I am a long-term fan of formula one, it is fair to say that it has changed hugely over the past 30 years – it is now a much safer sport, thankfully deaths are rare (and long may that continue). The last ‘bad’ period for deaths in Formula one was around the time that Senna was killed, (and just before him Roland Ratzenberger). I am not suggesting for a moment that the sport shouldn’t be safe or that it makes it any less exciting. But I do believe that the 1970’s and 80’s drivers were ‘a different breed’, they got in the cars in the knowledge that death was a definite possibility.
The reason I bring this up is that it is 30 years next month that the late great Gilles Villeneuve was killed. He was one of Ferrari’s finest drivers at a time when they were in one of their successful periods. Villeneuve was killed a couple of years after they won the constructor’s championship and his team-mate Jody Schechter won the individual title.
When I visited the Ferrari museum in Maranello a couple of years ago (recommended for any petrol head) I was reminded just how basic the F1 cars of the 70’s & 80’s were. There was no real protection for the driver, no fancy driver aids. It was as basic as a car could get – but strangely even more impressive than the current cars because of it. This photo gives an idea of the simple cockpit design – no protection above the hips, no forward crash areas – just an aluminum tub (and a real gear stick!). The car is to be run at Maranello on the 30th anniversary of his death, it will be driven by his son Jacque, a nice tribute.
So next time you watch Hamilton, Button and the rest of the F1 circus hurtling around a track spare a thought for those that went before and by their sacrifice made F1 as safe as it is today.
RIP Gilles Villeneuve – 8th May 1982