- Category : Racing Driver
- Type : GP
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Split - Large
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Laws 4
Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve (Gilles Villeneuve pronounced ) (January 18, 1950 – May 8, 1982) was a Canadian Formula One racing driver.
An enthusiast of cars and fast driving from an early age, he started his professional career in snowmobile racing in his native province of Quebec. He moved into single seaters — winning the US and Canadian Formula Atlantic championships in 1976 before being offered a one-off drive with McLaren at the 1977 British Grand Prix. He was taken on by reigning world champions Ferrari for the end of the season — in only his fifth season racing cars — and from 1978 to his death in 1982 drove for the Italian team. He won six Grand Prix races in a short career at the highest level. In 1979 he finished second by four points in the championship to teammate Jody Scheckter.
Villeneuve died in a 140 mph (225 kmh) crash with the March of Jochen Mass during practice for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder (see more below). The accident came less than two weeks after an intense argument with his team-mate, Didier Pironi, over Pironi's move to pass Villeneuve at Imola despite team orders to remain in the same position until the end of the race. At the time of his death, Villeneuve was extremely popular with fans and with many journalists, on whom his death had a profound effect. Since 1982 he has become an iconic figure in the history of the sport, renowned for his car control, aggressive driving style, and a 'never give up' attitude. His son, Jacques Villeneuve, became Formula One world champion in 1997.
Personal and early life
Villeneuve was born in Richelieu, a small town in the French-speaking province of Quebec in Canada and grew up in the nearby town of Berthierville. He married Joann Barthe in 1970, with whom he had two children, Jacques and Melanie. During his early career Villeneuve took his family on the road with him in a motorhome during the racing season, a habit which he continued to some extent during his Formula One career. He often claimed to have been born in 1952. By the time he got his break in Formula One, he was already 27 years old and took two years off his age to avoid being considered too old to make it at the highest level of motorsports.
Like certain other great drivers, including Clark and Senna, Villeneuve was a curious mixture of seemingly disparate personality types. Lauda wrote 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". Flying, snowmobiling or driving, he was a risk-taker of classic proportions. Yet his fellow drivers said that on the track he was scrupulously fair and did not put anyone's safety other than his own in jeopardy and those who worked with him usually referred to him as introverted. This combination of traits made him exceptionally popular not only with fans but with teammates and opponents as well.
His younger brother Jacques, known as "uncle Jacques", also had a successful racing career in Formula Atlantic, Can Am and CART. Gilles' son, also named Jacques, won the Indianapolis 500 and CART championships in 1995 and became Formula One World Champion in 1997.
On May 8, 1982, after failing to beat Pironi's time on his first qualifying lap for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder by only 0.1s, Villeneuve decided to try one final time to take pole position. Using a set of scrubbed qualifying tyres, by now past their best, Villeneuve was well into his flying lap when he came up behind Jochen Mass's March 821, who was driving sedately towards the pits having completed his own qualifying attempt. Mass began to cede the racing line to Villeneuve, moving to the right, but Gilles had already committed to passing the March on that side, possibly due to steering problems which had afflicted his car during practice. The front left wheel of Villeneuve's car came into contact with the right rear wheel of Mass' car, launching the Ferrari into the air. The car partially flipped, before nose-diving into the soft earthen embankment just outside the armco and then somersaulting along the side of the track. The violence of the accident reduced the car to its cockpit, and ripped Villeneuve's seat from the back of the monocoque. Villeneuve, without his helmet, was thrown across the track and into the catch fencing just outside the corner.
Derek Warwick, the first driver to pass the destroyed Ferrari, pulled up a short way along the track and hurried back to assist Villeneuve. Aided by fellow driver John Watson, the pair extricated Villeneuve's body from the fencing and laid him on the ground. By the time the medical team arrived Villeneuve was not breathing. Villeneuve was resuscitated at the scene, but his injuries were fatal. He died in a local hospital that evening, his fatal injuries were likely caused by the force of his car landing for the first time after the initial impact. If his death was not greeted with great shock and surprise (everyone knew his style), that was more than offset by the profound sadness it produced. Even RenÃ© Arnoux, his adversary in the Dijon epic, confessed that he cried after discovering that Gilles had died.