Quando Gilles Villenueve è stato eternato dal mito, l’8 maggio 1982, avevo 10 anni. Avrei cominciato a seguire la Formula Uno cinque anni dopo. Le ricordo bene le ultime due gare del Mondiale: doppietta di Berger che avrebbe fatto sperare (inutilmente, visto che arrivò il caterpillar MP4/4) in un 1988 scintillante per Maranello. Gilles fu per me, e per tanti altri troppo piccoli prima e troppo grandi dopo per conoscerlo, un idolo postumo. Vivo, vivissimo, ma postumo. Allora Internet lo usavano pochi fortunati nel mondo, manco ancora esisteva il World Wide Web. Potei “conoscere” Gilles leggendone su Autosprint e Rombo. Con qualche programma sportivo. Sentendo i racconti dei cugini grandi e dello zio che da sempre seguivano la Formula Uno. Collezionando qualche rivista qua e là con tanto di immancabile poster. Quel viso mi raccontava di una purezza adamantina, di un’incoscienza spensierata nel tentare di portare al limite ogni mezzo, per poi superare tale limite. Le riprese video, oggi così vintage, e le tante foto (tutti conoscete le imprese al limite della fisica con un mezzo meccanico di cui era capace e le capacità di gestire le prime monoposto turbo) mi diedero emozioni forti. Prima pensai: ma questo era pazzo. Poi riflettei: c’è del genio in quella follia. Come accade spesso. Lui dipingeva l’impossibile sulla pista. E il suo pennello era la monoposto. Ho ancora uno speciale della Gazzetta dello Sport, con le copertine rigorosamente rosse, sottili come le pagine leggermente patinate, grande come un A4 ma con il dorso pinzato sulla parte corta, in modo tale da aprirlo in “orizzontale” per vedere le foto belle grandi; credo sia del 1988 o giù di li (ora non lo trovo, sepolto non so dove fra fumetti e libri, e sono diventato un pò pigro ultimamente). Ne ricordo a memoria molte foto, compresa quella che aveva proprio la copertina. Un vecchio e magnetico Enzo Ferrari, in giacca e cravatta, seduto, gambe accavallate, rideva di gusto (si, rideva, proprio lui, il Drake) con Gilles, anche lui seduto, al suo fianco, immagino dopo una gara, visto che aveva ancora la tuta addosso e teneva una bottiglia di spumante (suppongo). E anche lui aveva un sorriso grande come una casa. Non sembrava di vedere il rude, talvolta cinico e spietato Enzo. Ma un padre che scherzava bonariamente con il figlio “adottato” per una pazza “scommessa”.
Sono passati così tanti anni, 37, eppure di Gilles si parla sempre. E per un curioso caso del destino condivido con lui il “27” nei miei dati anagrafici. Suo figlio Jacques in parte ne ha rinverdito i fasti, in parte si è preso una “vendetta” postuma contro il destino vincendo quasi ovunque (ahinoi, non guidando mai per la Ferrari). Ma Gilles parla sempre a noi, al nostro cuore bambino (se lo resta), ai nostri sogni di un futuro bello, vincente, dove tutto ci sorride, dove niente può andare storto. Ai miei coetanei, in particolare, ricorda l’adolescenza, la promessa di un’età dove tutto sembrava nuovo, incredibile, fantasmagorico, con così tante certezze. Non conta che non sarà così, conta che Gilles ci dà ancora quelle emozioni. E date retta a quel pazzo scatenato del Foscolo. Sino a quando esisteranno esseri umani, la poesia tramanderà le gesta di coloro che ci hanno fatto battere il cuore, che lo hanno fatto battere ai nostri genitori che ne hanno parlato a noi, come noi ne parleremo ai nostri figli, ai nostri alunni, ai nostri nipoti. E il seme attecchirà. Verso l’infinito…e oltre.
Henri Villeneuve was born in 1950, in Quebec and, after starting his
competitive career in snowmobiles, rose to stardom after a couple of seasons in
Formula Ford, and then winning both the US and Canadian Formula Atlantic
championships in 1976. Villeneuve had beaten James Hunt and other GP drivers in
a Canadian Formula Atlantic race and Hunt pointed him out to McLaren. Hunt told
the McLaren management about them with the words “That kid is a genius! He can really drive!“. Even back in
those days it was rare for a driver to point out the skills of an OTHER driver.
Prompting Teddy Mayer to give Villeneuve a call, and arrange a meeting.
In the end it was decided to give Villeneuve a seat in an outdated M23 for the ’77 British GP, which would be their third car alongside the new M26’s driven by Hunt and Mass. On that Thursday Villeneuve drove an F1 for the very first time. During practice he changed nothing on the car, each time he came in to the pits he told the mechanics how great the car was and if he could have another go, to learn more.
meantime journalists and photographers would pop-in at the McLaren garage and
tell them of the times the saw the new guy go off track or spin the car. Naming
every corner on the Silverstone track! So when Villeneuve came back in to the
pits Alastair Caldwell, who was McLaren’s team manager and head mechanic at the
time, asked him if he had troubles with the car, since people told him he spun
at every corner. To which Gilles replied: “I’m
just finding out how fast I can go round the corners. You can’t tell how fast
you’re going unless you lose control of the car.”
After a while
he spun the car less and less, even ending up the pre-qualification session in
p1. During the actual qualification session he ended up in ninth place, one
place in front of Jochen Mass, the no.2 McLaren driver, in a newer M26.
