#362 1982 Belgian Grand Prix

2021-04-20 00:00

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#1982, Fulvio Conti, Translated by Marianna Molinaro,

#362 1982 Belgian Grand Prix

On Monday, April 26, 1982, Enzo Ferrari doesn't speak, he doesn't comment on the beautiful victory, or rather the double win obtained at Imola, nor on


On Monday, April 26, 1982, Enzo Ferrari doesn't speak, he doesn't comment on the beautiful victory, or rather the double win obtained at Imola, nor on the furious controversy that broke out between his two drivers:


"The engineer on Sunday enjoyed watching television".


From the factory gates, at 12:00 a.m. on the dot, workers and employees come out in droves, but it is difficult to understand if they are happy with Pironi's success in front of Villeneuve. One confesses:


"We are so used to the ups and downs of racing that yesterday I fell asleep in front of the video, before Arnoux retired. I didn't see anything. It was about time though that Didier came in first once. He has been very unlucky before".


On Wednesday, April 28, 1982, at Fiorano will resume the tests in view of the Belgian Grand Prix, and there will be the meeting between the teammates who have become opponents with Ferrari, who even if he is very busy following the events of the FIA congress, will try to clarify the situation. Didier Pironi, however, does not seem to be very worried about the rivalry that has arisen with Villeneuve, since before leaving for Geneva (In reality, he will remain hidden at the Hotel Real Fini in Modena for three days, covered by Piero Ferrari and Franco Gozzi, in the company of the actress Eleonora Vallone) he admits:


"I am sure that everything will be smoothed out. Gilles was unlucky once, I was many times. I proved to those who thought I was finished that I am still the same Pironi. I came to Ferrari just to have the chance to aim at the title. The success in Imola relaunched my chances. And Ferrari's chances: let's not forget that we arrived first and second, while Renault broke both engines. A sign that Maranello works well. We all made a lot of sacrifices to get to this result. I also dedicate it to Balestre. I am happy for him: he has seen that Formula 1 is not over. We don't need the FOCA teams".


Aren't you sorry to Didier that Villeneuve took it so hard?


"There are no contracts according to which I have to finish second and Gilles first. I regret the fact that someone did not like my victory. Anyway, Ferrari is an experienced team and it has shown that it does not want to do any injustice. You don't favor one or the other of the two drivers at the fourth race of the season".


Pironi, whose shrewdness was certainly not discovered today, tries to throw water on the fire. In 1981, for a similar episode, although in different situations because Williams had displayed a sign indicating the positions that the drivers had to hold, according to agreements made earlier, Reutemann and Jones arguing among themselves, handed the title on a silver platter to Nelson Piquet. But you cannot even pretend to remotely control the races, otherwise where would the sporting spirit go? As a matter of fact, Enzo Ferrari, among the many evaluations of his drivers' behavior in the San Marino Grand Prix, on Tuesday, April 27, 1982, released a statement in favor of Gilles Villeneuve:


"When at Imola the competition was practically decided, Pironi underestimated the invitation to a sense of responsibility addressed by the pits to the drivers with the sign displayed constantly since lap 45. I understand Villeneuve's legitimate disappointment, and I shared his concerns about the risks he faced. I was a driver myself, and I think that even in today's era the feelings of those who race for true passion have not changed".


But Ferrari's acknowledgement finds Villeneuve not at all reassured. The Canadian is a man who does not know how to hide his moods, and from Monte-Carlo, even if sometimes it would be better to solve certain problems in the family, he replies:


"I was pleased that it was understood that I am right. But I remain second and this judgment doesn't change the positions, nor does it smooth the situation with my teammate. I don't want to talk to Pironi anymore: he fooled me once and he won't fool me again in the future".


Didier Pironi, from Geneva, defends himself climbing on mirrors:


"I don't understand why this comment was made two days after the race. The responsibility is also of the press that has exasperated the episode more than necessary. Ferrari's statement can also be objective, but I won in an indisputable way".


Perhaps the Frenchman, in order to avoid the controversy, should have, once he got out of the car, gagged Villeneuve and prevented him from speaking: the Canadian's declarations have been reported in an even attenuated form as it was not possible, for matters of decency, to report exactly the words used against his teammate. It is difficult, however, to evaluate exactly what happened at Imola, since we do not know exactly what the agreements were before the race and for the championship in general. Wednesday 28th April 1982, at Fiorano, Ferrari tests the cars for Zolder. Until 12:00 a.m. it is Gilles' turn, in the afternoon it is Didier's turn. Both are greeted by Enzo Ferrari, who goes to meet the two drivers, obviously at different times, to congratulate them for the race in Imola: with Gilles in the morning, with Didier just before the tests start. In the meantime, Gilles is interviewed outside the gates of the Fiorano Circuit, and he declares:


"As I said at the end of the race, he stole the victory from me. I am not changing my mind. If you look at the race times you can see that I am right about that. There is always an agreement, in the last four years, since I have been at Ferrari. Piccinini said that you should not have a battle and that if the two cars, for example, are in the lead and there are no opponents behind, you have to go slow and finish like that. If I go slow, and the other guy doesn't go slow, it's safe to pass me. I used to run in 1'37"5, 1'37"8 because of the fuel, the car, and because I have a forty-five second lead over Alboreto; when Pironi is in front, we run in 1'35"5".


From one controversy to another, on Wednesday 28th April 1982 the attention of the Formula 1 world moves to a big hotel in Casablanca, in the enchantment of touristic Morocco, where the representatives of the International Automobile Federation and of its sporting emanation, the FISA, meet for the general assembly. Fifty-nine countries are members of the FIA, as well as 211 members of its executive committee, whose president is Jean-Marie Balestre, a curious character with a mania for greatness. An assembly that people would be interested in very little if the issue of Formula 1 was not discussed. Casablanca represents the last shore for the circus after years of controversy and internal wars, the most recent act of which took place on Sunday in Imola with a San Marino Grand Prix boycotted by the English team led by Bernie Ecclestone in retaliation, more or less veiled, to the condemnation suffered for the underweight cars. In Morocco, the FISA president, in addition to a mysterious dossier on the alleged misdeeds of Ferrari and Renault, guilty of owning supercharged cars more powerful than others and of wanting to defend their turbos and the technical and technological achievements developed in this field, presents his plan for Formula 1. A master plan, one would say, but there is no joking about it. Balestre, using as a pretext some points on which everyone can agree (restoration of suspensions on the single-seaters, reduction of speed in curves, cost containment, greater safety, etc.), actually intends to change the regulations, violating that Pact of Concord that in 1981 had intended to stabilize the rules until December 31st 1984.


The president of FISA, closely linked to Ecclestone after the war of the past years, would get around the obstacle by proclaiming the establishment of a FIA World Championship for single-seaters instead of the current Formula 1 World Championship. A trick that would allow him to pass new rules, and then to torpedo the turbo, the real object of the dispute. In addition, according to some rumors, Balestre would like to pass the sentence of the FIA tribunal regarding the Brazilian Grand Prix and rehabilitate Piquet and his companions, as well as remove the validity of the Imola race. The problem is that Balestre can also win because he is supported by countries that are part of the FIA even though they are not constructors, and therefore not aware of the whole affair. If the president of the FISA will succeed in his enterprise, the motor sport will probably collapse, in how much the great houses have just in Imola manifested the intention to leave all the races, not only the Formula 1; but if he will lose, Balestre has already announced the resignation. Well, on Thursday 29th April 1982, the FISA president makes the umpteenth backward march and in order not to resign, as he had announced, he accepts a new compromise that does not modify the substance of the Concordia Agreement, according to the line wanted by the constructors. Balestre, very accommodating, at least in appearance, renounces to request the immediate application of his plan and does not give life to the threats he had launched with the communiqué presented in Imola, in which he had announced the presentation of a dossier on alleged irregularities carried out by his adversaries.


"I intend to respect and enforce the decisions of the FIA Appeals Tribunal, and to maintain the validity of the Concordia convention".


