F1: The untold Gilles Villeneuve story from inside Ferrari

Forty years in the past at the moment, Gilles Villeneuve misplaced his life after colliding with Jochen Mass throughout qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder.

The story of his Ferrari staff’s tumultuous 1982 Method 1 season, which additionally included career-ending accidents for Villeneuve’s teammate Didier Pironi, has been informed many occasions.

Nonetheless, one voice hardly ever quoted is that of the Maranello staff’s chief designer Harvey Postlethwaite, whose 126C2 received the constructors’ championship that yr – and may have received the drivers’ title.

In 1996, three years earlier than he died, Postlethwaite informed this author about that season and the complicated relationship between Villeneuve and Pironi. The interview wasn’t used on the time, and for the previous 26 years it’s been misplaced in a field of outdated micro cassettes.

Very similar to his up to date Patrick Head, Postlethwaite was a no-nonsense racer, not given to sentimental reflection. Nonetheless, it was clear that he had fond reminiscences of Villeneuve among the many many drivers he had labored with through the years.

“Gilles had this picture of being utterly mad,” he stated. “Effectively mad might be the fallacious phrase, however of being very quick and being I suppose irresponsible, virtually, in a racing automotive. In truth, it wasn’t fairly like that.

“He was a really critical driver, he took his driving very critically. However he did prefer to take all the things very a lot to the restrict. And he favored each lap he drove to be as fast, or faster, than the final lap he drove.

“Now, that was a method I suppose he most likely had of pushing himself to the restrict. However he was definitely fairly brighter and fairly much less of a madman than individuals have made out. I imply, the picture has most likely grown with the passing time, however really, I at all times discovered him very critical, and actually fairly a shiny man.

“He was under no circumstances a politician, and he spoke very clearly and easily in regards to the automotive. And I feel he was significantly appreciated for that. However he was bloody fast. I imply, there’s little doubt about that. He was most likely one of many quickest racing drivers there’s ever been.”

Villeneuve was thought-about to be certainly one of Enzo Ferrari’s favorite drivers for his staff

Photograph by: Ercole Colombo

Postlethwaite confirmed that Enzo Ferrari had a mushy spot for Villeneuve, who first raced for him on the finish of 1977.

“Ferrari the racing staff then was a lot, a lot much less political than it’s now,” reckoned Postlethwaite. “Nonetheless, there was a specific amount of not stepping on individuals’s toes. And Gilles didn’t thoughts whose toes he stepped on! If he thought the automotive was no good, he stated that, and that tended to upset a variety of individuals, however he didn’t thoughts doing that.

“And the Outdated Man beloved him very a lot for it, as a result of he thought that was precisely what he wished to listen to. He wished to know.

“They barely had a language in widespread – that they had some French in widespread. However I don’t suppose anybody was ever actually near Enzo Ferrari. Definitely, he had an important affection for Gilles with none doubt, as a result of Gilles did what few different individuals might do. He might do what Michael Schumacher is doing at the moment, he might take a automotive which might be not one of the best, and he might make it go as fast as anyone else.

“Gilles was fast in every single place. However notably, and it sounds virtually foolish, nevertheless it’s fairly true, Gilles was wonderful on sluggish corners. On twisty corners he was unbelievably fast” Harvey Postlethwaite

“Pironi was a unique form of man,” Postlethwaite recalled. “I knew him much less nicely, I didn’t know him in any respect till I went to work for Ferrari. He wasn’t such an open form of individual, so fairly harder to get to know. However he was additionally fairly fast.”

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Postlethwaite gave an fascinating perception into the kinds of the 2 drivers: “Gilles was fast in every single place. However notably, and it sounds virtually foolish, nevertheless it’s fairly true, Gilles was wonderful on sluggish corners. On twisty corners he was unbelievably fast.

“And Pironi was fast at quick circuits. He was a really, very amazingly courageous driver in quick corners. He by no means lifted. And in a humorous method, they complemented one another.”

