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Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve (DJILL VILL-nerve; born 18 January 1950 in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Montérégie, Quebec, Canada – died 8 May 1982 in Leuven, Flemish Brabant, Flemish Region, Belgium) was a Canadian racing driver who most notably drove for Ferrari in Formula One.

Villeneuve started his racing career in snowmobile racing, before moving into single-seater cars, winning the Formula Atlantic Championship in 1976. He drove a solitary race for McLaren as a third driver in 1977 before moving to Ferrari, also as a third driver, with whom he drove the final two races of the season after World Champion Niki Lauda choose to sit out the final two races of the season.

Villeneuve won his first race at the end of the 1978 season, at his home race. Villeneuve continued in 1979 strongly, winning three races and taking four second places to finish the championship second behind teammate Jody Scheckter.

After a disappointing 1980 and an up-and-down 1981 (in which Villeneuve took two victories), Villeneuve started the 1982 in a car capable of challenging for the title on terms of both speed and reliability. After an altercation with Didier Pironi at the boycott-affected San Marino Grand Prix, in which he vowed to never speak to his French teammate again, Villeneuve was fatally injured in an accident with Jochen Mass in qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix at the age of 32.

Gilles' younger brother, Jacques, competed in F1 without any success. In 1996, his son, also called Jacques, began his Formula One career, during which he became the only Canadian to win the Formula One World Championship in 1997.

In his legacy, the circuit in Montreal was named after him and the number 27 Ferrari car is still associated with him.

Formula One CareerEdit

Pre-Formula OneEdit

Villeneuve began his racing career when racing his personal car in drag-racing competitions. He eventually earned a racing license at the Jim Russell Racing School at Le Circuit Mont Tremblant. He then began racing a very successful season in Formula Ford with a car he had purchased. He managed to win seven of the ten races he entered.

After only a season of Formula Ford, he advanced to the higher Formula Atlantic series where he raced for four years. Because of his popularity in snowmobile racing, he was able to gain a sponsor for his second year of Formula Atlantic from the snowmobile company, Skiroule.

"Every winter, you would reckon on three or four big spills—and I'm talking about being thrown on to the ice at 100 miles per hour. Those things used to slide a lot, which taught me a great deal about control. And the visibility was terrible! Unless you were leading, you could see nothing, with all the snow blowing about. Good for the reactions—and it stopped me having any worries about racing in the rain."

Villeneuve talking about his experiences in snowmobile racing

Continuing his Formula Atlantic career, he raced against many Formula One legends such as James Hunt, who would eventually help Villeneuve to move to Formula One.


After beating James Hunt and other legendary drivers in a Formula Atlantic race, Villeneuve was offered a position on the McLaren Racing Team as a third driver. Villeneuve did not race until the tenth race of the 1977 season, the British Grand Prix. He qualified in ninth position on the grid and finished the race in eleventh place, after a temperature gauge malfunction that put him two laps down.

This was Villeneuve's only race with the McLaren team as they decided not to renew his contract for the upcoming season. After being released from McLaren, Villeneuve signed with Ferrari for the final two races of the 1977 season. Villeneuve would spend the remainder of his racing career with team Ferrari.

During the last two races of the 1977 season, Villeneuve served as a substitute for Niki Lauda. He finished twelfth in his first Canadian Grand Prix, but was taken out of the Japanese Grand Prix after being involved in an accident with Ronnie Peterson on lap five, killing a spectator and track safety marshal.


"If someone said to me that you can have three wishes; my first would have been to get into racing, my second to be in Formula One, my third to drive for Ferrari..."

Villeneuve upon joining Ferrari
Gilles Villeneuve Wins Canada

Gilles Villeneuve holding his trophy after winning the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix.

Gilles Villeneuve's dream came true as he secured a ride with Ferrari for the 1978 season.

During the 1978 season, Villeneuve experienced many issues with the new Michelin tyres that contributed to six race retirements throughout the year. This led to pressure from the media for Ferrari to replace Villeneuve, but this did not happen.

At the final race of the season, Villeneuve qualified third in front of his home crowd at the Canadian Grand Prix at the then-named Circuit Île Notre-Dame. After leader Jean-Pierre Jabouille retired, to the delight of the fans, Villeneuve took the lead and won his home race for what turned out to be the only time in his career. Many say that this win was the highlight of his entire career in Formula One.


Gilles Villenueve VS Rene Arnoux

Gilles Villenueve VS Rene Arnoux

Gilles Villenueve and Rene Arnoux battling for second position in the 1979 French Grand Prix

In the 1979 season, Villeneuve was joined by his new teammate, Jody Scheckter, who was replacing Carlos Reutemann.