Faced with this attitude, the FISA Executive Committee approved with seventeen votes in favor and four abstentions (Italy, Germany, Ivory Coast and Major Constructors) a draft study, which will be prepared by the various technical commissions of safety and Formula 1. This program will have to be prepared by September 1st and submitted again to the judgment of the Executive Committee after having received the unanimous approval of all team representatives. Formula 1, in short, will sit down again around a table to try to solve the problems and put an end to the latest lacerating controversy. Faced with these decisions and the fact that in all likelihood the FIA Tribunal's ruling and the world validity of the San Marino Grand Prix will not be questioned, the championship should resume in full at Zolder, Belgium, with the participation of the FOCA teams. However, a conciliation mission composed of Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley for the Association of British Manufacturers and Gerard Larousse and Marco Piccinini for Renault and Ferrari, supervised by the arbitration of the Portuguese Cesar Torres, FIA vice-president, is dissolved on April 30th 1982 late at night without having reached a solution. The commission is formed by the executive committee of FISA with the purpose, according to Jean-Marie Balestre, of bringing peace to the World Championship, of trying to eliminate any form of possible conflict, and of presenting the conclusions to the plenary assembly. According to Larousse, the British constructors would have set as a condition the annulment of the FIA provision on the obligation of a minimum weight per car of 580 kilograms at all times of the race, a rule that Ecclestone considers in violation of the Formula 1 Concord Agreement:


"To call into question the decision of the FIA Appeals Tribunal is unacceptable, and the Executive Committee itself has made this clear".


The FIA Presidency and Executive Committee, meanwhile, confirm the validity of the Paris Tribunal's ruling, and make it known that the competitors who defected from the San Marino race will have to pay the fines foreseen by the regulations, 20.000 dollars per car, and face any claims for damages from the organizers. In short, any possibility of an agreement seems far away, but for the regular running of the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday May 9th in Zolder, since there is great pressure from the sponsors, there do not seem to be any major obstacles. After having deserted the Imola race in retaliation, all English Formula 1 teams belonging to the FOCA will resume regular racing. But this positive decision is matched by an alarming rumor. Some teams belonging to the Manufacturers' Association, in order to have more advantages, would have the intention of presenting cars of a regulatory weight during the race, but they would dispute the trials under the minimum allowed of 580 kg, taking advantage of the difficulties of control during the two days of qualifying.

If this intention will be implemented, it will certainly lead to further controversy. Surely Bernie Ecclestone, threatened by an ultimatum from BMW, which is no longer willing to give him its engines if they are not used in Zolder, will make two BT50 turbos go on track, entrusting them to Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese. Given the higher weight of the turbocharger, the Brabhams should have no difficulty in meeting the regulatory weight limit, but the English teams that were previously underweight prepared ballast for their cars with lead sheets or other additional load. Williams, victorious last year in Zolder with Reutemann, is confident of renewing its success with the unprecedented FW0B, of which it will have three examples at the disposal of Finn Keke Rosberg, and Irishman Derek Daly in his first race with Williams. The McLaren sporting director, Ron Dennis, wants to clarify that Lauda and Watson's cars have never violated the regulatory weight, even though they had the alleged water tanks for brake cooling. Lauda, who won the Belgian Grand Prix twice in the past with the Ferrari 312T, during the week before the Grand Prix, in Zolder, tests the McLaren MP4, declaring himself satisfied. Lotus, after a test at Silverstone, sends to Zolder three JPS 91 for Elio De Angelis and Nigel Mansell. The cars are the same that would have run in the San Marino Grand Prix. In Arrows, together with Mauro Baldi, Marc Surer should be back, still limping from the accident in Kyalami. Moreover, it seems that Frank Williams, before hiring Derek Daly, who will run on the car that was Reutemann's at Long Beach and Andretti's, has proposed to Tyrrell an immediate passage of Michele Alboreto to his team for 1.300.000 dollars. In Zolder there is also Balestre, the FISA president: after repeating all the history of the last years, the French manager claims to have won in Casablanca and to be the only master of the Formula 1 World Championship. 


But perhaps he is the only one to be of this opinion, since not a day goes by that a controversy does not break out in Formula 1. Ecclestone, who had left Casablanca saying that he would have destroyed Formula 1, bought a new luxury Motorhome, which seems to have cost him more than 150.000 dollars, and he let it be known that he was not aware of Parmalat's abandonment for next year, a denial that was also denied by the representatives of the Italian sponsor who were in Zolder. On Friday, May 7, 1982, the FOCA teams do not agree to abide by the regulations, and they participate in the trials with cars that are much lighter than the 580 kilos minimum allowed. In fact, at the end of the official tests four cars are checked, but the Tyrrell of Brian Henton, drawn for the checks, is irregular, at 577 kilos. Ferrari is forced to make a complaint to make sure that the procedures foreseen by the sporting code were followed and that the English car was removed from the qualifying classification. This discouraging episode is only partly a confirmation of what the president of the Manufacturers' Association, Bernie Ecclestone, had said in the morning in a special interview granted to the Italian press. Why so much concern? A few hours later the answer is clear. The English manager intends to look for new weapons to fight the opponents and tries the discord card. Ecclestone tries to put Ferrari against its sporting director, Marco Piccinini, to create friction between the team of Maranello, Renault and Alfa Romeo, to flatter Balestre and above all to make cancel the judgment of the FIA appeals tribunal, with the relative disqualification of Piquet and Rosberg and the clarification that imposes the minimum of 580 kilograms for all single-seaters:

"When I negotiated directly with Ferrari everything went well, and we always found an agreement. Now that I am forced to deal with an employee, we see all doors closed. It's no longer Ferrari that's in charge, but Marco Piccinini that's running Ferrari itself. In Casablanca we were ready to find a positive solution to the crisis. Renault was also willing to review the weight issue. We were faced with the intransigence of this Piccinini and could not talk. They didn't even consult Alfa Romeo before deciding to break off negotiations. The racing teams that report to Ferrari, with the complicity of the representatives of the Italian, German, Monegasque and Portuguese sporting authorities, intended to carry out a coup against Balestre".


To those who ask Ecclestone what the FOCA will do now and why they came to race in Zolder after refusing to compete in San Marino, the English manager replies:

"We have to respect our contracts, but the situation has not changed; the FIA tribunal ruling has changed the regulations irregularly. We will appeal, we will try to get, to the arbitration of the High Court of Lausanne, a civil court. In the meantime we will accept the rules of the concord agreement".


A sibylline phrase, this last one, because, according to FOCA's interpretation, with the concordia the cars could run underweight, with the special water tanks for cooling the brakes, forbidden by FIA. This means that in these days new controversies will arise, perhaps to disqualifications and complaints. However, it must be noted that the defense of Ferrari and its team does not give in. In this regard, Piccinini replies:


"Ecclestone does me too much honor. According to him I, less than thirty years old, am the only one to hold in check FOCA and all the other teams, to maneuver Enzo Ferrari, to bend FISA. He credits me with an ability that unfortunately I don't have yet".


Even sharper the answer of Renault, through the general manager Larrousse:


"We have always shared and pursued the common line with Ferrari, and it is absolutely not true that we were willing to make concessions. We want Formula 1 to proceed legally".


The Maranello factory, after the beautiful victory in Imola, made several changes to its cars, in particular in the lower aerodynamics, in the brakes, in the hub carriers and in the front and rear suspensions. But Gilles Villeneuve makes no secret of the fact that he intends to take a prompt revenge on his teammate Pironi:


"The Zolder track is not particularly suitable for the turbo, but it seems to suit the Ferrari. I don't want to talk about Pironi anymore, even if I don't hide the fact that things between me and my teammate have not changed after the mockery of the San Marino Grand Prix. You will see a determined Villeneuve, concentrated, with a great desire to win".


And speaking of the sporting director, he adds:


"The environment at Ferrari today is impossible, look what happened in Imola, the sporting director Piccinini was not able to lead the team as it should be done, and tried to minimize what happened: I do not let anyone put their feet in my mouth, I spoke clearly with the commendatore, who understood and gave me reason".


And to the question about the possible rumors that would give him in the direction of Williams or Renault, he replies:


"I deny them, but it is pleasant so much interest, because it means that I am still a valid driver".


As a matter of fact, in the drawer of Enzo Ferrari's desk there is a contract signed by Gilles, which expires on October 31st 1983. In the meantime, on the track, after the Pironi-Villeneuve duel, another one is being prepared, maybe as exciting. In the first qualifying session of the Belgian Grand Prix on Friday 7th May 1982, among those assure of full practice, thanks to their team scoring points in the Manufacturers Championship last year, there are a few changes. 


