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Ayrton Senna and Gilles Villeneuve
Villeneuve Biography
Senna Biography
Villeneuve Biography
Great Races

Although I never got to see Gilles race live, I've managed to see footage and read about him, and I've really come to like to like this guy.

Gilles was born Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve on 18th January 1950 in Bertierville, Quebec in Canada. His father was a piano tuner who loved to do hair raising stunts in cars. Gilles built himself a small 'car' from a lawnmower when he was 5 years old, and although he made a mess of the garden, his father encouraged him to keep going in that direction.

His father taught him to drive when he was 9, letting him drive the van on fields and counrty lanes, and at 15 as a birthday present he was given an MG 'A' which he immediately tweaked and entered in races with friends. He had a vast knowledge of mechanics and was always playing with his car trying to get more out of it. He bought a Ford Mustang and put an 8 litre engine in it, and then tried drag racing and some oval racing, but found both pretty boring, and he decided he needed a more challenging type of motorsport.

Gilles first started racing snowmobiles in his early 20s after trying drag racing and dirttrack midgets. He became Canadian snowmobile champion and from there decided to switch back to cars, but this time to Formula Ford, the equivalent of FF2000. He went to a race school and gained his racing licence at the first attempt. To gain money and race in Formula Ford, Gilles continued racing snowmobiles in the winter, and this was successful, he was Canadian snowmobile champion and Formula Ford champion in 1973. In 1974, Gilles switched to Formula Atlantic, and wrecked his team's cars immediately! After the team bought some new cars, Gilles soon became a very competitive driver, and his familiar sideways driving, was soon recognised.

In 1976, Gilles became Formula Atlantic champion and entered the Trois Rivieres street race. At the race were several F1 stars, including James Hunt and Alan Jones. Amazingly, Gilles beat them! This impressed Hunt so much that he arranged an F1 test session with his McLaren team for Gilles. Before the test Gilles tried his hand at the Can-Am sportscar series and finished third in one race.

It was time for Gilles to move up to F1, and he did at the British Grand Prix in 1977.


Gilles in his first race for Mclaren.



Gilles would have finished fourth in his first ever race, but was stopped by a broken fuel guage. Teddy Mayer, much to Gilles' and Hunt's disappointment did not take advantage of the Canadian's services again, leaving Gilles to go back to Canada upset. But a phone call in the early autumn gave him some hope.

Enzo Ferrari had been very impressed with Gilles' performances in Formula Atlantic and at Silverstone and offered Gilles a full time seat at Ferrari in 1978 as Niki Lauda's replacement. Lauda walked out on Ferrari after wining his second world championship leaving Gilles to drive Lauda's car in the final two races of 1977. His start with Ferrari didn't go as planned. He retired from his first two races, and in 1978 he retired from the first three races of the season. Gilles then led at Long Beach but tried to lap Clay Regazzoni and wrote off both cars! Enzo Ferrari gave him the nickname 'The High Priest of Destruction', while the Ferrari fans took him to their hearts for his daring and bravery, calling him 'La Piccolo Candienese' and 'Villanova.' He drove well all season after that and finished the season with 23 points. This included his first F1 win in Canada on a cold day in Montreal. It was a wonderful win which earned him many new fans.

Ferrari had caught up with the 'ground effect' cars of the era in 1979. Jody Scheckter had joined the team replacing Reutermann and the 312T4 looked ugly but a race winner. Gilles won in Long Beach and South Africa, while Scheckter won In Belgium and Monaco, before the Williams team and Alan Jones won the next few races. In France the turbo Renaults at last started to perform and Gilles finished second, but not until he'd had a breathtaking wheelbanging battle with Rene Arnoux for the last 5 laps, The Ferrari's tyres were finished but Villeneuve fought as hard as ever and the two cars changed places several times before Gilles barged past and took second place.

In Holland, Villeneuve had taken the lead but a deflating tyre was causing him grief. Rather than pitting for new tyres, he stayed out and eventually had a blowout at 170mph. He then drove a whole lap back to the pits on three wheels and waited while his engineers told him he couldn't go on as the car was too badly damaged. Gilles just hated to give up! 

