Blogger Barry: Back in the day, Gilles was one of my most admired
drivers. We revere his sad passing on 8th May 1982 with the
following brilliantly written extract:
From – Ferrari’s 20 greatest F1 drivers – Motor Sport Magazine
Archive – Writer – Simon Arron – Published 21st April 2015.
Ferrari had two crowned champions at the helm when it wheeled its
cars to the grid for the 2014 championship. a first in world
championship terms since Italy 1953, when Alberto Ascari and Nino
Farina formed part of a six-strong line-up at Monza. The team has
hired many illustrious names before and since, but which 20 most
capture the essence of Ferrari?
A curious term, greatness. Some like to measure it in statistical
terms, but naked numbers tell only a partial story and sometimes
not even that. Common examples; Stirling Moss never claimed a world
title, yet remains indisputably one of his craft’s finest ever
Simon Arron suggests top of the Ferrari drivers list is Gilles
The pros and cons have been debated ad infinitum, so let’s deal
with the negatives first…
And now, on with the good stuff…
Actually, period rival John Watson makes the valid point that,
having demolished 1981 team-mate Didier Pironi in the difficult
126CK, Villeneuve should have continued in the same vein at the
dawn of 1982, in the superior 126C2, although the gap between them
came down. We’ll never know, of course, how things might have
unravelled without fate’s interception, for Villeneuve seething at
what he perceived as Pironi’s duplicity during the San Marino GP,
perished two weeks later in Belgium, while trying to beat the
Frenchman’s qualifying time.
But that’s the essence of Villeneuve. He wasn’t configured to win
championships, but rather just to drag the maximum possible lap
time from any car, on any day, and rely on preternatural reflexes
to counter the consequences. And that commitment was every bit as
absolute during non-championship races. Doubters should check
footage of his battle with Mario Andretti in the 1979 Race of
Champions at Brands Hatch.
He has often been described as wild, but that’s a gross
simplification. He was incredibly raw when McLaren handed him his
F1 debut at Silverstone in 1977 and, despite a hugely impressive
performance, which would have yielded a solid points finish, but
for a stop triggered by a faulty gauge, he was still awaiting a
second opportunity when Ferrari came calling.
Mistakes were inevitable during the early part of his F1 career,
given the gulf that separated a full-time Grand Prix ride from his
former comfort zone in North American Formula Atlantic, but
unforced errors were pretty much exorcised by the summer of 1978.
He was rarely more than a couple of corners from some unexpected
drama, but the triggers were usually beyond his control.
Was it simply exuberance that pushed his equipment to the point of
It was wonderful to behold, but the facts suggest a driver of rare
delicacy and feel. One who invariably made tyres last longer than
his team-mates were able to manage.
There were times when Michelin considered his compound preferences
optimistic, but its engineers came to trust his judgment and with
And then there was his perfect defensive technique in Spain 1981
or that qualifying lap in Monaco soon afterwards, when he qualified
what was effectively a Routemaster bus on the front row, almost
2.5sec quicker than team-mate Pironi before taking an unlikely
victory after Alan Jones’s Williams developed fuel starvation. But
he’d thought about that race, too, driving to a pace rather than
trying to stick with a faster car.
Had he been a gibbon, neither of those results would have been
And as well as the speed, there was honour adhering to his role as
Jody Scheckter’s number two in 1979, even on days when he was
Fast and principled, he was a racer’s racer and a poet on wheels.
1977-82: Years at Ferrari
66: Ferrari World Championship GP starts
6: Ferrari WC GP wins
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Barry Blomkamp Nd. Bsc (UL)
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