The courageous Swiss driver Marc Surer is back with the Arrows team, fully recovered from his crash while testing at Kyalami in January, Brian Henton is continuing as number two in the Tyrrell team, having negotiated Slim Borgudd out of the way, Jan Lammers was being given a drive in the Theodore, Emilio de Villota financed himself into a third March car, but most important of all Derek Daly is making his debut as number two in the Williams team, Reutemann having retired and Andretti unwilling to break his American track-racing contract. From almost being out of work last October Keijo Rosberg is now number one in the Williams team that won the Manufacturers Championship last year. The Williams and Brabham teams are at one end of the long row of new pits and Renault and Toleman are at the other, with the rest scattered in between. Williams is ready to go with three FW08 models making their first public appearance, Daly actually having a brand new car, while the Brabham team have a trio of sleek BT50 cars, powered by turbocharged BMW four-cylinder engines. One thing is certain and that is that Ecclestone is not going to make any fatuous protest about the use of turbines (see the Imola report). It is rather cold and grey, which do not help the atmosphere of foreboding, but at least it is dry and due to a shortage of doctors on duty Professor Watkins held up the start of practice for 21 minutes (see Motor Sport May 1982). When practice get under way Daly does one lap in the new Williams and stop for the mechanics to check that all the systems are functioning correctly on the new car, but Rosberg is not happy with the brakes on his car and changed over to the spare car. With this car (FW08/3) he is soon setting the pace and fully justifying his promotion to team leader, both Williams cars running with full water tanks to keep them legal. In the next pit Piquet and Patrese are nothing like so happy, for while the turbocharged BMW is producing a lot of power its pick-up is far from clean and the coughs and bangs just as they wanted full power out of a corner must have been very frustrating. After the smooth flexibility of Cosworth power, the Munich engine is keeping the drivers very busy. At the other end of the pits, Arnoux is going well in his Renault turbo and vying with Rosberg for the best lap time, not that it counts for anything but it is a good morale booster. On the other hand, Frost is having a bad time with an overheating engine and he switches to the spare car, and before the session is over Laffite zooms out of the paddock in the spare Talbot-Matra V12, unhappy with the way his own car is performing. 


The narrow-bodied Alfa Romeo 182B (see notes on the cars) have done no running before it arrives at Zolder so Giacomelli’s laps are very much in the nature of a test-run and the car is soon put to one side in favor of the normal Tipo 182, which is a self-explanatory move. The Ferrari team is not happy with the selection of tyres offered them by Goodyear and are not really in the running, but some juggling about with compounds and things made a bit of improvement, though lack of adhesion on full power acceleration is the main problem. The ATS team are on Michelin tyres which do not necessarily improve their performance but at least it gets them out of Ecclestone’s clutches. When it is all over Paletti (Osella) and Villota (March) are left out of the list of runners for the afternoon hour of qualifying. Tyre choice having been made by everyone two sets are marked with the driver’s number, these markings to be checked by marshals before each car left the pit lane. A word of warning go round that any car might be called upon to be weighed at any time, and anyway the two fastest cars at the end of the qualifying hour, plus two more drawn from a hat would be weighed when it is all over. Shortly before the end of the morning session Pironi’s Ferrari dies out on the circuit and has to be towed in afterwards and no sooner is this done than the rain starts, and for a short while it pelt down. In matter of minutes the sun comes out and everything dry very rapidly, including the track, though it is still a bit damp in places when the qualifying hour is due to start, 21 minutes later than specified, due to the morning delay, which is just as well as every minute meant a drier track. Rosberg has settled for FW08/3 so FW08/1 become the T-car and during the interval Pironi’s Ferrari engine is checked over and a new waste-gate boost-valve unit is fitted. Prost’s Renault is going to need an engine change so he stays with the spare car and Pironi does not do many laps in his own Ferrari before he abandons it and takes over the spare car (057). Rosberg’s car is still not right in the braking department so he switches back to the number 1 car and Patrese’s qualifying stops when his turbocharger unit give trouble. While he remains seated in the cockpit Brabham mechanics changed the whole unit, including the four-branch exhaust manifold, which is a slick bit of work even though a few fingers get burnt. 


For a long while all those vying for the front of the grid are lapping around the 1'17"0, two seconds faster than the previous best which dated back to 1980 and among those in the running are the two Renault drivers, Rosberg, Piquet, Lauda, Alboreto, Villeneuve and Mansell. Suddenly everyone stagger back disbelief as first Prost and Arnoux get below 1'16"0. Prost did 1'15"962 and Arnoux does 1'15"903 when everyone else is flat out to break 1'17"0, the nearest being Piquet with the turbocharged BMW-powered Brabham with 1'17"124. A junior engineer in the Williams team is heard to suggest that Renault must have been using illegal fuel in their engines. A remark typical of the mentality of the British special-builders, with no thought for the Elf company who supply the fuel for Renault. All this rather overshadowed the very fine effort of Michele Alboreto, fresh from his third place in the San Marino GP. He quietly gets on with the business of being a racing driver, while others are busy explaining why they are not World Champion, or why they are not on pole position. All morning Tyrrell number three has been well up the list of unofficial times, and now that it really matters Alboreto is in fourth place, ahead of all the other Cosworth-powered teams like Williams, McLaren, Lotus and Arrows as well as the Ferrari duo, both Alfa Romeos and both Talbot-Matra V12 cars. It is all done without hysterics or heroics, but if you watched him out on the circuit you could not fail to notice the way he powers through the corners, to exit much faster than most, especially on corners that led on to straight sections of the circuit. Add to that is a notable smoothness in his driving and he always looks relaxed and safe. With turbocharged cars in the first three places is await the shop-steward to apply his disruption, but nothing happens, though the two Renaults, Guerrero’s Ensign and Henton’s Tyrrell are taken away to be drained of fuel and weighed. The result is Renault (Arnoux) 581 kgs. Renault (Prost) 592 kgs. Ensign (Guerrero) 594 kgs and Tyrrell (Henton) 577 kgs. Three kilograms under the weight limit meant that Renton is disqualified and his times are scrubbed from the results and being that we went home to tea. The provisional pole position is conquered by René Arnoux, who sets the new circuit record with 1'15"90, breaking the wall of 200 km/h, at an average speed of 202.142 Km/h. His teammate Prost, however, is not to be outdone and records a time only six hundredths of a second higher. In third place there is another turbocharged engine, but not the Ferrari one. 


In the back position there is Nelson Piquet with the Brabham BMW, but more than a second behind the impregnable Renault. The problem of the World Champion is not so much about the performance, but about the engine resistance. Fourth and first of the drivers with cars powered by naturally aspirated engines was the rising star of Formula 1, Michele Alboreto. The Milanese driver grows from race to race and soon, car permitting, we will see him fighting for the victory, as long as Tyrrell is not disqualified because of the weight. Behind Alboreto, there is Villeneuve, to tell the truth not very satisfied. Ferrari, which had not done any free practice the week before in Zolder, had some problems with the understeer of the cars and the general set-up of its cars. The two Ferrari drivers, who continue to ignore each other, will try to improve their time in the second practice session. Saturday morning is dry but there are still some damp patches on the track from overnight rain and the air is positively cold. Everyone is out testing, which usually means juggling with all the variables of tyres and aerodynamic configurations to try and hit on a compromise that is acceptable. Giacomelli only does a lap or two in his Alfa Romeo 182 before he stops and complains of back ache, and is forced to go and lie down, leaving de Cesaris to do all the running for the Autodelta team. Rosberg is still very quick, but he looks to be on the verge of disaster round some of the corners, obviously taking a lot out of the car and its tyres. Patrese has to take the spare Brabham when his BMW engine blow up and de Angelis is out in the spare Lotus. As things are measured, temperatures taken, consumptions of liquids calculated the morning passes off without undue incident and even though the Zolder circuit is notoriously hard on brakes, Ferodo and AP-Lockheed seems to have it all well under control, though many cars need to sport extra ducts to scoop air into the brake discs. Such is the eagerness behind this test-session that some drivers put in an enormous number of laps. Rosberg manages 33 timed laps, Prost 32, Arnoux 31 and Mansell 30, which does not take into account single laps on which a time is not recorded. At the other end of the scale Winkelhock manages only four laps before things goes wrong with his ATS. Rosberg is putting all he knows into his driving of the new Williams and is rewarded with a fine lap in 1'15"847, faster than the times set by the Renault team the day before, but not as fast as they have gone in this second session.

