not retained by McLaren. Rumours began to swirl that Ferrari were interested in Villeneuve and so he flew out to meet Enzo Ferrari, who was impressed and signed him up for the final two races of 1977, and the full 1978 season.

Villeneuve finished twelfth in his first race for Ferrari and retired from the next, rounding off his three race season in two of Formula One's top teams.

1978 initially didn't bring success, with four retirements in the first five races. However, he did find some glory, taking his first ever podium at the Austrian Grand Prix and his maiden victory at the season finale in his home country of Canada.

Villeneuve's most successful season came in 1979 when he took three victories, and seven podium finishes. He finished second in the championship, losing out to team mate Jody Scheckter. Villeneuve had high hopes for 1980 and was the favourite to win the championship heading into the season, however it turned out to be a disastrous year for him. 

The Ferrari of 1980, the 312T5, had an appalling handling model, which is why Villeneuve's 5th places at Monaco and Canada were hailed two of his greatest achievements. He finished with six points at the end of the championship, down in twelfth place.

The Canadian was hoping for a better year in 1981, which would be his fourth successive year with Ferrari. Despite the car being an improvement on what he had in the previous year, he retired from eight of the fifteen championship rounds and disqualified in another. He claimed two wins and three podiums in the races he did finish along with a seventh (San Marino) , fourth (Belgium) and a tenth (Germany). 

It was to be his final ever season in Formula One.

Villeneuve retired from the first two Grands Prix in 1982 and was disqualified in the third. He claimed second place at the San Marino Grand Prix, which was to be his final ever race.

During qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Villeneuve took hit the back of Jochen Mass' March and crashed, becoming ejected from the cockpit and hit a catch fence. He died soon after. 

Villeneuve was highly praised around the paddock, with former team mate Jody Scheckter saying at his funeral:  "I will miss Gilles for two reasons. First, he was the most genuine man I have ever known."

"Second, he was the fastest driver in the history of motor racing. But he has not gone. The memory of what he has done, what he achieved, will always be there."

The circuit where the Canadian Grand Prix is run was named after him, and he inspired his on Jacques to try his hand at motor racing.

Gilles' legacy of speed lives on and still gets the deserved attention today. Winning countless races and championships isn't needed to prove you are one of the best in the world for his 68 race career is a prime example of that. 


Fergal Walsh 


Remembering one-time McLaren racer, Gilles Villeneuve, who would have celebrated his 67th birthday today. A talented racer, taken too soon.

— McLaren (@McLarenF1) January 18, 2017

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