Villeneuve went on to win three races that season. The most memorable race of the season was the French Grand Prix when Villeneuve and Renault's René Arnoux battled for second position in the closing laps of the race. Villeneuve managed to beat the Frenchman after drifting and locking his tyres on multiple turns and even making contact at one point. This was the race of the season and is still known as one of the greatest battles in Formula One history.

"That is my best memory of Grand Prix racing. Those few laps were just so fantastic to me - out-braking each other and trying to race for the line, touching each other but without wanting to put the other car out. It was just these two guys battling for second place without trying to be dirty but having to touch because of wanting to be first. I loved that moment."

Villeneuve after battling Arnoux

At the end of the season, Villeneuve missed out on being World Champion by four points. Ferrari finished first and second in the championship points with Scheckter as the World Champion.


Ferrari experienced its worst year in its history during the 1980 season. The team's car lacked the down force and grip provided from the ground effect that other teams had.

Villeneuve did not finish six out of the fourteen races in the season and only earned six championship points, while his teammate, Jody Scheckter only earned two points and would then retire at the end of the season.


In the 1981 season, Ferrari released their first turbo engine car. Although the car was fast, it still lacked much of the down force and handling abilities that the other teams had.

"That car...had literally one quarter of the downforce that, say Williams or Brabham had. It had a power advantage over the Cosworths for sure, but it also had massive throttle lag at that time. In terms of sheer ability I think Gilles was on a different plane to the other drivers. To win those races, the 1981 GPs at Monaco and Jarama—on tight circuits—was quite out of this world. I know how bad that car was."

Ferrari team engineer, Harvey Postlethwaite

Ferrari hired Didier Pironi as Villeneuve's new teammate for the season.

The 1981 Spanish Grand Prix would be Villeneuve's last victory and the second closest finish in Formula One history, with a lead of 0.22 seconds over Jacques Laffite. Villeneuve finished the season in 7th place with 25 points after facing 8 retirements and a disqualification from the Caesars Palace Grand Prix for an incorrect start.


Gilles Villeneuve - 1982 San Marino Grand Prix

Didier Pironi wins after overtaking Gilles Villeneuve on the last lap of the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix.

The 1982 season was followed by two retirements and a disqualification from the United States Grand Prix West for an illegal rear wing on the car.

Villeneuve's teammate also became his rival at the San Marino Grand Prix when the teammate overtook him on the last lap of the race, despite orders from the team to hold position. Villeneuve was angry and claimed that he would never talk to Pironi again. But Pironi himself believed that he had done nothing wrong because the team only ordered for the cars to slow down to save gas, and did not request for him to hold position.

"I think it is well known that if I want someone to stay behind me and I am faster, then he stays behind me."

Villeneuve, talking about the events that unfolded in San Marino

Ferrari would also face tragedy when Villeneuve was killed while qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix.


During a qualifying session for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix, Villeneuve was killed with eight minutes remaining in the session.

While returning to the pits for a fresh set of tyres, Villeneuve was gaining on Jochen Mass, who was traveling at a much slower speed. To allow Villeneuve to overtake him, Mass moved to the right of the track, but Villeneuve was also traveling to the right for the overtake. Villeneuve struck the rear of Mass' car, sending the Ferrari airborne at a speed estimated to be faster than 200 km/h.

After being airborne for over 100 m, the car nosedived into the ground ejecting Villeneuve's seat from the car and into the catch fence. He was removed from the catch fence by fellow drivers John Watson and Derek Warwick. Medical staff arrived on scene within a minute of the accident and treated the breathless Canadian. He was taken to the track medical centre and airlifted to University St Raphael Hospital. He died of fatal neck fractures later that evening after being kept on life support for a number of hours.


Salut Gilles

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve start/finish line in 1983

The track hosting the Canadian Grand Prix, originally named the Île Notre-Dame Circuit was renamed the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in memory of the Canadian racing legend. The message "Salut Gilles" can be found at the start/finish line of the circuit in his honor.

In 1993, Gilles Villeneuve was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall Of Fame followed by the issuing of the Gilles Villeneuve Canadian postage stamp in 1997.

In the San Marino Grand Prix track Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari (commonly known as Imola), the 5th and 6th turns have been named "Variante Villeneuve" in Villeneuve's honor. The third starting grid of the track also has a Canadian flag painted on the pavement, as well as a bronze bust of him at the entrance to the Ferrari test track.