Nonetheless, Rosberg retains the distinction of being the only driver to get below 1'16"0, apart from the Renault drivers. The final hour for qualifying for the starting grid takes place under cool and grey skies, but it remains dry thankfully, and the battle begin to try and catch the Renaults, as far as the fast runners are concerned, while the slower ones down at the back merely tries as hard as they could to avoid being tail-end. The new Williams cars are not entirely satisfactory in the braking department and to add to the troubles the engine in Daly’s can blow up and he has to qualify in the T-car. The BMW engines are also far from perfect, both drivers having trouble, but the McLarens and Tyrrells are going well. Lauda is ever to the fore, making it more and more difficult to believe that he has been away for two years, and making one wonder what some of the others have been doing in the meantime. Alboreto is right up there with him and his consistency during all four practice sessions is remarkable, but Henton could not get near him, though the Derby man soon put in a time that guarantees him a start, having forfeited his Friday times. Both Renault drivers go even quicker than before, with very little to choose between them, but somehow when you watch them out on the circuit Prost looks that bit better than his team-mate. With 30 cars out on the track, or in the pit lane the traffic is very heavy for the fast drivers and it is sheer luck if any of them get a clear run when trying for a fast time. With the silly limitation of only two sets of tyres to use up there is a fair degree of frustration among those at the top of the grid.


"I'm scared sometimes too. But I don't think about death. It's part of the game, it's the flip side of the coin. If a pilot worries about certain risks, it's better to stay home. The only thing I ask for, if anything serious ever happens to me, is to not be in pain. I have a horror of pain, of physical impairment. I could never see myself being relegated to a bed or a wheelchair. I'd rather end it right now, a clean, closed stroke. In any case, I have already taken care of the future of my family, my wife and my children, so that they will have everything they need if they lose their husband and father”.


This is Gilles Villeneuve's spiritual testament, confidences collected during a relaxing moment in Monza, in 1981, before the Italian Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver died on Saturday evening, at 9:12 p.m. in the reanimation room of the Saint Raphael hospital in Leuven, 25 kilometers from Brussels, where he had been taken after a terrible accident, which occurred almost at the end of the qualifying session on the Zolder circuit of the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix. A tragic exit from the track after a collision with the March of the German driver Jochen Mass, at a speed perhaps greater than 250 km/h, and for the thirty-year-old Canadian it was the end. The news that something serious has happened to Villeneuve spreads in a flash. The tests are interrupted, while rescues are carried out with the utmost efficiency and speed. The Ferrari men rush to the scene of the accident, and when they return to the pits they are shocked. It is understood that the hopes to save the driver are minimal, so much so that almost immediately, after a consultation with Didier Pironi, the Modenese team loads the material and the cars on the truck and leaves Zolder withdrawing from the Grand Prix. The chronicle of this mournful day starts exactly at 1:52 p.m., at the moment of the terrible impact occurred in the area opposite the pit stop, in the 250 meters long bend that precedes a more decisive curve to the right, called Terlamenbocht, from the name of the family that owned the land where the track was built. The last qualifying round had started regularly at 1:00 p.m. The games are already almost done: the best time is marked by Prost, ahead of Arnoux, Rosberg, Lauda, Alboreto, Pironi, De Cesaris and Villenueve. As is well known, all the drivers, for the qualifying that serve to form the starting line-up of the races, have two sets of special weather tires, particularly soft, which allow to make a maximum of three-four laps, before wearing out completely. Competitors typically make a slow launch pass to warm up and break in the tires, and then push hard for the highest possible performance. Villeneuve has been in the pits for about twenty minutes, as has Didier Pironi. Both use the first set of tires and wait for the right moment, with as little traffic as possible on the track, to try to improve their times. The Frenchman was faster than the Canadian: Didier is sixth with 1'16"50, and Gilles eighth with 1'16"61. Now there will be those who will argue that the rivalry born in Imola between the two teammates may have been the indirect cause of the incident: they will say that the little North American driver, in order to overtake his rival, committed a fatal imprudence.

But this is a thesis that has no counterevidence and that hardly corresponds to the truth. Villeneuve has always tried to be the fastest in absolute and the rivalry with Pironi, badly hidden and repeatedly stressed in these days, cannot have distracted him and made him make the decisive mistake. The journalists see him, in fact, just before leaving the track for the last time with his gaze fixed, his eyes surrounded by the fireproof cap pointed into the void, as he always was when he tried to concentrate as much as possible. His Ferrari passes the first lap, the warm-up lap, in 1'29"37. On the second, the stopwatch stops at 1'17"0. The third lap must be the good one to get the best time. And in fact Gilles pushes on the accelerator: in the short straight that precedes the chicane opposite the pits there is a detection station with a photocell. The Ferrari passes with the highest speed obtained in all the tests, 272 km/h. The fastest was Prost with 268 km/h, a tangible proof that the Canadian was pulling at the maximum. Having passed the small hill after the chicane, Villeneuve sees Jochen Mass' March in front, about thirty meters away. The German, who had been rather slow in the two previous passes - he posted a time of 1'25"10 and 1'27"74 - is further slowing down, probably to return to the pits. As he enters the very fast curve that leads to the Terlamenbocht, Mass maintains the fastest line, i.e. he first moves to the inside and then to the outside. This maneuver misleads Villeneuve, who, obviously, being much faster, at least forty or fifty km/h more, thinks to pass on the right to try the record lap. The March, however, is aligned even further out and the left front wheel of the Ferrari touches the right rear wheel of the English car. If the Canadian had thought he would find the road blocked, he would almost certainly have jumped into the grass, risking an accident that, in all probability, would have been less serious than what happened. Jochen Mass, still shocked, after being the first to try to help the unfortunate Canadian, will tell:


"I saw in the rearview mirror Villeneuve coming very fast. I moved to the right to make it easier for him to overtake on the inside. Unfortunately we didn't understand each other, he went the same way and ended up crashing into me. He flew over my wheel and the Ferrari overtook me, disintegrating in front of my eyes. A terrible scene".


And shortly afterwards, terrified by what had happened, the German driver decided to return home, but while he was loading his luggage into the car, the police - who had started investigating the accident - blocked him. The mechanism of the collision is impressive: the Ferrari touches - as Mass confirms - the March at the rear. Villeneuve's car, launched at over 250 km/h, jumps as if on a trampoline. The nose rises by about forty-five degrees, raised by the impact of the air against the lower part of the car. First the Ferrari points towards the sky, ending up with its tail on the sandy grass outside the bend, where it traces a furrow about thirty centimeters deep. Then the racing car continues to whirl until a bump against the guardrail, on the right, pushes it back to the center of the track, almost at the entrance of the Terlamenbocht curve. At this point the car starts a horrifying carom: crashing in front, behind, to the side, making at least three complete turns in the air and falling back on the asphalt, the car disintegrates, scattering pieces all over the place. Three wheels come off, the cockpit is broken, the steering wheel a hundred yards away. From the wreckage in the air we can see the driver's body ejected from the cockpit with the seat still tied on his back, crossing the whole track, at a height of four or five meters, and falling back on the other side, against a pole of the protection nets, which causes a clear separation between the first and the second cervical vertebrae. Gilles loses his helmet and shoes, left in the tragic trajectory on the lawn. His body is lifeless, his face is cyanotic. Immediately the help arrives: Mass stops, who managed to avoid the impact with the remains of the Ferrari, and Arnoux and Watson arrive, horrified; in particular, Mass approaches and leans over Gilles, trying to shake him to see if there was any reaction, leaving a few moments later without saying anything. In the meantime, at 1:52 p.m. a speaker announces that the closed circuit television has just broadcasted a very serious accident to one of the two Ferraris. A few moments later Pironi darts in front of the pits, and engineer Forghieri exclaims:


"It's Gilles".


Then Pironi arrives at the pits, very slow, and while the mechanics lower the shutter he confesses:


"It's serious".


