The untold Gilles Villeneuve story from inside Ferrari – Motorsport. com
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Forty years ago today, Gilles Villeneuve lost his life after colliding with Jochen Mass during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.
The tale of his Ferrari team’s tumultuous 1982 Formula 1 season, which also included career-ending injuries for Villeneuve’s teammate Didier Pironi, has been told many times.
However , one voice rarely quoted is that of the Maranello team’s chief designer Harvey Postlethwaite, whose 126C2 won the constructors’ championship that year – and should have won the drivers’ title.
In 1996, three years before he died, Postlethwaite told this particular writer about that season and the complex relationship between Villeneuve and Pironi. The interview wasn’t used at the particular time, and for the past 26 years it’s been lost in a box of old micro cassettes.
Much like his contemporary Patrick Head, Postlethwaite was a no-nonsense racer, not given to sentimental reflection. Nevertheless , it was clear that this individual had fond memories of Villeneuve among the many drivers he or she had worked with over the years.
“Gilles had this image associated with being completely mad, ” he said. “Well mad is probably the wrong word, but of being very fast and being I suppose irresponsible, almost, in a racing car. In fact , this wasn’t quite like that.
“He was a very serious driver, he took their driving really seriously. But he did like to take everything extremely much to the limit. And he liked every lap this individual drove to be as quick, or quicker, than the particular last lap he drove.
“Now, that was a way I suppose he probably had of pushing himself towards the limit. But he was certainly rather brighter and rather less associated with a madman than people have made out. I mean, the image offers probably grown with the passing time, yet actually, I always found him very serious, and really quite a bright guy.
“He was by no means a politician, and he spoke very clearly and simply about the vehicle. And We think this individual was greatly appreciated for that. But he or she was bloody quick. I mean, there’s no doubt regarding that. He was most likely one of the fastest racing drivers there’s ever been. ”
Villeneuve was considered to be one associated with Enzo Ferrari’s favourite motorists for his team
Photo by: Ercole Colombo
Postlethwaite confirmed that Enzo Ferrari had a soft spot with regard to Villeneuve, who first raced for him at the end of 1977.
“Ferrari the racing group then has been much, much less political than it is now, ” reckoned Postlethwaite. “Still, there had been a certain amount of not really stepping on people’s toes. And Gilles didn’t mind whose feet he stepped on! If he thought the car was no good, he said that, and that will tended in order to upset the number of people, but he didn’t mind doing that.
“And the Old Man loved him quite much for it, because he or she thought that was exactly what he wanted to hear. He wanted to know.
“They barely experienced a language in common – they had some French in common. But I actually don’t think anyone was ever actually close to Enzo Ferrari. Certainly, he had a great affection for Gilles without any doubt, because Gilles do what few other people could do. He could perform what Michael Schumacher will be doing today, he could take a car which is possibly not the best, and he could make it go as quick because anybody else.
“Gilles has been quick everywhere. But particularly, and it sounds almost silly, but it’s quite true, Gilles had been amazing upon slow corners. On twisty corners he was unbelievably quick” Harvey Postlethwaite
“Pironi was a different sort of guy, ” Postlethwaite recalled. “I knew your pet less well, I did not know him at all until I went to work for Ferrari. This individual wasn’t such an open kind of person, so rather more difficult to get to know. But he was also pretty quick. ”
Postlethwaite gave an interesting insight into the particular styles associated with the two drivers: “Gilles was quick almost everywhere. But especially, also it seems almost ridiculous, but it can quite correct, Gilles has been amazing on slow edges. On twisty corners this individual was incredibly quick.
“And Pironi had been quick at fast circuits. He was a very, very amazingly brave driver in fast corners. This individual never lifted. And within a funny way, these people complemented each other. ”
Villeneuve plus Pironi were firm friends – until the infamous 1982 San Marino GP, the race boycotted by most of the British teams.
After the Renault challenge faded, they will traded the particular lead several times. The particular Canadian believed they had been putting on a show for the fans, and that Pironi would comply with a pre-race agreement and let him win. It was also a tight race upon fuel consumption, and both drivers had to be mindful of that.
Postlethwaite felt the feud between Pironi and Villeneuve was made out to be bigger than it has been
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On the last lap Pironi blasted previous and took the flag, leaving Villeneuve with no time to respond. After the race he was adamant that he had been robbed, plus swore that he would not talk to their teammate again.
Although Villeneuve’s feelings were well known, Postlethwaite downplayed the particular impact in the camp. “I believe the animosity that had been supposed to have been between them was blown up away of proportion, ” this individual insisted.
“There may possess been the moment’s bitterness over the business of what happened in Imola. Yet even that will was blown out associated with all percentage. Certainly, within the team, it wasn’t perceived since anything particularly problematic from the period. ”
So had Pironi established themselves in a strong enough position to obtain away without censure from the management?
“I failed to think his position was any stronger than Gilles’ was, ” said Postlethwaite. “I think rather the opposite, I would say. Don’t try and simplify the internal politics of Ferrari to a thing like that, there was much more going on than that. And the Old Man has been pretty much up to date with everything that was happening.
“He had them in and gave them both a talking to. He was talking to the drivers all the time. They spent a lot of time at Maranello, the drivers, they had to be there. When the particular testing had been on he liked in order to watch, and he talked to the drivers at all times. I believe he was very much within control of the situation. ”
Villeneuve stuck to his vow not to talk to Pironi in the days after Imola, and he was still fuming when this individual got to the next race in Zolder.
The accepted wisdom is that he has been so fired up by what had happened a fortnight earlier, and so keen to outpace his teammate, that the particular qualifying accident that claimed his life was a direct result of their feud.
