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Gilles Villeneuve Crash- A gifted F1 driver gone too early

Remembering F1 driver Gill Villeneuve on his death anniversary.

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Feature 08 May 2018, 18:05 IST
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Grand Prix
Gilles Villeneuve in his Ferrari

Gilles Villeneuve arguably Formula one’s greatest cult icon, often regarded as the most gifted driver without an F1 world championship title. The F1 Circuit which hosts the Canadian Grand Prix, Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, is named in his honor.

On the 8th of May 1982 at the Belgian Grand Prix at Circuit Zolder, he lost his battling for the pole position. The Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve and the March of Jochen Mass collided. The two drivers were on a cool down lap and were heading back to the pits, though, in his signature style, Villeneuve was driving his car to its limits. Mass saw Villeneuve approaching at a rapid speed from behind at the left-handed bend before the Terlamenbocht corner, and pulled off the line to allow the Canadian to pass, but Gilles made the same maneuver, leaving the racing line to try to get around Mass. 

The resulting crash sent Villeneuve's Ferrari airborne, and when it landed, the car tore apart, throwing Villeneuve into the catch fencing. Other drivers stopped and tried to free Villeneuve from the fence, though he was already blue in the face and not breathing. 

He died the same night, the cause of death was a neck fracture.

Ferrari Team Orders denied him a World Championship?

Villeneuve could have won the world championship in 1979 season if he had chosen to ignore team orders at Monza and passed his teammate Jody Scheckter for the win, but Gilles was a man of principles and did what he had promised, he finished in second place just half a second behind his team-mate when the chequered flag was waved.

Jody Scheckter
Jody Scheckter celebrating his World Champion with Gilles Villeneuve at Monza, 1979

He finished second in the championship that year to Scheckter, missing the title by just four points. He made his point clear in the final race of the year at Watkins Glen where he was fastest by nine seconds clear of anyone else in a wet practice session and went on to take his fourth career win in the main race.

Gill Villeneuve was born in Quebec on 18 January 1950. He was competing in snowmobile racing and Formula Atlantic before he made his mark in F1. He spent most of his short successful career with Ferrari and won six Grand Prix.

He is most famous for the battle with Rene Arnoux at the 1979 French Grand Prix.

Video: One of best finishes in F1 history - Villeneuve /Arnoux 1979 French Grand Prix:

He is still adored by Ferrari's Tifosi, and his son Jacques Villeneuve carried his father’s legacy and skills and went on to win the 1997 F1 World Championship.

Veteran World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart called him "phenomenal", Niki Lauda described the Canadian as "a perfect racing driver", while to Keke Rosberg he was "the hardest bastard I ever raced against, but completely fair." Fans loved him, as did the press of the day.

Villeneuve's remains a favorite for fans and drivers in F1 even today.

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