A little later Didier Pironi urgently asks Sid Watkins to go to the scene of the accident to assist Gilles Villeneuve, and will come to the accident site and he will pick up Gilles' helmet to take it back to the pits. In the meantime, a marshal unfastens the driver's overalls and tries mouth to mouth breathing; a cardiac massage. The doctors rush on the spot and for about ten minutes they practice, in vain, every kind of resuscitation. In the meantime, a crowd of photographers and curious people is blocked by the marshals, while Marco Piccinini and Dario Calzavara, returned from the place of the accident, manage to reach the resuscitation center. Piccinini immediately telephones Ferrari and the president of the AC of Monaco, Boeri, then Gilles' wife, Johanna, who stayed at home because the next day her daughter Melanie would have had to attend the confirmation ceremony, it’s also notified through Jody Scheckter, after that the latter receives the phone call from Marco Piccinini. At the same time, Françoise Mazet tries to find an air-taxi to reach Brussels with Gilles' wife. In the meantime, Gilles is taken to the circuit rescue center by an ambulance. At 2:35 p.m., while practices start again to recover the remaining seven minutes, a Red Cross helicopter takes the driver to the Leuven hospital. In the resuscitation center, alerted by radio, a team of neurosurgeons is ready, directed by Professor Herman Delooz, the best specialist available, joined by Dr. Watkins, the pilots' trusted doctor. Marco Piccinini also takes his place on the helicopter. Gilles Villeneuve's heart, hospitalized in an underground room of the Saint Raphael, is still beating weakly, but all the symptoms and examinations are unfavorable: at 4:45 p.m., Gilles receives the extreme unction by Reverend Cornellsson. At 5:00 p.m., the first official medical bulletin states:


"Villeneuve has been admitted to the University Hospital of Leuven with serious injuries to the neck and cerebellum. He is unconscious, and his vital functions are being maintained with intensive care. Another bulletin will be issued at 10:00 p.m.".


His wife Joanna arrives at the clinic at 5:45 p.m., after having traveled from Monte Carlo on a plane-taxi, accompanied by Pamela, Jody Scheckter's consort and best friend, Boeri and Mazet; Jody remains at home, since he has been operated for a hernia and cannot move. Johanna is led inside through a dungeon, to avoid the crowds of onlookers. In the meantime Gilles' mother, warned by friends, collapses. Professor Delooz, after having consulted several times by phone in Montreal with Professor Bertrand, one of the major world experts in vertebrae traumatology, indicated by the family, after the Canadian journalist Christian Tortora manages to get in touch with Gilles' manager, Gaston Parént, who in turn puts the two doctors in touch, confesses:


"Only a miracle can save him. If he should survive, however, he would be completely paralyzed".


Thus begins a dramatic wait. For all the hours in which Villeneuve fights to stay alive in the hospital, only Didier Pironi, among the drivers, goes to the place to see him, and keeps himself constantly informed. His wife is in shock, consoled by her friends, incredulous, understandably tense, to the point that the doctors have to give her some sedatives to calm her down; not surprisingly, she will fall asleep heavily. From the very first moments Linda Marso, Bruno Giacomelli's American girlfriend, with whom she is bound by a deep friendship, is close to her. Linda cries and prays. Shortly after 10:00 p.m., from the door of the intensive care unit, Marco Piccinini comes out:


"Unfortunately I have to read you a painful announcement. Our Gilles has ceased to live at 9:12 p.m.".


The bulletin is signed by doctors Pletz, Delooz and Watkins. At 9:00 p.m. his wife Johanna had agreed to disconnect the machine that kept her husband alive. In five years with Ferrari, the Canadian had been the object of enthusiastic praise and fierce criticism, incredible accidents and wonderful successes. The death of Gilles Villeneuve deeply saddened Enzo Ferrari.

The eighty-four year old constructor from Modena is immediately informed about the accident by Marco Piccinini. Ferrari will be constantly in touch with the hospital in Leuven, where the Canadian driver was hospitalized at the end of his life. In the meantime, as it is understandable, he does not release any statement, but he expresses to friends and collaborators his sorrow for the death of a driver he appreciated and loved for the courage and the unscrupulousness with which he fought on the track. Gilles Villeneuve's death re-proposes the controversy about the safety of the modern Formula 1 single-seaters: a few days before, during the meeting of the Gpda held on Friday 7 May 1982, a safety committee had been set up, whose members were Jean Pierre Jarier, Niki Lauda, Nigel Mansell, Jochen Mass, Didier Pironi and Alain Prost, who were supposed to work in collaboration with Derek Ongano, FISA circuit inspector, and Professor Watkins, president of the FISA medical committee. On the eve of the test in Zolder, Gilles Villeneuve had spoken for over an hour with a group of Belgian journalists about the dangers of racing:


"Those who never leave the track are those who never fight. It's logical to have one or two accidents per season, for personal fault or for the mechanics. I know that I risk finding myself, one day or another, in the hospital with a broken leg or arm, or something else. I'm not afraid, and I'm aware of the risk, though I try to limit it as much as possible. But there are times when nothing can be done. If in Zolder my car goes sideways in the second curve of the wood, where we go at 220 km/h, I just have to say mom and make the sign of the cross. You can't, at Zolder as elsewhere, provide vents for cars in corners. Nor you can multiply the chicanes. Instead, we have to adapt the cars to the circuits. Not only we do have to abolish the mini-skirts, but we also have to revise the sloping sides to suppress the ground effect. On the other hand, why not authorize four-liter engines with 650 horsepower? Power has little or nothing to do with safety. At Indianapolis you run for two and a half hours at 300 mph. At Le Mans the cars go for twenty-four hours, reaching 300-400 mph on the straights. Ditto, in Can-Am. And there are more accidents than in Formula 1 Grand Prix?"


And adds:


"This formula is the slowest in a straight line, for high competition cars. In contrast, the cars here brake in eighty meters and spin, like on rails. How many more drifts do you see? None, unless you degrade the tire. If I were a spectator, I wouldn't enjoy it. Decreasing the road holding would increase the braking distances, multiply the overtaking possibilities and guarantee the show and the safety. I wouldn't dare get into a Formula 1 car from fifteen years ago, with welded tanks that could explode on a hump. And seat belts were in their infancy. The cars were controllable, though, in case of a drift. My Ferrari, in certain curves, is not anymore. In 1979 I used nine or ten sets of qualifying tires at each session. Now, for economy, you use two per session. And you race less. When the car is tuned, you practically wait until the end of practice, and then, with the two trains, you play everything to get a chronometric performance in a few minutes. The show loses out, you run just six, eight fast laps in an hour, and you take more risks. Yes, I love speed, so much so that I often move around in a helicopter, driving myself. And what I prefer is to fly in practically zero visibility, 150 meters, for example: that's sport".


After the accident, Didier Pironi, teammate of the Canadian driver and president of the new association of professional pilots, launches harsh accusations immediately after the accident:


"Formula 1 drivers accept the risks to which they are subjected, but they have always maintained that the cars have become too dangerous. In the curve where Gilles had his accident, the cars proceed at 260 km/h thanks to the miniskirts which provide the ground effect. Before the miniskirts, they drove at 180 km/h. Now the grip of the cars is 90% provided by the ground effect. All it takes is for a miniskirt to lose contact with the track and the car turns into an airplane or a bullet. Drivers are of the opinion that when an accident happens, it is the fault of those who write the regulations and enforce them. We are aware of this and we denounce it".


Of the same opinion is Nelson Piquet, who admits:


"It is very dangerous to dispute qualifying with the current method of time tires that last very little. On the same lap, in fact, there are very fast drivers on the track who are pulling hard to take advantage of the optimal condition of their tires and drivers who are slowing down because they have already used the available laps to set the time. The speed gap between one car and another is often sensitive, and this could explain what happened to Gilles".


But from Ajaccio, where he is to follow the Corsica rally, FISA president Jean-Marie Balestre replies:


"I think that when we are in the presence of the departure of a driver, it is not the time to make controversy. I believe that Pironi was speaking on a personal basis and under the stress of emotion".


Bernie Ecclestone, president of the manufacturers association simply said:


"Gilles' accident is a racing accident that should not be politicized. However, an investigation must be carried out, we must try to know why he was thrown out of the cockpit".


While Max Mosley, legal counsel for Bernie Ecclestone, adds:


"It is unacceptable that Villeneuve flew out of the car and that the belts gave way. We have seen many other similar accidents, and the drivers got away with it because while the car was flying they were held in the cockpit, which today is built in such a way as to save the man's life. We are all in shock, but I think that serious investigations will have to be carried out into the failure of the belts".


The Belgian police opened an investigation into the accident: it seems, however, that the first investigations did not establish any responsibility, so much so that the wreckage of the Ferrari 126 C2 turbo was immediately returned to the Italian team, which loaded it into vans to bring it back to Maranello.