Postlethwaite never believed the Imola fallout between the two Ferrari motorists contributed towards what occurred at Zolder and Villeneuve’s death
Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images
Postlethwaite, who was back in Maranello that weekend and thus arguably a step removed from the tension within the camp, downplayed any connection: “Gilles was always desperate to qualify ahead.
“Gilles experienced a will to win which had been just incredible. He would overtake anybody in anything, all the period. He didn’t care. I mean, that was the way he was, he just wouldn’t let people get in their way.
“Personally, I do not think that what happened at Imola in any kind of way contributed to exactly what happened subsequently in Zolder. I never have considered that. It’s a good story, but We don’t believe it got anything to perform with it.
“Gilles wanted to be the quickest all the time, and if that meant overtaking people… You should see the things he got up to upon the bloody road. If a car was in front associated with him, it was to become overtaken. It wasn’t that will he has been sort of particularly aggressive. It was simply that was the way he was, if he saw a car in front, he or she would surpass it. That was it. He just knew he was your quickest driver. ”
“Gilles would have been world champion that year I actually think, without any doubt. The car was good enough, the particular engine had been good enough and Ferrari was great enough to get him onto the podium often enough” Harvey Postlethwaite
After Zolder the team carried on, with Patrick Tambay stepping in plus later scoring an emotional win within Germany. Pironi won in Holland and logged the string associated with podiums within a year when no driver or team dominated. Heading to Hockenheim in August with five rounds in order to go, he led the world championship by nine points.
In a wet session on Saturday morning the Frenchman was fastest when he ran into the back of Alain Prost’s Renault, plus his car took off. The crash was uncannily similar to Villeneuve’s, but this individual survived, albeit with badly broken legs. It had been the particular end associated with his racing career.
“What can you do?, ” said Postlethwaite. “That’s motor racing, isn’t it? And these sorts of things happen. The velocity of Villeneuve’s accident has been incredible, and the severity of the other accident was amazing. The vehicle went up in the air, God knows how fast.
“They were 2 very, very severe accidents, and to possess them each happen in one year had been an awful tragedy. Plus I think it had been something that had a very big effect upon everybody.
“It’s difficult now to remember your emotions at the time. Funnily enough, I remember the day of the particular Pironi incident more than the day of the Villeneuve accident, because the particular Pironi incident seemed so silly. ”
Including Hockenheim, Pironi missed the last 5 races of the season – and was still classified second in the standings, five factors behind Keke Rosberg. The constructors’ title provided some consolation for Ferrari.
After injury ended his F1 career, Pironi moved into powerboat race but died in an accident in 1987
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In 1986 Pironi did some testing with AGS and Ligier, but an F1 comeback was in no way on the cards. Instead, he or she forged the new career in offshore powerboat racing. In Aug 1987, just over five years after the Hockenheim crash, he was killed within an accident off the particular Isle associated with Wight.
Postlethwaite remained adamant that Villeneuve would have won in 1982, and could have got gone on to achieve much more.
“Gilles might have been world champion that year I believe, certainly, ” he said. “The vehicle was good enough, the engine has been good sufficient and Ferrari was great enough to obtain him on to the podium often enough for him to have won the particular world championship.
“Personally, I’ve always liked drivers who were quick, and he was quick. It’s always nice to deal with a driver like this. Gilles was a star in a period before telemetry. It can different right now, it’s almost all very a lot more scientific.
“Whether somebody like him will be capable of winning those races today, We don’t know, but certainly in that period he was able to win competitions. When a person look at the weakling races along with that turbo car within 1981, Monaco and Spain, it’s unbelievable what he did with that car.
“It’s really difficult to know what he would possess gone upon to do. We can speculate, but I’d like to believe that he’d have received several globe championships, and that he would have been the wonderful ambassador for the sport.
“I think the particular sport needs world champions with character, and he was a wonderful character, a colourful personality, he had been a personaggio , as they say. The fans, particularly in Italy, will always love the driver who is quick. He could do points with race cars which other drivers couldn’t perform.
“He acquired a helicopter and he’d try plus make it loop. Which was the kind of guy this individual was. And I think people just appreciated that will, certainly then. One of the sad things is probably the particular whole world is now much more anaesthetised to these things, and perhaps that isn’t quite kosher these days. ”
Postlethwaite was convinced Villeneuve had been destined to end up being F1 planet champion within 1982
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There would be more competition wins prior to Postlethwaite left Maranello in 1987, yet the 1982 car remains the one that his tenure at the team is best remembered with regard to.
“I have got my own memories plus my own experiences from the situation, ” this individual said. “And I suppose it’s not some thing one likes to go back again over, because when a driver gets hurt in a car, you don’t really want to go back over it.
“There were positive things and negative things that came out of it. But I personally I don’t like to see that whole thing hyped up. And I think it was hyped upward.
“I believe the sport requirements world winners with character, and was a wonderful personality, a colourful character, he was a personaggio ” Harvey Postlethwaite
“There will be some truth in the various rumours about what happened, and the animosity that there has been between the particular drivers, but it had been blown up out of just about all proportion. Plus I think actually I’d far prefer to keep in mind those two drivers as good friends, and they were actually, away the track quite good friends, I remember.
“They shared a language, and they discussed a lot of other things. I think that they were both excellent motorists, plus they were each very, really competitive. It was a great tragedy that will both associated with them obtained killed within accidents. ”
Postlethwaite remembered both Pironi and Villeneuve as great rivals plus team-mates
Photograph by: Ercole Colombo