Long Beach ’ 79, and
Gilles heads for his
perfect weekend –
pole, fastest lap, win.
(BELOW) With due
deference to Tamiya,
this is what we’d have
loved to do as kids –
build a model of
Sadly, it wasn’t to be.
What must be understood is
Villeneuve’s almost absurd level of talent.
Scheckter got out of the car at the end of
that wet practice session at Watkins Glen
’ 79 convinced he’d be fastest by a big
margin – only to discover that Gilles had
bettered his time by 9. 5 seconds! Jacques
Laffite had pulled into the pits, then stood
on the pit wall totally enraptured by what
Villeneuve was doing. “He’s on a different
level from the rest of us,” he said. It was a
sentiment echoed by Villeneuve’s Dijon
adversary Arnoux. “After Gilles was killed,
I thought, ‘OK, we are all the same now,
just a bunch of very good drivers.’”
Some of Villeneuve’s contemporaries –
Watson, Derek Warwick, Eddie Cheever –
while acknowledging his talent, thought
him dangerous. And he was…but only to
himself. No wildman could have delivered
a drive like Villeneuve’s at Jarama in ’ 81.
Yes, he had the fastest car on the straights
and so was able to defend his lead from
the four potentially much quicker cars
behind him, but one missed braking point,
one chink of daylight between him and an
apex, and they’d all have been through.
To keep this up for one-and-three-quarter
hours, 80 laps of perfection, in a wilful
beast of a car, was the work of genius.
A watching Gordon Murray, Brabham’s
innovative designer, commented: “That
No wildman would have the supreme
judgment and awareness on track that
Villeneuve displayed time after time.
Tough nuts like Alan Jones and Mario
Born: Jan. 18, 1950.
richelieu, Que., Can.
Formula Ford: Won 7
of 10 races entered
in two-year-old car.
F. Atlantic: Won the
u.S. title in ’ 76, and
the Canadian title in
’ 76 and ’ 77.
F1: Made debut in a
McLaren in ’ 77, but
thereafter raced for
ferrari, scoring 6
wins, 2 poles and 8
fastest laps. Highest
was second in ’ 79.
Died: May 8, 1982.
Andretti noted just how this guy’s brain
was always working, how he’d always know
exactly where you were and position
himself with total precision, give you the
survival space when you needed it. Then
consider his tire usage: in Montreal ’ 78
and Long Beach ’ 79, he went a whole step
softer on compound than anyone else
dared, was advised the tires wouldn’t stand
up to it – yet delivered flawless wins. In
1980, when the ferrari 312T5 was such
a dog, so bereft of downforce, that it
couldn’t even make a set of tires last a
race, Villeneuve habitually got them to last
longer than teammate Scheckter – while
driving significantly quicker.
At Kyalami in ’ 79, he chose wets,
Scheckter slicks for the wet restart, pulled
away up front, but emerged from his stop
half a minute behind. He made up all of
that time, pressured Scheckter into
damaging his tires, glided past and won
comfortably. And at Watkins Glen he won
despite nursing a car with almost zero oil
pressure for the last 20 laps.