"You can't, at Zolder as elsewhere, provide vents for cars in corners. Nor you can multiply the chicanes. Instead, we have to adapt the cars to the circuits. Not only we do have to abolish the miniskirts, but we also have to revise the sloping sides to suppress the ground effect. On the other hand, why not authorize four-liter engines with 650 horsepower? Power has little or nothing to do with safety. At Indianapolis you run for two and a half hours at 300 km/h. At Le Mans the cars go for twenty-four hours, reaching 300-400 km/h on the straights. Ditto, in Can-Am. And are there more accidents than in Formula 1 Grand Prix? This formula is the slowest in a straight line, for high competition cars. In contrast, the cars here brake in eighty meters and spin, like on rails. How many more drifts do you see? None, unless you degrade the tire. If I were a spectator, I wouldn't enjoy it. Decreasing the road holding would increase the braking distances, multiply the overtaking possibilities and guarantee the show and safety. I wouldn't dare get into a Formula 1 car from fifteen years ago, with welded tanks that could explode on a hump. And seat belts were in their infancy. The cars were controllable, though, in case of a drift. My Ferrari, in certain curves, is not anymore. In 1979 I used nine or ten sets of qualifying tires at each session. Now, for economy, you use two per session. And you race less. When the car is tuned, you practically wait until the end of practice, and then, with the two trains, you play everything to get a chronometric performance In a few minutes. The show loses out, you run just six, eight fast laps in an hour, and you take more risks. Yes, I love speed, so much so that I often move around in a helicopter, driving myself. And what I prefer is to fly in practically zero visibility, 150 meters, for example: that's sport".


After the accident, Didier Pironi, teammate of the Canadian driver and president of the new association of professional pilots, launches harsh accusations immediately after the accident:


"Formula 1 drivers accept the risks to which they are subjected, but they have always maintained that the cars have become too dangerous. In the curve where Gilles had his accident, the cars proceed at 260 km/h thanks to the miniskirts which provide the ground effect. Before the miniskirts, they drove at 180 km/h. Now the grip of the cars is 90% provided by the ground effect. All it takes is for a mini-skirt to lose contact with the track and the car turns into an airplane or a bullet. Drivers are of the opinion that when an accident happens, it is the fault of those who write the regulations and enforce them. We are aware of this and we denounce it".


At the same time, FISA also instructs Inspector Derek Ongaro to initiate proceedings to ascertain the causes of the drama. The Ferrari is examined, and it is discovered that, due to the impact, the six attachment points of the safety belts have been torn off, and the partition between the cockpit and the engine is unglued, literally torn off, but the safety cell is not destroyed, and on the contrary, the detached pieces, put back together, fit perfectly. It turns out, moreover, that the detachment of the partition between the cockpit and the engine caused the two bolts next to the driver to come off, which hold the side belts and the one that passes between the driver's legs, as well as the part behind the driver's shoulders where the entire bulkhead came off, thus not holding Gilles Villeneuve who was thrown off on the other side of the track.


"I was able to check the car for an expertise that must interest the investigation commission, which is headed by Derek Ongaro but he carries out the examination in different directions, both on the dynamics of the accident and on the actual basis of resistance of the car. For this part I can guarantee that the survival cell made by Ferrari kept its characteristics unchanged. Joining the two parts we can see that, if the driver had been inside it, he would not have complained of crushing damage. It is certain, however, that at 250 km/h there are such stresses that it is impossible to create a car that is able to resist. How the belts came off is difficult to assess. The tank is intact, I dare say that the body could not behave better than this. The pilot has unfortunately disappeared, the head is certainly too free compared to the rest, and the neck has to bear stresses beyond any natural consideration. The results of the investigation will however be made public in a more complete view of the dynamics".


Niki Lauda, while not committing to a categorical judgment on the mechanics of the accident, is one of the few who does not fully accept the version of fatality:


"I do not wish to talk about blame, as I did not see the accident directly. But from what they explained to me, from what I was able to check on television, the two cars were traveling at different speeds. Mass was going slower, and Villeneuve much faster. The norm is for a slower car to hold its position or try to facilitate an overtaking move when a faster competitor arrives. If the German saw Villeneuve in the rearview mirror, he certainly didn't execute the most logical and correct maneuver. I, in his place, would have moved to the inside of the curve, because on the outside he had to pass the Ferrari that was traveling at a much higher speed. With Villeneuve's passing I lose a friend, motor racing will have to do without a great professional. Ferrari has done well to retire giving the right value to the life of a person and bringing back some humanity in this cruel environment".


René Arnoux, a few minutes after the accident, returned to the pits destroyed, his face marked by tears:


"I saw him crumpled down there, near the net, thrown like a sack. He had been very lucky on other occasions. This time he wandered all over. Life in Formula 1 is bound by a thread: it only takes one mistake. For me Gilles was a great companion, I will always remember him".


Bruno Giacomelli remembers the hours spent together with Villeneuve in the last weekend, spent in the Canadian's chalet in Pra Loup, in Savoie. He was convinced that, after the scorching defeat at Imola, he would have a chance to make up for it:


"I believe that his public image was different from his essence. He was shy, simple and at the same time a man who knew what he wanted: a serene family and the possibility to race and win. Saturday's accident is a consequence of all the mistakes that have been made in Formula 1 in these years. It's useless now to talk about safety, it's ridiculous. Racing in this way is crazy. To go on like this it is better to close. It's unthinkable to play every chance in practice, in four or five laps, with two sets of tires. It means taking incredible risks and you can see the results. Now those in charge of Formula 1 will propose remedies, they will make proclamations, but nothing will help to give Villeneuve his life back".


These comments are counterbalanced by the attitude maintained on Sunday May 9, 1982; only one year before, for the tragic accident occurred to Giovanni Amedeo, the young Osella mechanic run over by Reutemann at the pits, the drivers staged a solidarity demonstration before the start of the race, unfortunately ended, in general confusion, with another dramatic accident, that of Dave Luckett of Arrows, run over by Stohr's car. On Sunday, however, nobody does anything in memory of Villeneuve. Only the closed Ferrari pits bear witness to the dramatic event of the day before: not a flower in the Terlamen corner, not a word of condolence, not a banner, not a sign among the 140.000 spectators present; not even the drivers, with few exceptions, do anything to honor the memory of their dead colleague. In the afternoon the race starts regularly. The half-hour warm-up session at midday do not go as smoothly as usual, for Rosberg’s Williams has a misfire at high r.p.m and as no reason can be found a hurried engine change is started. At the other end of the pits the Renault team are busy changing the turbocharger units on Prost’s car, as one has failed during the half-hour and they are taking no chances. Cheever’s Talbot-Matra is forced in as the young American has spun off into the sandy run-off area, but no damage is done. The start is due at 3.30 p.m., with the pit-lane opening 20 min. beforehand, to allow two laps before lining up on the dummy-grid, though it meant passing through the pit-lane to take advantage of the concession. Prost, Daly, Rosberg, Warwick, Laffite, Salazar, Patrese and Winkelhock all take advantage of a second lap and well on time the 16 starters are lined up in front of the pits with the two Renaults at the head of the two rows, with Prost on pole-position, his car having a dayglow orange point to the nose for recognition purposes.


Quietly pleased are the Toleman-Hart team as both Warwick and Fabi have qualified comfortably for the grid and well satisfy is Marc Surer who qualified his Arrows as it is his first race this year, having crashed prior to the South African GP. The whole field goes round on the parade lap, but while doing so Mansell’s clutch operation failed and he could not make it disengage so he free-wheeled up to his position on the starting grid, hoping to snatch it into gear at the start. When the green light glow Arnoux makes the best getaway and led off to start the 70-lap race, but Prost fluffes his start and Rosberg nips ahead of him. Behind them Mansell stalls his engine on the Lotus 91 and remains motionless while those behind him swerves past using the middle of the track. Giacomelli arrives at speed from the back of the grid, swerves into the middle as Laffite was alongside him, which forced the Talbot-Matra over to the right where Salazar in his ATS was minding his own business. The right front wheel of the Talbot hooked the left rear of the ATS and put it into a slide, heading across the track to he left and it promptly cannoned into the passing Alfa Romeo of Giacomelli. Both cars slid off into the barriers as the others went on their way, leaving the stationary Mansell to be push-started by his mechanics. At the back of the grid Warwick had stalled his Hart engine and was push-started by marshals. Winkelhock’s ATS expired on the opening lap with clutch failure, so with the race only just begun we were down to 21 runners in a pack, two already a long way behind and three already out of the race. It took only three laps for the 21 to divide into groups, with Arnoux setting the pace with Rosberg hanging on like a terrier. Then came Prost, Lauda and de Cesaris nose to tail and it was clear that the Renault was not on form and was holding up the McLaren and Alfa Romeo.

