Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio
– 1982: The death of a legend
His brief sojourn in Formula One probably marked the end of an era and to this day his name is spoken in hushed tones with images still vivid of his incredible talent.
After Friday’s qualifying – Gilles Villeneuve de-briefed with his engineers about problems he’d experienced. The Ferrari was un-driveable on the harder compound and he’d scared himself a number of times especially as he attempted to go flat through the left-right combination after cresting the hill towards Terlamenbocht – his steering was momentarily locking in the straight ahead position…
In an interview with the Le Soir newspaper he replied to a question about the dangers: “It’s normal to have one or two accidents in a season. I know I risk finding myself in hospital. This does not frighten me because I am aware of the risks but there are times when one cannot do anything. If at Zolder my car skids all I can do is call mama and cross myself.”
With just over twenty minutes left of Saturday’s qualifying the Ferrari team selected the best of the used qualifying tyres and mounted them to Villeneuve’s Ferrari. His aim to improve his time as he trailed Pironi by a mere 0.115s.
After three laps of futile attempts, Mauro Forghieri – the Ferrari technical director – hung out the pit board with the message ‘IN’. “I called him into the pits because his tires were finished. He knew he couldn’t do any better and was coming in. Gilles was coming in on the lap on which he had his crash. But even when coming in he was over 200kph – that was Gilles.”
Mass – an experienced driver, in his 100th GP, was cooling his tyres and watching out for traffic. Villeneuve came over the hill towards the left kink into Terlamenbocht at around 140mph.
“i saw Gilles in my mirror and expected him to pass me on the left I moved right and couldn’t believe it when i saw him virtually on top of me. He clipped my right tire, bounced off and was launched into the air.”
The Ferrari flew for over 100m before slamming down nose first into the earth and buckling the front of the chassis in. It continued to catapult widely – briefly touching down on an earth bank behind the guard rails on the right side of the track before its fierce journey finished on the circuit.
It had disintegrated throughout its flight and Villeneuve was thrown from the spinning wreckage into two layers of catch-fencing on the left hand side of the track – his GPA helmet forced from his head. The design was banned from Formula One after this accident because of its unconventional release mechanism having contributed to some of his injuries.
The crash had occurred at 1.52 pm and at 21.12 the hospital released an official bulletin that Gilles Villeneuve had died.
Eddie Cheever: “In a situation like that I know I would have been scared stiff but I am sure that when Gilles felt his Ferrari take off, his last thought would have been anger, plain and simple, because he knew he had spoiled that one quick lap.”