On This Day in #F1: 8th May 1982 – Gilles Villeneuve

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1982: The death of a legend

cal0501-dm075-e1336464050632Today marks the thirty-second anniversary of the passing of the legendary Gilles Villeneuve. A man whose combative spirit captured the hearts of a generation.

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…

tal01jl1203In 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.

Belgica 82 4

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.”


9 responses to “On This Day in #F1: 8th May 1982 – Gilles Villeneuve

  1. Truly a sad day in F1. I saw all 5 of his drives in Canada and there was never anyone else as spectacular as him, though in the back of your mind you probably felt if anyone was going to get killed driving F1 it was Gilles Villeneuve. Special mention should be made to Derek Warwick and John Watson who stopped and tried to help him as he lay in the fence.

  2. Here’s a video of the previous years (1981) car – 126CK. at a Ferrari track day at Spa. It’s almost identical to the 126C2 that Villeneuve was killed in. 3 minutes in and with the bodywork off you can see the engine and how the chassis is constructed. Very different from today. And how difficult starting a turbo was. Enzo Ferrari once said he didn’t smoke and neither did his cars. He wasn’t taking about this one.

  3. So, was he on his in-lap as Forghieri states, or was he on a final flat out qualifying lap as Cheever states? I’d always assumed the latter, but it seems less clear now…

  4. Been at zolder many times. Remains one of the saddest places in the history of f1.

  5. thanks for a great piece, Carlo!

    for those who have always had interests in many forms of auto racing, I recommend visiting racer.com this week. in addition to takes on Ayrton’s passing, there is the first of 6 videos which chronical the career of Dan Gurney.

    also find an awesome review of the new book “Black Noon” – about the 1964 Indy 500 and the deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald. I can’t wait to get my copy… this is especially interesting to me. as a 15 year old boy, I was attending my first ever professional race that day to watch my hero, Jimmy Clark for the first time. fortunately, I was sitting in turn 3 and not the fateful turn 4.

  6. Like many F1 fans feel , Gilles tragic death was clearly influenced by his inability to sort out his anger and frustrations from the events at Imola , the previous round, with team mate , Didier Pironi. His powerful emotions created negative energy that clouded his incredible natural abilities and judgement .My question to http://www.thejudge13.com followers ; When a driver suffers a physical injury , that effects their ability to compete , they rehabilitate , rest and train until they recover. When a driver is suffering emotionally and is carrying with them , distorted , unresolved issues , should there be some sort of guidelines , rules in place , before a driver is allowed to compete again ? This is not only for their own safety, but protects their fellow drivers as well. Look at Ayrton Senna ‘s action’s and manic behavior at the 1st corner incident 1st lap , with Alain Prost ‘s Ferrari , 1990 Japanese GP. He deliberately , chose to take out and crash out Prost ‘ s Ferrari .He admitted some time after the accident , that it was a premeditated act that if Prost was leading into the 1st turn , he would not lift . Senna was carrying a lot of unresolved emotions with him that race weekend. First , he felt the decision to DQ him from his incredible come back win at the 1989 Japanese GP was politically influenced. When you study the evidence , the actions against him really were unfair and manipulated thru a bizzare interpretation of the rules by the FIA and Jean Marie Balestre. Many feel that Frenchman , Balestre , favored Prost , in turn handing him the WC at that race , 1989. Second , Senna secured pole in his McLaren for 1990 Japanese GP. Again , another bizzare rule , had him starting on the dirty side of the grid. He and Ron Dennis argued unsuccessfully to the FIA , that the pole man should be able to chose which side of the grid they wanted to start. So Senna goes to the grid with all these emotions brewing . The rest is history. The other side to this is that the intense rivalry and hatred between , Senna and Prost , did produce some amazing battles and racing. Getting back to Gilles , his fantastic last laps battle with Rene Arnoux at the 1979 French GP is LEGEND!! Two drivers right at the edge !! After the race , Gilles and Rene , embraced , and truly expressed their emotions after an epic , entertaining battle , fought to the MAX !! Great stuff !! What do YOU think ?

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