Today marks 32 years since the death of Gilles Villeneuve, who quite possibly was the greatest Formula 1 driver never to win a world championship.
The Canadian driver died during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder on May 8th 1982, as he went in pursuit of a quicker lap to see off rival Didier Pironi in the fight for pole position.
Villeneuve made his Formula 1 debut in 1977 after success in Formula Atlantic and Can-Am. He secured a seat at Ferrari from the end of the ’77 season, and remained with the Italian team for the rest of his career. In 1979, he finished the championship in second place behind teammate Jody Scheckter, winning three races.
In 1980 and 1981, the Ferrari car was more than a handful to work with, yet Villeneuve persevered remarkably to keep dragging the car kicking and screaming into the points.
The 1982 San Marino Grand Prix saw him fall out with Pironi after the Frenchman ignored team orders to snatch a win that was rightfully Villeneuve’s. The Canadian vowed that he would never speak to Pironi again, and this indeed became true when Villeneuve died during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix after making contact with Jochen Mass.
However, the Villeneuve name has lived on. His son, Jacques, enjoyed a successful racing career in North America before making the switch to F1 in 1996. He won the title in 1997, and continued in the sport until 2006 before moving into NASCAR. He is also set to race in the Indy 500 later this month.
Gilles may never have won the title, but he’ll always be remembered as one of F1’s all-time greats.