The Italian Almanac

Gilles Villeneuve

Memory Drive

Former Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneuve drove his late father Gilles's most successful Ferrari at the Italian glamour team's test track to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of the man France's four-time F1 Formula One world champion Alain Prost once described as "the last great driver".

"I inherited my love of racing, of pushing to the limit, from Dad," said Villenueve after putting the Ferrari 312 T4 his father won three grands prix with in 1979 through its paces. "Let's say I was lucky to race in a safer F1, otherwise I would be dead too, like my father," said the 41-year-old Canadian, who won the 1997 F1 world championship with Williams after a famous clash with Michael Schumacher's Ferrari in the Spanish GP.

The younger Villeneuve, who was 11 when Gilles died at the age of 32 after an accident in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder on May 8, 1982. Speaking at a round table after the drive with today's Ferrari drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, Jacques Villeneuve said drivers of his father's era had a greater awareness of the risks to others, "because if you shunted someone into a wall you could kill him. Today, maybe they're too trustful of the safety that has been attained, but you see manoeuvres you shouldn't see," said Villeneuve, prompting agreement from Alonso and Massa.

Jacques Villeneuve, who retired in 2006 after 10 years in F1, had previously avoided public events related to his father's death, but the chance to drive the storied Ferrari 312 T4 on the 30th anniversary of the death, to the very day, was different.

Gilles Villeneuve was a character who had a big impact on the sport even though he never won the world title and was in F1 for just over four seasons. Fans loved Gilles for his supreme car control and his daring, never-say-die approach which earned him the nickname the Aviator. He started out by competing in snowmobile races in his native Quebec before moving to drag racing and then the Formula Ford and Formula Atlantic series.