At Zolder, the corner in which Villeneuve was killed was turned into a chicane turned named in his memory.

Helmet DesignEdit

Gilles Helmet

Gilles Villeneuve's helmet design.

Gilles Villeneuve's helmet was black with a stylish red "V" in the rear of the helmet. This design was created with his wife.

Since his death, several drivers such as Christian Fittipaldi, Perry McCarthy, and his son Jacques have used the design with an alternate colour scheme. Jacques' helmet placed the "V" on the sides of the helmet, and instead of red and black used blue, pink, yellow, green and red and the base.

Formula One Statistical OverviewEdit

Formula One RecordEdit

Year Entrant Team WDC Points WDC Pos. Report
1977 Marlboro Team McLaren McLaren-Ford Cosworth 0 NC Report
Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC Ferrari
1978 Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC Ferrari 17 9th Report
1979 Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC Ferrari 47 (53) 2nd Report
1980 Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC Ferrari 6 12th Report
1981 Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC Ferrari 25 7th Report
1982 Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC Ferrari 6 15th Report

Career StatisticsEdit

Entries 68
Starts 67
Pole Positions 2
Front Row Starts 8
Race Wins 6
Podiums 13
Fastest laps 8
Points 107
Laps Raced 3282
Distance Raced 15195.943 km (9442 mi)
Races Led 18
Laps Led 534
Distance Led 2253.895 km (1401 mi)
Doubles 1
Hat-Tricks 1
Grand Chelems 1

Race WinsEdit

Win Number Grand Prix
1 1978 Canadian Grand Prix
2 1979 South African Grand Prix
3 1979 United States Grand Prix West
4 1979 United States Grand Prix
5 1981 Monaco Grand Prix
6 1981 Spanish Grand Prix

Career ResultsEdit

Complete Formula One results
Year 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 Pts Pos
1977 Flag of Argentina Flag of Brazil (1968–1992) Flag of South Africa 1928-1994 Flag of the United States Flag of Spain 1977 1981 Flag of Monaco Flag of Belgium Flag of Sweden Flag of France Flag of the United Kingdom Flag of Germany Flag of Austria Flag of the Netherlands Flag of Italy Flag of the United States Flag of Canada Flag of Japan 0 NC
11th 12th Ret
1978 Flag of Argentina Flag of Brazil (1968–1992) Flag of South Africa 1928-1994 Flag of the United States Flag of Monaco Flag of Belgium Flag of Spain 1977 1981 Flag of Sweden Flag of France Flag of the United Kingdom Flag of Germany Flag of Austria Flag of the Netherlands Flag of Italy Flag of the United States Flag of Canada 17 9th
8th Ret Ret Ret Ret 4th 10th 9th 12th Ret 8th 3rd 6th 7th Ret 1st
1979 Flag of Argentina Flag of Brazil (1968–1992) Flag of South Africa 1928-1994 Flag of the United States Flag of Spain 1977 1981 Flag of Belgium Flag of Monaco Flag of Sweden Flag of France Flag of the United Kingdom Flag of Germany Flag of Austria Flag of the Netherlands Flag of Italy Flag of Canada Flag of the United States 47 (53) 2nd
Ret 5th 1st 1st 7th 7th Ret C 2nd 14th 8th 2nd Ret 2nd 2nd 1st
1980 Flag of Argentina Flag of Brazil Flag of South Africa 1928-1994 Flag of the United States Flag of Belgium Flag of Monaco Flag of France Flag of the United Kingdom Flag of Germany Flag of Austria Flag of the Netherlands Flag of Italy Flag of Canada Flag of the United States 6 12th
Ret 16th Ret Ret 6th 5th 8th Ret 6th 8th 7th Ret 5th Ret
1981 Flag of the United States Flag of Brazil Flag of Argentina Flag of San Marino Flag of Belgium Flag of Monaco Flag of Spain Flag of France Flag of the United Kingdom Flag of Germany Flag of Austria Flag of the Netherlands Flag of Italy Flag of Canada Flag of the United States 25 7th
Ret Ret Ret 7th 4th 1st 1st Ret Ret 10th Ret Ret Ret 3rd DSQ
1982 Flag of South Africa 1928-1994 Flag of Brazil Flag of the United States Flag of San Marino Flag of Belgium Flag of Monaco Flag of the United States Flag of Canada Flag of the Netherlands Flag of the United Kingdom Flag of France Flag of Germany Flag of Austria Flag of Switzerland Flag of Italy Flag of the United States 6 15th
Ret Ret DSQ 2nd DNS

