GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #12 - Gilles Villeneuve

03-03-2020 19:00
F1 News
GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #12 - Gilles Villeneuve

Hello and welcome to the closing stages of our countdown to the season opening Australian Grand Prix, where we’re looking at our top 50 F1 drivers of all time. Yesterday we had a look at one of F1’s early greats in Alberto Ascari and today we’ll be featuring one of F1’s most naturally gifted drivers, Gilles Villeneuve.

Father of our number 36 Jacques Villeneuve, Gilles didn’t get the same success as his son, but left an incredible mark on the sport in his relatively short career in F1.

Villeneuve began his racing career on snowmobiles in his native Canada before moving to car racing, having success in the USA and Canada before being offered a drive at McLaren for the 1977 British Grand Prix on the recommendation of James Hunt.

He qualified above Hunt’s teammate Jochen Mass in older machinery, yet McLaren opted against signing him full time. Ferrari stepped in and after a meeting with Enzo Ferrari, Villeneuve participated in the final two races of the 1977, although the results weren’t great.

In 1978 Villeneuve signed for the full season with the Italian giants. His results weren’t anything to shout about in the early part of the season, but his form soon improved.

He secured third place in Austria and then led most of the Italian Grand Prix, before being overtaken by Mario Andretti and handed a penalty for jumping the start.

His improved form was starting to show and the potential was obvious when he took victory in the season finale at his home race in Canada, overtaking Alan Jones and Jody Scheckter before being handed the lead when Jean-Pierre Jarier’s Lotus broke down.

The following season Villeneuve was joined by Scheckter at Ferrari and Villeneuve took an early lead in the championship as Ferrari looked to have the best car.

He won in South Africa and at the US GP West, but Scheckter hit back with two wins of his own, in Belgium and Monaco.

The South African was more consistent over the course of the season and took the title with two races to spare.

Villeneuve did finish the season strongly, finishing second three times in four races before winning the final race in                 the USA.

In 1980 Villeneuve was considered to be favourite for the title, but the car Ferrari gave him and Scheckter was not up to standard and Villeneuve was only able to score six points all season.

The following year the car was not much better, but Villeneuve astonishingly managed to take victory in both Monaco and Spain, holding off four cars to take the second of those wins at Jarama.

He produced another amazing drive at his home race, coming home third with half a front wing, but the lack of pace and reliability in the car prevented him from finishing higher than seventh in the standings.

Ferrari turned it around for 1982 and produced a competitive car, but Villeneuve had a tough start to the season, retiring from the first two races and being disqualified after finishing third at Long Beach.

At Imola in the next race, Villeneuve was under the impression he and teammate Didier Pironi were to slow down and maintain position to secure the race win, and was furious when Pironi overtook him on the final lap to take the win.

Villeneuve never forgave Pironi and was killed trying to better the Frenchman’s qualifying time at the next race at Zolder, in a horrifying crash, aged 32.

Villeneuve may not have the statistics of other surrounding him in this list, but stats aren’t everything. He had the true speed and determination an F1 driver needs, and in another life he could’ve easily taken multiple titles.

Check out the Story of the CRAZIEST F1 Season in History HERE!

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