|Occupation:||Race Car Driver|
|Birth Day:||January 18, 1950|
|Death Date:||May 8, 1982 (age 32)|
As per our current Database, Gilles Villeneuve died on May 8, 1982 (age 32).
|Height||Weight||Hair Colour||Eye Colour||Blood Type||Tattoo(s)|
He earned his professional racing license at the Jim Russell Racing School before joining the Formula Ford racing class.
Villeneuve was born to piano-tuner Seville Villeneuve and his wife Georgette (née Coupal) at Hôpital du Haut-Richelieu in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, a small town just outside Montreal, in the province of Quebec in Canada and grew up in Berthierville. In 1970, he married Joann Barthe, with whom he had two children, Jacques and Mélanie. 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.
Villeneuve started competitive driving in local drag-racing events, entering his road car, a modified 1967 Ford Mustang. He was soon bored by this and entered the Jim Russell Racing School at Le Circuit Mont Tremblant to gain a racing licence. He then had a very successful season in Quebec regional Formula Ford, running his own two-year-old car and winning seven of the ten races he entered. The next year he progressed to Formula Atlantic, competing there for four years, running his own car again for one of those seasons. He won his first Atlantic race in 1975 at Gimli Motosport Park in heavy rain. In 1976, teamed with Chris Harrison's Ecurie Canada and factory March race engineer Ray Wardell, he dominated the season by winning all but one of the races and taking the US and Canadian titles. He won the Canadian championship again in 1977.
After Villeneuve impressed James Hunt by beating him and several other Grand Prix stars in a non-championship Formula Atlantic race at Trois-Rivières in 1976, Hunt's McLaren team offered Villeneuve a Formula One deal for up to five races in a third car during the 1977 season. Villeneuve made his debut at the 1977 British Grand Prix, where he qualified 9th in McLaren's old M23, separating the regular drivers Hunt and Jochen Mass who were driving newer M26s. In the race he set fifth fastest lap and finished 11th after being delayed for two laps by a faulty temperature gauge. The British press coverage of Villeneuve's performance was generally complimentary, including John Blunsden's comment in The Times that "Anyone seeking a future World Champion need look no further than this quietly assured young man."
Despite this, shortly after the British race McLaren's experienced team manager Teddy Mayer decided not to continue with Villeneuve for the following year. His explanation was that Villeneuve "was looking as though he might be a bit expensive" and that Patrick Tambay, the team's eventual choice for 1978, was showing similar promise. Villeneuve was left with no solid options for 1978, although Canadian Walter Wolf, for whom Villeneuve had driven in Can-Am racing, considered giving him a drive at Wolf Racing. Rumours circulated that Villeneuve was one of several drivers in whom Ferrari's team was interested, and in August 1977 he flew to Italy to meet Enzo Ferrari, who was immediately reminded of Tazio Nuvolari, the pre-war European champion. "When they presented me with this 'piccolo Canadese' (little Canadian), this minuscule bundle of nerves, I immediately recognised in him the physique of Nuvolari and said to myself, let's give him a try." Ferrari was satisfied with Villeneuve's promise after a session at Ferrari's Fiorano test track, despite the Canadian making many mistakes and setting relatively slow times, and Villeneuve signed to drive for Ferrari in the last two races of the 1977 season and the 1978 season. Villeneuve later remarked that: "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..."
The 1978 season saw a succession of retirements for Villeneuve, often after problems with the new Michelin radial tyres. Early in the season, he started on the front row at the United States Grand Prix West, but crashed out of the lead on lap 39. Despite calls in the Italian press for him to be replaced, Ferrari persisted with him. Towards the end of the season, Villeneuve's results improved. He finished second on the road at the Italian Grand Prix, although he was penalised a minute for jumping the start, and ran second at the United States Grand Prix before his engine failed. Finally at the season-ending Canadian Grand Prix, this time at the Circuit Notre Dame Island in Montreal (a circuit that was eventually named after him) Villeneuve scored his first Grand Prix win after Jean-Pierre Jarier's Lotus stopped with engine trouble. To date, he remains the only Canadian to win the Canadian Grand Prix.