The remainder were being led comfortably by Alboreto, the two Brabham-BMWs being right behind him, followed by Watson, Daly, de Angelis, Jarier, Cheever, Henton and the rest, with Mansell already catching the tail enders and Warwick ploughing a lonely furrow on his own at the back. Just as we were wondering how long Rosberg could hang on, the leading Renault faltered out of the hairpin at the far end of the circuit and headed for the pit-lane while the Williams sailed on into the lead, the new FW08 leading its first race. One bank of cylinders on the V6 Renault had gone rough and was not producing power. This was on lap five and behind there had already been gloom in the Renault pit for on the previous lap Lauda and de Angelis had overtaken Prost, his Renault not handling consistently, doing one thing on left hand corners and the opposite thing on right-handers, but he was still ahead of Alboreto, though the curly haired young Italian was under pressure from the Brabham-BMW of his surly compatriot Riccardo Patrese who was ahead of World Champion Nelson Piquet. Behind them came the Irish contingent, John Watson ahead of Derek Daly, but both a long way away from the leader. Arnoux makes two more exploratory laps with no improvement and it is then found that the butterfly spindle on the right-hand compressor have broken, so he only has one throttle valve operating, which accounted for the loss of power. Fabi is in the pits with brake problems and the other Toleman-Hart is still running at the hack of the field, but not making up ground on anyone, unlike Mansell who has been carving his way through the field changing gear without the clutch, but it is all to no avail when the gearbox brake on lap 10. Having got the Renault of Prost out of their hair, Lauda and de Cesaris are closing up on Rosberg, the young Italian with the facial twitch doing a good job to hold on to the wily old ex-World Champion. Prost is having a terrible time, conceding places to Patrese and Watson and rather than concede to Alboreto, he divides into the pits for a change of tyres in the hope of improving things. From total domination of practice and qualifying the Renault effort have dwindled to nothing within a third of the race. As Prost leaves the scene at the end of 17 laps Rosberg is about to lap the tailenders and Lauda’s superior track craft allowed him to close up still further in the traffic, with de Cesaris shadowing his every move. Watson is close behind Patrese, wondering how he can get by and Piquet is going so badly that Jarier, Cheever and Laffite are keeping pace with him. 


A disgruntle de Angelis is in the pits for a new set of tyres and Jarier is soon in following him, whilst Prost is in again to try yet another set, the last lot making very little improvement. Once clear of the traffic Rosberg pulls away from Lauda, but relative to the Austrian he looks to be driving in desperation. Lauda’s smoothness and finesse really does make a lot of drivers look like rank amateurs. While others slide up over the bevel kerbs and occasionally raise dust, Lauda always seems to have nearly a foot to spare. Henton calls at the Tyrrell pits to say he does not think all was well with his Cosworth engine, but he is sent on his way again. Less than ten laps later there is an almighty bang and a cloud of smoke and an expensive blow up. Only a few laps before, Alboreto’s engine has blown up, after smoking ominously for a lap or two so the Tyrrell team has a big bill to face up to. The Toleman team are packing their bags as Fabi’s brake trouble have proved to be terminal and Warwick retired with a broken driveshaft. As lap 30 begin Rosberg has lapped Serra’s Fittipaldi and past the pits and into the first corner Lauda and de Cesaris come up behind the Brazilian driver. He overdid his braking and spin in the middle of the road, which caused Lauda to have to brake exceptionally hard and almost come to a stop. The bright de Cesaris takes this opportunity to nip by on the inside and snatch second place and Lauda set off after him while a rather red-faced Serra continues on his way. Almost unnoticed Watson has got past Patrese so the order as half distance approaches is Rosberg, still driving hard, de Cesaris, Lauda, Watson, Patrese, Daly, Cheever and Laffite the rest being a lap behind. Piquet has been having trouble with his gearchange and at one point it stuck in gear, resisting all his efforts on the lever. He heades into the pit lane and as he approaches the pits, still struggling with the lever, it frees itself so he drives straight past his puzzle pit staff and rejoins the race. Poor de Cesaris is destined not to reach half-distance as he retires in the pits instead of completing lap 35, his gear change linkage having broken. This now left Rosberg and Lauda on their own but the McLaren’s tyres are wearing badly and has lost their maximum efficiency so that the Austrian driver is forced to drop back, not only losing contact with the leading Williams but falling prey to his team-mate.

For once everything is going right for Watson, his tyres are in fine shape, the car is running well, its handling is good and there is nothing to stop him racing at his limit. In response to pit signals he presses on while Lauda is slowing and Rosberg is just holding his own but worried about his tire wear and rather erratic braking. The calculating Lauda decides to settle for third place at the worst, rather than stop for a tire change and on lap 47 Watson is by into second place, going as well as ever. Jarier shot into the pits for another set of tyres and in his haste to get back into the race, he takes off before one of the mechanics has finished tightening a rear wheel. The air line to the pneumatic spanner caught in the rear aerofoil and bent it all out of shape as the Osella goes off down the pit lane. The damage is irreparable. Prost is still circulating at the back but suffering violent understeer on left handers, and twice run on to the sand on the outside of the first corner. It later oversteered on a right hander and spin him out of the race. Laffite has an off-course excursion and tore off the left-hand skirt rubbing-strip which get caught up in the rear suspension, so he lost all hope of keeping up with Cheever and a pit-stop for a new skirt put him right out of the running. Cheever now begins to close up on Daly and at lap 50 the order is Rosberg still seemingly unassailable, Watson closing steadily, Lauda holding on to third place, Patrese in fourth place with the only competitive turbo-charged car, Daly in fifth place and Cheever sixth, everyone else being a lap or more behind. Elio de Angelis has lost a lot of time on his tire change, but is making up ground on the also-rans though not on the leaders. On lap 53 Patrese slid off the road into the catch fences and while marshals are helping him Piquet run wide, nearly collected the abandoned Brabham and then spin in the middle of the track, but keep the engine going and go on his way. As the end of the race begin to come into sight two things are happening. Rosberg is slowing dramatically as his left rear tire is badly worn, and Watson is going as fast as ever. Cheever is right behind Daly and looking for a way past. At the start of lap 61 Daly overdid his braking for the first corner and spin off into the catch fences, out of the race, leaving a smiling Eddie Cheever in fourth place now. Patrese’s retirement having let these two move up a place. 


Watson does not quite have Rosberg in sight, only his pit signals telling him how he was closing up. As he sweeps into his sixty-first lap he sees the Williams FW08 in the catch fences and assume it is Rosberg, so he eases right off to coast home to victory. His pit staff soon wake him up again and he rose to the occasion magnificently, setting a new lap record on lap 67 as he zooms up behind the ailing Williams of Rosberg. The left rear tire really is in a rough state by now and on the penultimate lap Watson is right on Rosberg’s tail as they come into the hairpin at the far end of the circuit, which is right-handed which means that the left-rear tire does most of the work. They are both about to lap Surer’s Arrows A4 and Rosberg got into a bit of a twitch as he braked, went too deep and have to lift off and run wide and up the bevelled kerb. Watson is by on the inside in a decisive movement and away into the lead. It is all over. There are only three cars on the same lap at the end, the wily Lauda pussyfooting home into third place. If he has stopped for new tyres he would have had to battle his way back through the also-rans and could not have gained more than third place even then. Very shrewd is Niki Lauda, a true professional racing driver. Lauda is subsequently disqualified for a technical irregularity on his McLaren. At the end of the race the Austrian driver's car is found under the minimum weight allowed of 580 kilos: initially it is found to weigh 574 kg, then 578. A McLaren mechanic will be even surprised by the stewards while he tries to place a lead sheet under the car, in order to make it fall within the minimum weight. Lauda's disqualification will be confirmed by the FIA Appeals Tribunal only on September 28, 1982, after the end of the championship. Therefore third, and for the first time on the podium, is classified Eddie Cheever, while Chico Serra climbs sixth, conquering the last rainbow point for Fittipaldi, while BMW conquers its first points as motorist. The stewards also decide to take a fuel sample from the cars of the top six finishers, to check that they were commercial grade. The first classified, John Watson, in the traditional press conference, after admitting that he had won the race because everyone more or less had had problems and for him, instead, everything had gone smoothly, only at the precise invitation he said:


"It was a race shaken by the loss of a friend, I dedicate this victory to him".


