Retro: Gilles Villeneuve Zolder 13:52 AH 1982. The death of one of the audience’s favorite characters

Retro: Gilles Villeneuve Zolder 13:52 AH 1982. The death of one of the audience’s favorite characters

Today, exactly 40 years ago Canadian Gilles Villeneuve crashed his Ferrari at Zolder. The death of a fan favorite started by teammate Didier Pironi during the previous match at Imola by not keeping agreements. The end of the child prodigy that everyone dreads sometimes came too soon.

Gilles Villeneuve looks me straight in the eye before his fatal crash. It never lets you go.

Text and photos: William J. Statt

Gilles Villeneuve Zolder 13:52 1982. The death of a fan favorite
Have you ever looked someone in the eye just before death? It happened to me four times. Twice in the race and twice in the family circuit. Pictures that are indelible on your internal hard drive and never disappear. Today with me is probably stronger than it has been in the past forty years.
Before the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, the atmosphere inside Ferrari was terrible.

Villeneuve’s team-mate Didier Pironi did not stick to conventions during the previous Grand Prix at Imola, Italy, and stole his teammate’s victory in the final stage. Against all agreements. The friendship between the two Ferrari drivers is finally over. The international media did not talk about anything else for fourteen days. On the Thursday before the Belgian Grand Prix, I got my credit for a dance in Lummen, a village close to the track where many of the local teams have set up their workshops. When I humbly walked out a funeral was going by. On the eve of the Belgian Grand Prix, a bad omen has always stayed with me.

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Jill during morning training at Circuit Zolder, followed by Michele Alboreto at Tyrrell.

In the phone booth near the tunnel in the ring, Santi Gidini (Brabham’s PR man at the time) was having a heated conversation with Maranello in Italian. A very heated discussion the entire circuit was allowed to enjoy. Friday came against all expectations without any problems. Because of the then ‘skirt issue’, F1 was on the verge of separating from FISA (now the FIA).

Saturday 8 May 1982
Shortly before qualifying started, I was standing next to Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari number 27 more or less. I was one of the few. Giles looked me straight in the eye and inserted his body into the cockpit. It wasn’t good yet. You will not forget. Then I walked to the passenger lane entrance toward the Jacky Ickx corner. By 1.50pm it had become very calm. No one immediately had a clue what was really going on.

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Gil had a very strong relationship with Ferrari engineer Mauro Forgerie.

Two Italian biometric fingerprint journalists speculated whether Villeneuve or Didier Pironi had gotten rid of him. Speaker Hans Kiwit interrupted the seconds of silence by declaring that Villeneuve had gone hard. Tollman drivers Derek Warwick and Theo Fabe passed without helmets towards the pits as did Renault driver Rene Arnault who had to vomit on the spot, as I heard from passersby. With the knife between his teeth, Gil made a mistake in his “flying bosom” and launched himself during the Jochen Requiem march.

A generation was launched from the cockpit as in the James Bond movie. Helicopter did not bode well. In the evening at 9.12 pm Gil died in Leuven St. Raphael Hospital. Live Fast, Die Fast, Austrian Formula One journalist Heinz Bruller writes in his book The Story of the Grand Prix. Formula 1 is and is at times, with all due respect, a strange world. She didn’t say a word about Jill on match day or in the post-match press conference. You have always amazed me…

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Even Imola’s friendship with Peroni who betrayed him. Personally, I could never understand the sudden change of mindset in Peroni. The incident in Imola was certainly not isolated.

Gilles Villeneuve, talented or foolish?
Some described him as a fool, others as talented. The truth might be somewhere in the middle as his riding skills were phenomenal. Former Safety Head Tony Eckmanns of Zolder Circuit has compared Gill to Max Verstappen. The comparison is partially correct. Giles, unlike Max, was not interested in championships. He wanted to win everything at the limit.

James Hunt recommended him to join McLaren in 1977 after several Formula Atlantic races. I don’t see the current generation of F1 drivers recommending future rivals to their team bosses with all due respect….. His debut at the English Grand Prix at McLaren that year was phenomenal. Jill immediately competed with the frontrunners and had to give in with a broken oil pressure gauge.

Teddy Meyer, McLaren Team Principal, allowed the perfectionist to run fast. He was convinced Jill would get him plenty of extra work and repair bills.

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Villeneuve during the morning practice sessions at Zolder where he extracted everything from his Ferrari.

Enzo Ferrari greeted Giles with open arms. He saw something he hadn’t seen in 40 years. The legendary reincarnation of Tazio Nuvolari. An antebellum driver who, according to tradition, won races both in a car and on a motorcycle with broken arms and legs. Deep in his heart, Ferrari also knew that Villeneuve would never become world champion. He drove with his heart, but certainly not always with his mind.

The Zandvoort campaign of 1979 was a case in point. Enzo Ferrari also knew something about himself as a driver in Gilles Villeneuve. Enzo Ferrari and famous F1 journalist Nigel Roebuck shared the same opinion “a generation that wanted to win every lap.” What made Jill legendary is his incredible ability to win races with few competitive cars. The 1981 Spanish Grand Prix in Jarama was the best proof of this. In the laps, he managed to keep Lafitte, Watson, Rottman, De Angelis and Mansell behind.

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The Ferrari remains are returned to the pit box.

pyronic factor
Didier Pironi visited his teammate at Leuven-St-Raphael Hospital immediately after the accident and will crash hard during the German Grand Prix’s free practice sessions later in the season. He made a full recovery but never raced again. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen the plot going around this. Like Villeneuve’s crash, this was the second scar for me personally in a very short time.

In short, I can only say that Didier took on much of what could have been prevented. In 1987, he was killed in a speedboat competition on the British Isle of Wight, and Italy’s Tivosi Gale was sealed in their hearts forever. Today there are many celebrations around the world. Gone but not forgotten.

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The last thing the world of Formula One saw Gilles Villeneuve.

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