Villeneuve was joined by Jody Scheckter in 1979 after Carlos Reutemann moved to Lotus. Villeneuve won three races during the year and even briefly led the championship after winning back to back races in USA and South Africa. However, the season is mostly remembered for Villeneuve's wheel-banging duel with René Arnoux in the last laps of the 1979 French Grand Prix. Arnoux passed Villeneuve for second place with three laps to go, but Villeneuve re-passed him on the next lap. On the final lap Arnoux attempted to pass Villeneuve again, and the pair ran side-by-side through the first few corners of the lap, making contact several times. Arnoux took the position but Villeneuve attempted an outside pass one corner later. The cars bumped hard, Villeneuve slid wide but then passed Arnoux on the inside at a hairpin turn and held him off for the last half of the lap to secure second place. Villeneuve commented afterwards, "I tell you, that was really fun! I thought for sure we were going to get on our heads, you know, because when you start interlocking wheels it's very easy for one car to climb over another." At the Dutch Grand Prix a slow puncture collapsed Villeneuve's left rear tyre and put him off the track. He returned to the circuit and limped back to the pit lane on three wheels, losing the damaged wheel on the way. On his return to the pit lane Villeneuve insisted that the team replace the missing wheel, and had to be persuaded that the car was beyond repair. Villeneuve might have won the World Championship by ignoring team orders to beat Scheckter at the Italian Grand Prix, but chose to finish behind him, ending his own championship challenge. The pair finished first and second in the championship, with Scheckter beating Villeneuve by just four points. During the extremely wet Friday practice session for the season-ending United States Grand Prix, Villeneuve set a time variously reported to be either 9 or 11 seconds faster than any other driver. His teammate Jody Scheckter, who was second fastest, recalled that "I scared myself rigid that day. I thought I had to be quickest. Then I saw Gilles's time and — I still don't really understand how it was possible. Eleven seconds!"
The 1980 season was sub-par for Ferrari. Villeneuve had been considered favourite for the Drivers' Championship by bookmakers in the United Kingdom, though he only scored six points in the whole campaign in the 312T5 which had only partial ground effects. Scheckter scored only two points and retired at the end of the season.
For the 1981 season, Ferrari introduced their first turbocharged engined F1 car, the 126C, which produced tremendous power but was let down by its poor handling. Villeneuve was partnered with Didier Pironi who noted that Villeneuve "had a little family [at Ferrari] but he made me welcome and made me feel at home overnight ... [He] treated me as an equal in every way." Villeneuve won two races during the season. At the Spanish Grand Prix Villeneuve kept five quicker cars behind him for most of the race using the superior straight-line speed of his car. After an hour and 46 minutes of racing Villeneuve led second-placed Jacques Laffite by only 0.22 seconds. Fifth-placed Elio de Angelis was only just over a second further back. Harvey Postlethwaite, who was hired by Ferrari to design the follow-on and much more successful 126C2 that won the Constructors' Championship in 1982, later commented on the 126C: "That car...had literally one quarter of the downforce that, say Williams or Brabham had. It had a power advantage over the Cosworths for sure, but it also had massive throttle lag at that time. In terms of sheer ability I think Gilles was on a different plane to the other drivers. To win those races, the 1981 GPs at Monaco and Jarama — on tight circuits — was quite out of this world. I know how bad that car was." At the 1981 Canadian Grand Prix Villeneuve damaged the front wing of his Ferrari and drove for most of the race in heavy rain with the wing obscuring his view ahead. There was a risk of being disqualified but eventually the wing detached and Villeneuve drove on to finish third with the nose section of his car missing.
There is still a huge demand for Villeneuve memorabilia at the race-track shops and several books have been written about him. The number 27, the number of his Ferrari in 1981 and 1982, is still closely associated with him by fans. Jean Alesi, whose aggression and speed in the wet were compared to Villeneuve's, also used the number at Ferrari. Villeneuve's son, Jacques, drove the No. 27 during his IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 winning season with Team Green, and has also used the number for occasional drives in NASCAR and the Speedcar Series. Canadian driver Andrew Ranger used number 27 in the 2005 and 2006 Champ Car seasons, and continued using the number at NASCAR Canadian Tire Series since 2007. Canadian driver and 2011 IndyCar Rookie of the Year James Hinchcliffe adopted the number 27 for the 2012 season when he joined Andretti Autosport (former Andretti Green Racing).