Scheckter won the title at Monza, with Villeneuve acting as his rear gunner. Gilles was magnanimous in defeat, but vowed to beat Jody on the track in future. Gilles finished second to Jones in Canada, and then dominated in America where there was torrential rain all weekend. He had got pole position by a staggering 11 seconds from Scheckter!

Away from F1, Gilles was a great follower of downhill skiing and ice skating. His favourite films were Convoy, Bullitt and Smokey and the Bandit. He also enjoyed photography and flying his helicopter. He could play the piano well, and liked The Beatles, The Animals and The Monkees.





At a glance

DoB: 18/1/50

Star Sign: Capricorn

Height: 5'6''

Wins: 6

Pole Positions: 3

Fastest laps: 8

Points: 134 (includes points lost in 'best results in so many race' seasons)

Teams: McLaren, Ferrari


Gilles started 1980 as the title favourite but the new car was a foul handling, unreliable, tyre eating wreck and not even Gilles' fantastic driving could make up for the car's failings. At the end of the season he only had 9 points, and Scheckter had just 2. It was Ferrari's worst year ever in the world championship. The only bright spot was the introduction at the end of the year of the 126CK turbo.
1981 was much better than 1980. Although the car itself was hopeless, the turbo that was bolted onto the back of it was the most powerful engine in F1. The car was good on fast tracks and street circuits but was useless anywhere else.
The Monaco Grand Prix was a classic. Jones and Nelson Piquet fought for the lead until Piquet crashed into the barriers and Jones took the lead, then with about 10 laps left, Jones began to run into fuel pickup problems and Villeneuve began gaining fast. With two laps left, Gilles nipped inside Jones at Saint de Vote corner and raced on to take the chequered flag. It was Ferrari's first win for 20 races, and it was the race which linked the no.27 to Gilles Villeneuve.
Two weeks later, Villeneuve pulled off an even more astonishing win. The Ferrari was a 'terrible handling Cadillac' according to Gilles, but the Jarama circuit in Spain was perfect for making up for handling problems. There were so many corners at the track that it was impossible to pass unless you barged your way through. Gilles used the turbo power of the Ferrari down the straights and then pulled off every trick in the book in the book to keep Laffite, Watson, Reutermann and De Angelis behind him, and he won by .300 of a second. At the end of the season he had 34 points and Ferrari were 5th in the constructors' championship.


Gilles started 1982 as title favourite again, and the 126C2 was an all new chassis with a developed version of the turbo engine from 1981. The car was extremely fast in testing and had very good handling. Villeneuve clearly loved it apart from the fact it was a ground effect car and he had comed to hate the ground effect technology.
The early races proved the cars' competitiveness and Gilles finished third at Long Beach and led in Brazil. Then in San Marino there was a boycott from the British teams which led to a Ferrari vs. Renault battle. The Renaults blew up early and the race became a duel between Gilles and his team mate Didier Pironi. There were team orders which stated that Pironi stay behind Gilles as Gilles needed the points for the tile. Pironi decided to break the rules and stole the win from Gilles.
Gilles was furious at what he saw as being stabbed in the back and vowed two things: 1) to never speak to Pironi again and 2) to beat him on the track. The Ferrari team came down on Gilles' side leaving Pironi out in the cold.
The next race was at Zolder in Belgium. It was Gilles' last chance to get pole position and he went for it, but as he came to a downhill corner he came up on Jochen Mass's March in the centre of the track. Villeneuve went to overtake, but Mass didn't move quickly enough and the Ferrari flew up in the air, and slammed into the ground before smashing itself to pieces. Gilles was thrown out of the cockpit, breaking his neck and back. He died later that day.
Gilles is now considered one of the best drivers who never won the world championship. He drove in such a way that a world championship was inevitable and he had millions of fans around the world. He was an honest, shy, gentle person with a terrific sense of humour and could drive like no one before and very few since. A true champion.