Villeneuve and Pironi had been agency pals – till the notorious 1982 San Marino GP, a race boycotted by many of the British groups.

After the Renault problem pale, they traded the lead a number of occasions. The Canadian believed they had been placing on a present for the followers, and that Pironi would adjust to a pre-race settlement and let him win. It was additionally a decent race on gasoline consumption, and each drivers needed to be conscious of that.

Postlethwaite felt the feud between Pironi and Villeneuve was made out to be greater than it was

Photograph by: Motorsport Photos

On the final lap Pironi blasted previous and took the flag, leaving Villeneuve with no time to reply. After the race he was adamant that he had been robbed, and swore that he wouldn’t discuss to his teammate once more.

Though Villeneuve’s emotions had been well-known, Postlethwaite downplayed the impression within the camp. “I feel the animosity that was imagined to have been between them was blown up out of proportion,” he insisted.

“There could have been a second’s animosity over the enterprise of what occurred at Imola. However even that was blown out of all proportion. Definitely, inside the staff, it wasn’t perceived as something notably problematic on the time.”

So had Pironi established himself in a powerful sufficient place to get away with out censure from the administration?

“I didn’t suppose his place was any stronger than Gilles’ was,” stated Postlethwaite. “I feel fairly the alternative, I might say. Don’t attempt to simplify the interior politics of Ferrari to a factor like that, there was far more happening than that. And the Outdated Man was just about updated with all the things that was occurring.

“He had them in and gave them each a speaking to. He was speaking to the drivers on a regular basis. They spent loads of time at Maranello, the drivers, they needed to be there. When the testing was on he favored to look at, and he talked to the drivers on a regular basis. I feel he was very a lot accountable for the scenario.”

Villeneuve caught to his vow to not discuss to Pironi within the days after Imola, and he was nonetheless fuming when he obtained to the subsequent race in Zolder.

The accepted knowledge is that he was so fired up by what had occurred a fortnight earlier, and so eager to outpace his teammate, that the qualifying accident that claimed his life was a direct results of their feud.

Postlethwaite by no means believed the Imola fallout between the 2 Ferrari drivers contributed in direction of what occurred at Zolder and Villeneuve’s dying

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Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Photos

Postlethwaite, who was again in Maranello that weekend and thus arguably a step faraway from the stress within the camp, downplayed any connection: “Gilles was at all times determined to qualify forward.

“Gilles had a will to win which was simply unbelievable. He would overtake anyone in something, on a regular basis. He didn’t care. I imply, that was the way in which he was, he simply wouldn’t let individuals get in his method.

“Personally, I don’t suppose that what occurred at Imola in any method contributed to what occurred subsequently in Zolder. I by no means have believed that. It’s an excellent story, however I don’t suppose it had something to do with it.

“Gilles wished to be the quickest on a regular basis, and if that meant overtaking individuals… You need to see the issues he obtained as much as on the bloody street. If a automotive was in entrance of him, it was to be overtaken. It wasn’t that he was form of notably aggressive. It was simply that was the way in which he was, if he noticed a automotive in entrance, he would overtake it. That was it. He simply knew he was the quickest driver.”

“Gilles would have been world champion that yr I feel, with none doubt. The automotive was adequate, the engine was adequate and Ferrari was adequate to get him onto the rostrum typically sufficient” Harvey Postlethwaite

After Zolder the staff carried on, with Patrick Tambay stepping in and later scoring an emotional win in Germany. Pironi received in Holland and logged a string of podiums in a yr when no driver or staff dominated. Heading to Hockenheim in August with 5 rounds to go, he led the world championship by 9 factors.

In a moist session on Saturday morning the Frenchman was quickest when he bumped into the again of Alain Prost’s Renault, and his automotive took off. The crash was uncannily just like Villeneuve’s, however he survived, albeit with badly damaged legs. It was the tip of his racing profession.