The popular French comics series Michel Vaillant by Jean Graton is set in the world of motor racing and, although largely fictional, often includes real-life figures including drivers, officials and journalists. Villeneuve appears in a number of stories, and in Steve Warson contre Michel Vaillant (fr: "Steve Warson versus Michel Vaillant") becomes the 1980 World Champion (though in the 1981 season, covered in Rififi en F1 ("Trouble in F1"), Graton acknowledges Alan Jones as the real Champion) and Quebec progressive rock and pop band The Box based their 1984 song "Live on TV" inspired by Villeneuve's televised death.
He was offered a deal by team owner Ron Dennis to rejoin McLaren in 1982, which he rejected because he was nervous over ending his contract with Ferrari but optimistic that the Italian team would be competitive. The first few races of the 1982 season saw Villeneuve lead in Brazil in the new 126C2, before spinning into retirement, and finished third at the United States Grand Prix West although he was later disqualified for a technical infringement. The Ferraris were handed an unexpected advantage at the San Marino Grand Prix as an escalation of the FISA–FOCA war saw the FOCA teams boycott the race, effectively leaving Renault as Ferrari's only serious opposition. With Renault driver Prost retiring from fourth place on lap 7 followed by his teammate Arnoux on the 44th lap Ferrari seemed to have the win guaranteed. In order to conserve fuel and ensure the cars finished the Ferrari team ordered both drivers to slow down. Villeneuve believed that the order also meant that the drivers were to maintain position but Pironi passed Villeneuve. A few laps later Villeneuve re-passed Pironi and slowed down again, believing that Pironi was simply trying to entertain the Italian crowd. On the last lap Pironi passed and aggressively chopped across the front of Gilles in Villeneuve corner and took the win. Villeneuve was irate as he believed that Pironi had disobeyed the order to hold position. Meanwhile, Pironi claimed that he had done nothing wrong as the team had only ordered the cars to slow down, not maintain position. Villeneuve stated after the race "I think it is well known that if I want someone to stay behind me and I am faster, then he stays behind me." Feeling betrayed and angry Villeneuve vowed never to speak to Pironi again.
On May 8, 1982, Villeneuve died after an accident during the final qualifying session for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. At the time of the crash, Pironi had set a time one-tenth of a second faster than Villeneuve for sixth place. Villeneuve was using his final set of qualifying tyres; some say he was attempting to improve his time on his final lap, while others suggest he was specifically aiming to beat Pironi. However, Villeneuve's biographer Gerald Donaldson quotes Ferrari race engineer Mauro Forghieri as saying that the Canadian, although pressing on in his usual fashion, was returning to the pit lane when the accident occurred. If so, he would not have set a time on that lap.
Villeneuve 1982 - Allan de la Plante Villeneuve a Racing Legend 1995 - Allan de la Plante
The racetrack on Notre Dame Island, Montreal, host to the Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, was named Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in his honour at the Canadian Grand Prix of 1982. A sign reading “Salut Gilles” was placed at the start/finish line at Notre Dame Island, which is now known as Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. His homeland has continued to honour him: In Berthierville a museum was opened in 1992 and a lifelike statue stands in a nearby park which was also named in his honour. Villeneuve was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame at their inaugural induction ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto, Ontario on August 19, 1993. He was also inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. In June 1997 Canada issued a postage stamp in his honour.
His younger brother 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.
A film based on the biography by Gerald Donaldson was announced in 2005, to be produced by Capri Films Inc, and with Christian Duguay named as the director, but the film has yet to materialise.
In 2007, former Marlboro marketer John Hogan disputed the claim that Pironi had gone back on a prior arrangement with Villeneuve. He said: "Neither of them would ever have agreed to what effectively was throwing a race. I think Gilles was stunned somebody had out-driven him and that it just caught him so much by surprise." Hogan's company sponsored Pironi while he was at Ferrari. A comparison of the lap times of the two drivers showed that Villeneuve lapped far slower when he was in the lead, suggesting that he had indeed been trying to save fuel.
Currently, Gilles Villeneuve is 72 years, 8 months and 18 days old. Gilles Villeneuve will celebrate 73rd birthday on a Wednesday 18th of January 2023.
Find out about Gilles Villeneuve birthday activities in timeline view here.