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5 relatively unknown facts about F1 enigma Gilles Villeneuve

Villeneuve is synonymous with speed, grace and charisma. He was a pure competitor and a painful F1 story. We look at some Gilles facts.

Feature 11 May 2016, 19:03 IST
GIlles Villeneuve
Canada’s Gilles Villeneuve was a legend on the track, taken too soon

There was something about the sheer daredevilry of the 1970s that made headlines and made heads turn. The development of cinema, the conversations over popular culture and art kept aside, probably the same can be said about the ruggedness of Formula One's competition.

This was to be a time where the sport was still rising to be a global spectacle; closer to fans in its offering pure racing competitiveness and untouched by the computations and combinations of the electronic gear that so dominate the sport in today's day and age.

Formula One, then was about the madness of racing, the daring and guile of racing drivers and about the morbidity of losing and the ecstasy of winning. It was unsullied by a bevy of technological innovations that have hampered the purity of competition that we witness today.

And it is in those adrenaline pumping times of the carefree 70s that a star was born on the glitzy heights of F1 who changed the complexion of the sport with just a few years in competitive racing. The Hunt's glamorized the sport and the likes of Lauda's gave the competition a slice of steely resolve.

The legend of Villeneuve

But only one man stood for both; a reflection of glory and a painful reminder of fatality in the sport.

Gilles Villeneuve was both a ridiculously quick racing driver and one of F1's short lived enigma.  With speed being his DNA, Villeneuve was Canada's greatest racing treat to the utterly competitive grind of Formula One and also a brilliant reminder that much of our romanticism with racing doesn't end with a driver's retirement, but grows well past a talent's mortal passing from the earth.

Born in 1950 and passing away in 1982, Villeneuve was only 32 when he met with a fatal car accident in his Ferrari whilst trying to snatch pole position at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.

The unaccepted collision with German driver Jochen Mass happened at the closing stages of the qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, and would put curtains on an enigmatic career that could have been surely emphatic had time on Villeneuve's watch not stopped ticking.

From 68 races, the good looking Quebec born racer won 6 races and secured 101 career points, coming achingly close to finishing on top of the podium in 1979, falling short by just 4 points behind teammate Jody Scheckter.

Here was a racing driver who valued the integrity of competition. He was a man dedicated to his craft and respectful of his contemporaries, most lauding his maverick talent as being rare and being in a league of his own.

We look at some rather unknown facts about the man whom Niki Lauda described, "as the best racing driver he had ever seen".

A supportive racing car manager-cum-friend

During the 1970s, Gaston Parent was a renowned name in the field of advertising and marketing. He was an astute businessman, encouraging and supportive of emerging racing talents in the competitive grind of motor-racing.

Soon, he would get in touch with a relatively unknown but exhilarating talent, a certain Gilles Villeneuve who was looking for funds to compete in Formula Atlantic.

The two met and conversed and were to be one team for the entire duration of Villeneuve's career, painfully cut short in 1982.

As Villenueve's personal manager, Gaston Parent, also took care of his family. His support was instrumental when Giles Died. He took care that all of Gilles' belongings would be inherited by his wife Joann Barthe.

Early start but no income in racing

Starting with local drag racing events, Gilles began professional racing in his late teens. His most noticeable racing car was the 1967 Ford Mustang. Soon after, he would join the Jim Russell Racing School to gain a racing license.

Progressing soon to Quebec's regional racing car events, Formula Ford Racing Class, Gilles would go on to win many an intense racing competition. His modified Ford Mustang helped him win 7 out of 10 racing competitions that he competed with the intensity and burning passion that fans would get to see in Formula One's charming heights.

Money being very tight in his early racing career, Gilles would eventually ring in the cash registers courtesy snowmobile racing.

Excellence in snowmobile racing

For a racing car driver, speed is as absolutely necessary as the desire to win. And for Canadian legend, Gilles Villeneuve, it would be both an asset and need in his racing career. Early on in his career, before F1's dizzying heights came calling, Villeneuve competed in several snowmobile racing events.

A natural on snow, Gilles' balance and composure on the snowmobile was akin to a ballerina's control over a glamorous move.

He was both a proven talent and a hefty competitor in several snowmobile racing events in his native Canada. It is said that Gilles was so good at the sport that he could even demand appearance money along with race money.

At the 1974 World Championship Snowmobile Derby, it was Gilles who won the competition on his Alouette snowmobile. The Snowmobile Derby is a world championship snowmobile race held at the Eagle River Derby Track, Eagle River at Wisconsin, witnessing massive participation from North America and Canada.

Talented musician

F1 can be a surprising sport not just in race outcomes. Often, drivers carry talents whose bright exposition lies outside the racing track. Some have rear talents. And Gilles Villeneuve was one such man.  It is no hidden fact that Gilles could play the piano very well.

It is rumored that he picked up the instrument from his father, who was himself a piano tuner. A clear indication of Villeneuve's talent at the piano was evident during the 1982 driver strike in South Africa. While he was bunking with other drivers, Gilles surprised all with his adept skills at the piano, an instrument he picked up from his childhood.

Helmet design

It won't be incorrect to state that a Formula One driver doesn't race with speed, grit and mental strength alone. There's special significance attached to an entire paraphernalia of racing gear that a driver keeps secure and sound at all times. The helmet is one such important e

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