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F1: Salut Gilles

30 years ago today Gilles Villeneuve crashed to his death at the Zolder circuit in Belgium, after launching his Ferrari into a series of cartwheels off the back of a March driven by Jochen Mass.

Those of us who have been around Grand Prix racing for that length of time will often wax lyrical about Gilles supreme car control and some of his astounding drives. He had talent to take the breath away. It was married to an absolute desire to win every lap and it is this that probably led to his untimely death.

At the time of his accident Villeneuve was chasing the qualifying time of his team mate Didier Pironi, who he had accused of stealing victory at the previous race in San Marino. A chilling prediction to never speak to his team mate again and a promise to let his driving do the talking demonstrate the state of mind of the Canadian driver.

The lap on which he was killed was a slowing down lap, Villeneuve had failed to beat his team mate and in, what now appears to have been a black rage, kept his foot in on his slowing down lap. Coming around a corner to find Mass going slowly on the racing line Villeneuve attempted to pass without slowing. Contact was inevitable and Gilles was thrown to his death from the cartwheeling car.

It was a terrible loss of a wonderful man out of the car and a driver who could be sublime, ridiculous, crazy and dangerous in one lap, never mind a whole race.

Gilles will probably never feature on many top ten drivers lists. Yet on his day, in the right circumstances he was untouchable. His day just never came around often enough.

Salut Gilles.


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