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Book Tells Story Of ‘Craziest Devil’ Villeneuve

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 22 2018

Driver Gilles Villeneuve became a racing icon for Canadian fans during his days with the equally iconic Ferrari team. Both drew praise at the recent Canadian Grand Prix, which is held at the track which bears the driver’s name.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Memories of favorite native son Gilles Villeneuve annually are rekindled during Formula One’s Canadian Grand Prix, contested on the circuit in Montreal that bears his name.

How appropriate it was then that Sebastian Vettel punctuated his 50th career F1 victory in Canada on June 10 with a shout-out to Villeneuve and the current generation of Scuderia Ferrari devotees.

“I think I dedicate it (his win) to the team, to the guys in Maranello and to the Canadian fans _ the Canadian tifosi. I think they have been waiting long enough for Ferrari to do well here,” said Vettel, the four-time World Driving Champion from Germany. “Yeah, 40 years after Gilles won his grand prix here, I think it’s great to show that Ferrari is still alive, that Ferrari is still there, winning races. I’m extremely proud to become part of that story, step-by-step, hopefully a bit more in the future. It’s just a day to remember the great Gilles Villeneuve.”

For the record, Gilles won the first of his six F1 races on Oct. 8, 1978 in Canada in the season-finale of the 16-event FIA Formula One World Championship.

Jacques Villeneuve, Gilles’ son and the 1997 F1 World Champion, demonstrated his father’s race-winning No. 12 Ferrari 312T3 prior to the race’s latest edition _ a prophetic lead-in to the Scuderia’s first Canadian victory since Michael Schumacher’s in 2004. In the process Vettel ended Ferrari’s longest winless streak at any current venue.

Ferrari fans who witnessed Gilles’ first F1 win undoubtedly are a little bit older and a little bit slower today. They comprise, however, the prime demographic that will relate to and enjoy WOW GILLES! Villeneuve. The Undying Legend.  A photo

Gilles Villeneuve, left, and Ferrari teammate Jody Scheckter discuss setups in the latter’s pit stall at the Italian Grand Prix in 1979. Scheckter, of South Africa, was crowned F1 World Driving Champion that season, finishing four points ahead of Villeneuve.

album in the truest sense, the book is a first-hand account of five years in the mercurial life of Villeneuve as documented by the timeless photography of Ercole Colombo and insightful text by Giorgio Terruzzi.

From his controversial F1 debut in 1977 to his fatal accident in 1982, Villeneuve’s wide-flat-open driving style blurred the lines between fearless and reckless _ a combination that transformed him into a motorsports immortal.

“I don’t think of dying, but I accept the fact that it’s part of the job,” Villeneuve is quoted by Terruzzi, a Formula One expert whose work has appeared in various European newspapers, including the Corriere della Sera published in Milan. That is one of several haunting quotes accompanying nearly 200 primarily color and black-and-white illustrations provided by Colombo, a celebrated F1 photographer whose previous work for publisher SKIRA Editore includes Ayrton Senna. The Last Night, released in 2016 also in collaboration with Terruzzi.

Colombo and Terruzzi were first-hand witnesses to Villeneuve’s run of spectacular crashes that too often overshadowed his victories, his intense rivalries, the loss of friends, a celebrated intramural “betrayal” and the accident that took his life at age 32.

Recall that Villeneuve was hired by Enzo Ferrari _ il commendatore himself _to replace Niki Lauda in the summer of 1977 with this sobering observation: “When they presented me with this little Canadian, this miniscule bundle of nerves, I immediately recognized in him the physique of (Tazio) Nuvolari and said to myself, ‘Let’s give him a try.’^”

Alas, Villeneuve’s career was star-crossed from the outset. In his second start for the Scuderia, the Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji on Oct. 23, 1977, Villeneuve’s Ferrari hit the front wheel of the unique six-wheel Tyrrell driven by Ronnie

Gilles Villeneuve dutifully plays the role of teammate to reigning F1 World Driving Champion Jody Scheckter during the unveiling of the Ferrari T5 for the FIA’s 1980 schedule in Fiorano, Italy.

Peterson. The Ferrari went airborne and crashed into a group of fans reportedly standing in a prohibited area. Two were killed upon impact, while Villeneuve miraculously walked away. Colombo has documented that moment, and the wreckage, in never-before-seen detail.

That wreck, and several that followed, earned Villeneuve the derisive nickname of “The Pilot” and “Air Canada” as noted by Terruzzi “because he seems to spend more time in the air than on the ground.” The author added, “But he is already a legend among fans. At Scuderia Ferrari he is adored for his simplicity and disarming honesty.”

