The history of Formula 1 has seen dozens of drivers come and go. In most cases, only Championship winners stand the test of time, and continue to be celebrated as the decades go. This is not the case when it comes to Gilles Villeneuve, a true legend of the sport, who redefined what it means to be a racing driver without ever winning a World Title. Gilles would have turned 70 today, but his love for speed killed him in his prime. The same love, however, consacrated his legacy.
Racing the limit
Villeneuve was anything but a conventional driver. While most of his colleagues had a start with karts or early Formula cars, his Canadian upbringing meant he started racing snowmobiles first.The kind of ability needed to handle such precarious vehicles proved very useful later. After his debut with McLaren in 1977, Villeneuve was quickly signed by Ferrari, conquering some of the most legendary and commanding victories the world of Formula 1 had ever seen. He was quick, he was aggressive, he demanded the attention of his adoring audience. All this, while Ferrari was suffering from reliability and power issues: his duel with René Arnoux at the 1979 French Grand Prix is still widely considered the best motorsport moment of all time.
His relationship with Enzo Ferrari
Il commendatore absolutely adored Gilles, just as much as his fans did. He had been his personal bet, and was one of the very few drivers whom he considered friends as well. Only two pictures were framed in his office: a shot of his son, and a picture with Gilles, of which he admired the courage, the "rage for winning", as he called it, and the spirit. The 1980 Italian Grand Prix sees Villeneuve losing control of his Ferrari T5 on the Imola corner which boasts his name today. The car was crushed, but Enzo only (and publicly) cared that his driver was ok. He unfortunately survived his friend, and quoted not being in attendance of Gilles's funeral after the 1982 Belgian GP crash as one of his biggest regrets.
Their beautiful friendship and on-track swinging fortunes are still etched into the memories of Formula 1 friends worldwide, and serve as inspiration to racing drivers anywhere. Villeneuve's legacy survives in the hard work, determination and talent of those who grew up watching his duels, with a deep-rooted desire to emulate him, if not on track, at least in character.