Ferrari, of course, does not take part in the Belgian Grand Prix: the team management, for correctness, on Saturday afternoon leaves to Didier Pironi the possibility to decide to retire or to compete, but the Frenchman, even before Villeneuve's death, admits he does not want to go on track. So the mechanics, dumbfounded, load the cars and the wreckage of the Canadian's vehicle on the van, and leave with a great sadness in their hearts. Many people cry, like Antonio Tomaini, the technician who was in charge of Gilles' car, who towards evening goes to the place where his friend lost his life:


"He started his career with a flight and ended it with another flight. Such a big place, with so much space left and right, to go and lose your life for a small crash seems incredible to me. Of course when your time comes, there's nothing you can do".


The team's sporting director, Marco Piccinini, who was close to the driver even in the last moments, confesses:


"As we feared, our Gilles has ceased his earthly existence. Pironi is upset for the death of his teammate and asked us to give up the race. For all of us, and especially for Enzo Ferrari, something more than a driver and a valid collaborator has been missing. Today Ferrari mourns the champion, tomorrow and always it will keep with it the memory of a true friend, of a generous man".


Dario Calzavara, Marco Piccinini's deputy, who lives closely the drama first at the reanimation center, then in Leuven, with a destroyed morale admits:


"I can't believe what happened, it seems impossible. We still don't know how it happened, but at this point it doesn't matter, unfortunately it just happened. Gilles was for all of us in the team a friend, not a driver, his generosity in life and on the track was legendary. We lose everything with him, a driver and all the great work he did for the development of our cars".


Needless to say, Didier Pironi's grief. It is true, between him and Villeneuve there was the bitter controversy of Imola, but the Frenchman had always tried to minimize, to overcome the incident and hoped to regain with time the friendship of his teammate:


"That's what I'm most bitter about now. The fact that we were separated for two weeks after always getting along. Unfortunately we had to expect that sooner or later such a tragedy would come, with Villeneuve or someone else. We always talk about safety, but then the contingent problems, the recurring polemics, make us forget the major problem of Formula 1. In the curve where the accident took place, only three years ago people were driving at 180 kilometers per hour, now they are going 260 kilometers per hour. One of the most serious risks is the one we run when we drive cars with side skirts. If one of these bulkheads breaks, the car literally takes off and there is nothing the driver can do to keep it on the road. You can only hope for luck. It's like being, sitting on a bullet".


Engineer Forghieri, who had tried during the whole weekend to make up with Gilles and Didier, admits:


"He was not only a great driver, but also and above all a deep connoisseur of engines, mechanics and cars. Working with him was a satisfaction because he understood and made himself understood perfectly. They took me to see him in the hospital, but it was better if I didn't".


The team returns to Maranello from Zolder on Sunday, May 9, 1982. When Paolo Scaramelli arrives at the factory, he is stopped at the porter's lodge and he is ordered to go to Enzo Ferrari's office: Gilles' chief mechanic enters the room where Ferrari, his secretary and two other people are, and he is invited to sit down. Silence falls.

Paolo Scaramelli breaks the wait by looking at Ferrari's face, wet with tears, and understanding the reason for the silence, he lowers his gaze towards the floor. The atmosphere of deep emotion is broken by the knock on the door by engineer Caruso, responsible for the test room, who enters to report the results of a bench test. Having recovered, Ferrari asks Scaramelli to tell him, according to his point of view, what happened in Zolder. Paolo begins by talking about the climate that had been created in the box, the coldness between the two drivers, and the fight that had been established. Then engineer Tommaso Carletti, the person in charge of Gilles' car on the track, arrives and is asked for his opinion on what had happened:


"Engineer Ferrari, you know it better than me, at the races the risk is always lurking, the dynamics of the accident shows a real mishap, a huge mishap with very serious consequences, there are no other answers, I could not say any other. At the moment and for what we could see and for the testimonies collected by those who saw the accident, I don't think it is a consequence of the Imola race".


Dismay follows in Canada for the news of Gilles Villeneuve's death. It is Prime Minister Trudeau who interprets, with an emotional declaration, the condolences of a country that deeply loved the Ferrari driver:


"On behalf of all Canadians, I extend my deepest condolences to his wife and children, relatives and friends. Villeneuve knew that he had chosen a dangerous career. Nevertheless, he was completely fascinated by his work. Those who followed him in the race carried both admiration for his skill and anxiety for his safety. Fate would have it that we would never again have the chance to applaud the achievements of this man who had made us so proud".


Villeneuve's father, who runs a car dealership near Montreal, was interviewed by a radio station, and with words that were moved, but also of great respect for his son's choices, he declared:


"He did what he loved with all his heart, with all his strength and with all his sincerity. He is a boy who when he starts working he does it with enthusiasm. I swear that this is the greatest memory I will keep of Gilles. I believed in him and I still believe in him, even if he left. It's an accident that had to come, I think. It was the end of his road".


On Wednesday, May 12, 1982, at 3:00 p.m. the funeral takes place in the church of Sainte-Geneviève de Berthierville: the funeral chamber is set up at the cultural center. It is a procession of people coming from all over Canada, as well as from all over the world: there are Jody Scheckter with his wife Pat, Linda, Bruno Giacomelli's girlfriend, Joanna's great friend, Jackie Stewart, the Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and many sport champions, among them the field hockey player Guy Lafleur and the motorcyclist Duhamel.


"I will miss Gilles for two reasons. First, he was the fastest driver in racing history. Second, he was the most sincere and genuine person I have ever known. But he's not completely gone. The memory of what he did, what he achieved, will always stay with us".


Jody Scheckter confesses to the people in the church. It should be an intimate funeral, according to the intentions of the family that has politely refused the intervention of the State, but it is not possible to block the popular demonstration of moved people who want to follow closely the funeral of the missing champion. The humblest fans, strangers that probably the pilot had never seen, tighten around the Villeneuve family participating in their pain. The whole village, 4500 inhabitants, parades in front of the coffin covered with flowers, where not far away there is a crown of the President of the Italian Republic, Sandro Pertini. The funeral honors, and it is the first time it happens, for a sports champion, are taken care of by the government of Quebec.


"Villeneuve did not live in vain. We will always remember him for his generosity, his simplicity and his moral and professional commitment. Beyond any discourse and values of the champion, Gilles was an example for all".


Declares Prime Minister René Leveque. The stores of the town remain closed for two days. Joanna Villeneuve, although overwhelmed by the pain, tries to react but is unable to hold back copious tears during the ceremony. Little Melanie, eight years old, behaves like a true young lady and receives condolences together with her grandmother. After the funeral Gilles Villeneuve's body is transported to the Montreal East Cemetery where, according to the Ferrari driver's will, it is cremated. His brother Jacques appeals to Enzo Ferrari in order to have a chance to drive Gilles' car during the season: it is a proposal dictated by the moment of confusion, by the upset for the drama lived in these days, thinking back to which the driver himself will recognize to be absurd. Maranello, home of Ferrari, which had in a certain sense adopted Villeneuve, in the afternoon stops for a quarter of an hour. Silence fell on the Ferrari for fifteen long minutes: workers, technicians and fans who were crowding the Fiorano track to watch Gilles during the tests, lived moments of intense emotion. Before that, in the Canadian Air Force Boeing 707 that brought Gilles and his family back to Canada, only the hum of the reactors and Joanna's sobs could be heard: eight interminable hours from Brussels to Montreal. Gilles' wife is brave in these tragic days; she worries above all about the children, trying to calm them down. They speak little, and each sentence is a memory, the image of a happy time. It was only when she landed in Montreal that Joanna succumbed to nervous tension and was rescued from a heart attack. The arrival in Berthierville, where the Villeneuve family lives, father, mother and brother Jacques, is understandably difficult. Close to the family, at all times, are the Ferrari representatives, the sporting director Marco Piccinini, his assistant Dario Calzavara, and the mechanics Scaramelli and Iseppi, who took care of Villeneuve's car and who will arrive at the ceremony escorted by a limousine. Their faces are still marked by pain, incredulous for what happened.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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