Well guys, as all of you know I am a Canadian and I was there when Gilles won the Canadian GP in Montreal so please excuse me if I am a bit subjective in my post… But then again, which true Ferrari Fan isn’t when it comes to Gilles?
Montreal GP 1978, with Gilles having done so well in the season so far you all can imagine that all sorts of Canadians had rushed to the circuit. The stands were packed, I spent the whole race either on my dad’s shoulders or standing on the bench with each remark from the radio describing how close Gilles had come to getting off the track. If I ever find out that I can’t have any children, it’s because of the damage that day did to my balls!!!
As you all know, Gilles won the race, but what is not known or spoken of seldom these days is HOW he drove the race. I was sitting on the finish line and it’s not a place where you usually see action, but we saw Gilles overtake cars three times on the straight in front of us with the last time his car POWERSLIDING on a straight line while overtaking Andretti and Roseberg who despite being backrunners in the race, were showed no blue flags and they gave Gilles a hard run for the money. I was 6 years old at the time and I was already half drunk by the time the race finished.
I saw him again in Watkins Glen where we spent the whole week. The track was soaked, we were all drenched and all the Canadians that had come there were feeling bad because the race was probably going to be cancelled if the weather went on like that. Qualifying starts and Gilles goes out… He came back in having turned in consistent laps eleven seconds faster than anybody else!!! He didn’t win the race, but having seen that nobody of us Canadians left Watkins Glen feeling anything less than a victory. And of course all of you know the famous picture of him going at full speed and something flying off from the bottom of his car.
Gilles was not crazy, nor did he have a deathwish. I bet he would have wanted to live to a hundred and then bargain for some more. What he was though was a perfectionist of a race driver. Let’s face it, he did not have a masterpiece of a Ferrari at his hands and he was battling the world-conquering Lotuses but he was a race car driver and when he sat in his car he did what he had to do. Those years, what he had to do, actually what the whole team had to do was make those cars better, but Gilles was not the sort of person who was going to give feedback on the car and then wait for the engineers to fix the problem and THEN go out and start winning races with a good car. Every time he sat down in his car, he tried to make the best of it, and he did.
It was never Gilles’s intention to powerslide, and when asked about it he just shrugged and replied that he was not fulfilled with the results he was getting when he pushed the car to the limit, so he had to step above the limit and by doing so he showed his masterful skills. It can be argued that his method was caused his car to break down more often than not, and that this contributed to his relatively low win total, but at least the guy gave all he had for the race. Case in point; take a look at his teammates: Reutmann was usually three or four places behind him and Pironi would never ever have won that race had it not been for Gilles. But did he ever endanger his teammates by doing so? Never. As a matter of fact he was admired for this, because whatever he was doing, even in Dijon, Arnoux said after the race that the one in danger was always Gilles. Arnoux was amazed that during that whole epic battle Gilles backed off a bit only when he felt that Arnoux could be hurt, but other than that Arnoux said that “I could smell Gilles sweat, he was so close but I was safe. He made me feel that I could fight with him for that position with full sportsmanship”. Arnoux cried in public when he was told that Gilles died.
Tell me of another driver who has had this resolve, who has stepped up for a great fight for points, places, or a win with no holds barred, yet commanded utmost respect from all. Lauda said of him: "He was the craziest devil I ever came across in Formula 1...The fact that, for all this, he was a sensitive and lovable character rather than an out-and-out hell-raiser made him such a unique human being"
Enzo Ferrari once said that he was going to give Gilles an umbrella the next time he raced. Because even if there was a clear sky outside or a clean race going on, there was a tornado inside Gilles’s car because that guy was trying to make everything, every single thing to make that car go one second faster. Where do we see that today? When Alonso displayed that fantastic form at the Spanish GP, Flavio Briatore was so happy and naturally ecstatic walking down the pit lane. He ran into Nigel Roebuck from Autosport magazine and Flavio, after receiving Roebuck’s congratulations asked him if he had ever seen a race where the driver had driven a full race as if he was driving qualifying laps as Alonso had done. Nigel only replied by saying: “Gilles Villeneuve”. Flavio couldn’t even reply.
And finally there was honor and dignity. Gilles was in a car that was handling like a truck, in Canada he was asked what he had to say about this (because Reutmann had complained his ass off), Gilles just replied that there was a whole team working on the cars that they were driving, these people working day and night know that the car is not handling well or needs more power so a driver like himself can do one of two things: Keep the morale up and work with them or complain. Himself, he was happy with “les boys” and nobody gives up in a Ferrari.
Gilles wanted to win each LAP rather than win each RACE.
Let's hear Gilles's answer: “I never think I can hurt myself not seriously. If you believe it can happen to you, how can you do this job? If you’ve never over eight tenths, or whatever, because you’re thinking about a shunt, you’re not going as quick as you can. And if you’re not doing that, you’re not a racing driver. Some guys in Formula 1… well, to me, they’re not racing drivers. They drive racing cars, that’s all. They’re doing half a job. And in that case, I wonder why they do it at all…”
"If someone said to me that you can have three wishes, my first would have been to get into racing, my second to be in Formula 1, my third to drive for Ferrari" - Gilles Villeneuve
He left us too early.