That was never more evident than in the moments after Gilles won his first GP on home soil. “This is the happiest day of my life,” Villeneuve is quoted by Terruzzi.

The Canadian Grand Prix was contested on a new venue in 1978, a racetrack built on the Ile Notre Dame on the St. Lawrence River in Montréal. A replacement for Mosport Park, the circuit was built on the site of Expo 67 and the rowing basin of the 1976 Olympic Games on a hand-made island. It currently measures 2.709-miles with 14 turns.

Villeneuve qualified third and inherited the lead when Lotus’ Jean-Piere Jarier retired with an engine malfunction.  With 72,000 fans watching on a cold, gray day that ended with snowflakes falling, Villeneuve _ the 1974 world skimobile champion _ realized a childhood dream.

The aforementioned “betrayal” involved the outcome of the San Marino Grand

Feisty Canadian Gilles Villeneuve flashes the universal sign of disrespect at the 1981 Austrian Grand Prix in Zeltweg.

Prix at Imola on April 25, 1982, when Villeneuve felt team orders were ignored by Didier Pironi en route to his victory. Visibly pissed, Villeneuve never again spoke to Pironi, a silence Gilles would soon take to his grave.

Terruzzi reports that Villeneuve was “sullen and nervous” when he helicoptered himself into Zolder to qualify for the Belgian Grand Prix on May 8, 1982. With Pironi a tenth-of-a-second faster, Villeneuve opted to run one more lap on worn tires. His resulting contact with the slower March driven by Jochen Mass sent Villeneuve airborne before the Ferrari slammed to the ground, nose first.

Terruzzi:  “Gilles, with seat and steering wheel, is thrown from the cockpit. He hurtles into the catch-fencing. His helmet flies off and rolls away. It’s 1:52 p.m. Attempts to revive him. The helicopter arrives. He is taken to the Saint Raphael hospital in Lovanio at 2:03. Diagnosis: fracture of the cervical vertebrae and severing of the spinal cord. The death of Gilles Villeneuve is announced at 9:12 p.m.” Colombo documents the tragic incident pictorially on Pages 184 to 189.

“Gilles Villeneuve was someone I took a great liking to…although I questioned the risks he used to take,” said Lauda, the three-time F1 World Champion from Austria. “He was the craziest devil I ever came across in Formula One.”

Jacques Villeneuve, Gilles’ son, acknowledges his father’s legacy with Scuderia Ferrari during the Gilles Villeneuve Memorial at Fiorano, Italy, in 2012. Jacques is shaking hands with then Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, surrounded by the team of mechanics who worked on Gilles’ famed No. 12.

Working as a staff writer in the sports department of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram when Villeneuve was killed, I remember the photos of grief-stricken fans and the elaborate floral arrangements at his funeral in Canada on May 12. It was a moment eclipsed only by the nationwide outpouring of grief in Brazil on May 1, 1994 following the crash that killed three-time F1 World Champion Senna while leading the San Marino Grand Prix at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy.

The book also features family photos of wife Joann, daughter Melanie and of course Jacques, who won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 before moving onto Formula One with Williams. Appropriately, the book’s final two pages of photos show Jacques behind the wheel of his father’s No. 12 Ferrari in an event billed as the Gilles Villeneuve Memorial at Fiorano, Italy, in 2012.

The final photo of Jacques and that iconic car and the mechanics who had worked with his father (along with two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso of Spain in the background), brings to conclusion a narrative that began with this quote:

“If it’s true that the life of a human being is like a film, then I have had the privilege of being a bit player, the screenwriter, the star and the director of my own way of life.” _Gilles Villeneuve.

Thirty-six years after his death, Villeneuve’s words and those of his peers define a man obsessed by speed “but with the heart and soul of a child.” While Terruzzi’s text is a quick read, Colombo’s photos will have the tifosi _ and any Formula One fan _ revisiting the pages of this book again and again.


Wow Gilles!

Villeneuve. The Undying Legend.

Photographs by Ercole Colombo. Texts by Giorgio Terruzzi.

Format: Hardcover, 208 pages/ISBN: 978-88-572-3605-6

Published: February 2018 by SKIRA Editore in Milano, Italy. Distributed in the United States, Canada, Central and South America by Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 300 Park Avenue South, New York, N.Y., 10010.

Price: $50.00 USA; $67.50 Canada.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 22 2018
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