Symbol Meaning Symbol Meaning
1stWinner Ret Retired
2ndPodium finish DSQ Disqualified
3rd DNQ Did not qualify
5thPoints finish DNPQ Did not pre-qualify
14thNon-points finish TD Test driver
NCNon-classified finish (<90% race distance) DNS Did not start
ItalicsScored point(s) for Fastest Lap [+] More Symbols


  1. Fatal accident during a practice session

External linksEdit

V T E Canada Gilles Villeneuve
1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982
Season Reports
1977 • 1978 • 1979 • 1980 • 1981 • 1982
McLaren (1977) • Ferrari (1977-1982)
James Hunt (1977) • Jochen Mass (1977) • Carlos Reutemann (1977-1978) • Jody Scheckter (1979-1980) • Didier Pironi (1981-1982)
Other pages
Jacques (son) • Jacques (brother) • Death • Statistics • Teammate comparison • Category
V T E F1 drivers killed while racing
1952: Cameron Earl
1953: Chet Miller
1954: Onofre Marimón
1955: Manny Ayulo
1955: Bill Vukovich
1957: Eugenio Castellotti
1957: Keith Andrews
1958: Pat O'Connor
1958: Luigi Musso
1958: Peter Collins
1958: Stuart Lewis-Evans
1959: Jerry Unser
1959: Bob Cortner
1960: Chris Bristow
1960: Alan Stacey
1961: Giulio Cabianca
1961: Wolfgang von Trips
1964: Carel Godin de Beaufort
1966: John Taylor
1967: Lorenzo Bandini
1967: Bob Anderson
1968: Jo Schlesser
1969: Gerhard Mitter
1970: Bruce McLaren
1970: Piers Courage
1970: Jochen Rindt
1971: Ignazio Giunti
1971: Pedro Rodríguez
1971: Jo Siffert
1972: Jo Bonnier
1973: Roger Williamson
1973: François Cevert
1974: Peter Revson
1974: Helmuth Koinigg
1975: Mark Donohue
1977: Tom Pryce
1978: Ronnie Peterson
1980: Patrick Depailler
1982: Gilles Villeneuve
1982: Riccardo Paletti
1986: Elio de Angelis
1994: Roland Ratzenberger
1994: Ayrton Senna
2015: Jules Bianchi
See also: List of fatal accidents
V T E List of World Drivers' Championship runners-up
1950: Juan Manuel Fangio
1951: Alberto Ascari
1952: Giuseppe Farina
1953: Juan Manuel Fangio
1954: José Froilán González
1955: Stirling Moss
1956: Stirling Moss
1957: Stirling Moss
1958: Stirling Moss
1959: Tony Brooks
1960: Bruce McLaren
1961: Wolfgang von Trips
1962: Jim Clark
1963: Graham Hill
1964: Graham Hill
1965: Graham Hill
1966: John Surtees
1967: Jack Brabham
1968: Jackie Stewart
1969: Jacky Ickx
1970: Jacky Ickx
1971: Ronnie Peterson
1972: Jackie Stewart
1973: Emerson Fittipaldi
1974: Clay Regazzoni
1975: Emerson Fittipaldi
1976: Niki Lauda
1977: Jody Scheckter
1978: Ronnie Peterson
1979: Gilles Villeneuve
1980: Nelson Piquet
1981: Carlos Reutemann
1982: Didier Pironi
1983: Alain Prost
1984: Alain Prost
1985: Michele Alboreto
1986: Nigel Mansell
1987: Nigel Mansell
1988: Alain Prost
1989: Ayrton Senna
1990: Alain Prost
1991: Nigel Mansell
1992: Riccardo Patrese
1993: Ayrton Senna
1994: Damon Hill
1995: Damon Hill
1996: Jacques Villeneuve
1997: Heinz-Harald Frentzen*
1998: Michael Schumacher
1999: Eddie Irvine
2000: Mika Häkkinen
2001: David Coulthard
2002: Rubens Barrichello
2003: Kimi Räikkönen
2004: Rubens Barrichello
2005: Kimi Räikkönen
2006: Michael Schumacher
2007: Lewis Hamilton
2008: Felipe Massa
2009: Sebastian Vettel
2010: Fernando Alonso
2011: Jenson Button
2012: Fernando Alonso
2013: Fernando Alonso
2014: Nico Rosberg
2015: Nico Rosberg
2016: Lewis Hamilton
2017: Sebastian Vettel
2018: Sebastian Vettel
2019: Valtteri Bottas
* Michael Schumacher was disqualified from the 1997 championship.
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