“What are you able to do?,” stated Postlethwaite. “That’s motor racing, isn’t it? And these kinds of issues occur. The speed of Villeneuve’s accident was unbelievable, and the severity of the opposite accident was unbelievable. The automotive went up within the air, God is aware of how briskly.

“They had been two very, very extreme accidents, and to have them each occur in a single yr was an terrible tragedy. And I feel it was one thing that had a really huge impact on all people.

“It’s tough now to recollect your feelings on the time. Funnily sufficient, I keep in mind the day of the Pironi accident greater than the day of the Villeneuve accident, as a result of the Pironi accident appeared so foolish.”

Together with Hockenheim, Pironi missed the final 5 races of the season – and he was nonetheless labeled second within the standings, 5 factors behind Keke Rosberg. The constructors’ title offered some comfort for Ferrari.

After damage ended his F1 profession, Pironi moved into powerboat racing however died in an accident in 1987

Photograph by: Motorsport Photos

In 1986 Pironi did some testing with AGS and Ligier, however an F1 comeback was by no means on the playing cards. As an alternative, he cast a brand new profession in offshore powerboat racing. In August 1987, simply over 5 years after the Hockenheim crash, he was killed in an accident off the Isle of Wight.

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Postlethwaite remained adamant that Villeneuve would have received in 1982, and will have gone on to realize far more.

“Gilles would have been world champion that yr I feel, with none doubt,” he stated. “The automotive was adequate, the engine was adequate and Ferrari was adequate to get him onto the rostrum typically sufficient for him to have received the world championship.

“Personally, I’ve at all times favored drivers who had been fast, and he was fast. It’s at all times good to take care of a driver like that. Gilles was a star in a interval earlier than telemetry. It’s totally different now, it’s all very far more scientific.

“Whether or not someone like him shall be able to profitable these races at the moment, I don’t know, however definitely in that interval he was in a position to win races. Once you take a look at the bloody races with that turbo automotive in 1981, Monaco and Spain, it’s unbelievable what he did with that automotive.

“It’s actually tough to know what he would have gone on to do. We are able to speculate, however I’d prefer to imagine that he would have received a number of world championships, and that he would have been a beautiful ambassador for the game.

“I feel the game wants world champions with character, and he was a beautiful character, a vibrant character, he was a personaggio, as they are saying. The followers, notably in Italy, will at all times love a driver who’s fast. He might do issues with racing automobiles which different drivers couldn’t do.

“He had a helicopter and he’d attempt to make it loop. That was the form of man he was. And I feel individuals simply appreciated that, definitely then. One of many unhappy issues might be the entire world is now far more anaesthetised to those issues, and maybe that isn’t fairly kosher nowadays.”

Postlethwaite was satisfied Villeneuve had been destined to be F1 world champion in 1982

Photograph by: Motorsport Photos

There could be extra race wins earlier than Postlethwaite left Maranello in 1987, however the 1982 automotive stays the one which his tenure on the staff is greatest remembered for.

“I’ve my very own reminiscences and my very own experiences of the scenario,” he stated. “And I suppose it’s not one thing one likes to return over, as a result of when a driver will get harm in a automotive, you don’t actually need to return over it.

“There have been constructive issues and adverse issues that got here out of it. However I personally I don’t prefer to see that entire factor overvalued. And I feel it was overvalued.

“I feel the game wants world champions with character, and he was a beautiful character, a vibrant character, he was a personaggio” Harvey Postlethwaite

“There’s some fact within the numerous rumours about what occurred, and the animosity that there was between the drivers, nevertheless it was blown up out of all proportion. And I feel really I’d far desire to recollect these two drivers pretty much as good pals, and so they had been really, off the observe fairly good pals, I keep in mind.

“They shared a language, and so they shared loads of different issues. I feel that they had been each glorious drivers, and so they had been each very, very aggressive. It was an important tragedy that each of them obtained killed in accidents.”

Postlethwaite remembered each Pironi and Villeneuve as nice rivals and team-mates

Photograph by: Ercole Colombo