Eventually he would finish the race in 11th place, after a pit-stop for a
faulty oil temperature gauge. Gilles Villeneuve was 29 when he was offered
test driver role (and a five-race deal for the end of the ’78 season) with
McLaren after the 1977 British GP.
before that he was invited to Maranello where apparently Enzo was reminded of
the great Tazio Nuvolari, and Gilles had received a similar offer, after a test
session at Fiorano. He had been lapping the track in a 312T2 for half an hour,
when he returned to the pits. In just 20 laps he had worn out a complete set of
brake pads. Pads that should comfortably last a whole race…
So when he
told McLaren about it Mayer said that he should call Ferrari’s bluff and ask
them for a full drive or nothing. Enzo promptly signed him up, from the
last two races of 1977. Leaving Caldwell to be furious with Mayer, for not only
throwing away a rough diamond but also negotiating his deal! Apart from that
one-off McLaren drive Villeneuve only drove for Ferrari throughout his
tragically shortened career.
talking about those early snowmobile days said: “Every winter, you would reckon on three or four big spills, 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.” Maybe he should have worried a little more, but he was
wrote in The Times: “Anyone seeking a
future World Champion need look no further than this quietly assured young
said: “When they presented me with this
‘piccolo Canadese’, this minuscule bundle of nerves, I immediately recognised in him the
physique of Nuvolari and said to myself, let’s give him a try.”
replaced Niki Lauda, who left Ferrari two races before the end of the ’77
season after some disgruntlement (but not before winning his second title), but
had a sad start to his career in the final event in Japan where he banged
wheels with Ronnie Peterson’s Tyrrell, took off… and landed on a group of
spectators, who were in a prohibited area. One spectator and a marshal were
killed, and ten people were injured. An investigation decided not to
apportion any blame.
first full F1 season (1978) began with an eighth place in Argentina (plus
fastest lap), followed by four retirements, the fourth at Long Beach, where
Villeneuve had qualified second, and led for much of the race, until colliding
with a back-marker and retiring. After that he would end up taking a fourth
place at Monaco. After a string of further disappointments Villeneuve gained
his first podium in Austria and then winning the final race in Canada – still
the only Canadian to have won ‘at home’. However his teammate, Carlos
Reutemann, won four times, to finish third in the Championship – there was more
to come from Villeneuve.
At Monza the
tifosi were overjoyed to see Villeneuve take his second front-row start of the
year, and he also finished second in the race, but he and Andretti jumped the
start and were penalised one minute, leaving them sixth and seventh. There were
many incidents in the race, which was red-flagged as a result of Peterson’s
crash, and it was about to be restarted, three hours late, when Jody
Scheckter’s Wolf lost a lap on the formation lap, and flattened the guard-rail.
A deputation of drivers examined the area, and asked for adjustments, and a
much shortened race started at 6 PM, four hours late.
Andretti: “I was on pole, and Gilles
was next to me on the front row. He jumped the start and I reacted to it, so I
jumped it too. We both knew early on we’d been penalised a minute, but still we
fought the whole race like we were going for the win. I followed him until about
six laps from the end. I could see him work really hard in that Ferrari. And I
was waiting for the mistake, but the mistake never came… So I made my move at
Ascari, just went in there full on the limit, and he gave me the room I needed.
That showed he was thinking, and had a lot of respect. And I had great respect
for him because of that.”
Reutemann took the vacant seat at Lotus for the ’79 season, Villeneuve was
joined by Scheckter. It was Ferrari’s year, at least until Alan Jones’ Williams
came good in the second half and won four out of five races. The record shows
Scheckter took the Championship with Villeneuve second, four points down: they
each had three victories, and three second places. Villeneuve had an additional
second place that had to be dropped, while Scheckter had four fourth places,
two of which were dropped. [NB: at that time only the best 4 results from the
first 7 races, and the best 4 results from the last 8 races counted towards the
Drivers’ Championship] Both drivers had one pole position but Villeneuve was
the only one to score fastest laps – six of them.
first five races Villeneuve led by 20:16 but he failed to score in the next two
and Scheckter pulled ahead. At the half-way point Villeneuve trailed 20:30, and
failed to regain the lead. It would be twenty-one years before another Ferrari
driver would be Champion…
In the French GP there was the titanic battle between Villeneuve and
Arnoux which Villeneuve won. He commented afterwards, “I tell you, that was really fun! I thought for sure we were going to
get on our heads, you know, because when you start interlocking wheels it’s
very easy for one car to climb over another.”
The Dutch GP
provided another Villeneuve classic: a slow puncture collapsed his left rear
tyre and put him off the track but he limped back to the pits on three wheels,
losing the damaged wheel on the way. He completed the lap on just two wheels –
one was gone, and the opposite one was in the air… Villeneuve insisted the team
replace the missing wheel, and it apparently took a while to assure him the
suspension damage was beyond repair. Reaction at the time was mixed: either an
act of the ultimate competitor not wanting to give up… or an irresponsible,
Villeneuve could have gone on to win the Championship by beating Scheckter… but
allegedly chose to finish second, less than a second behind, ending his own
championship challenge. Although Scheckter was ahead in the Championship
Villeneuve was still in contention. He qualified fifth to Scheckter’s third and
ran right behind Scheckter’s gearbox throughout the race… Was he on team orders
to let Scheckter win if Scheckter was ahead, was he being a gentleman, or was
Scheckter simply the faster man on this occasion. At no time during the race
was Villeneuve seen trying to pull alongside, or even pulling out of the
slipstream to take a look.
throughout was of the dutiful No.2 driver, reminiscent of Moss to Fangio,
Peterson to Andretti, and many others… and yet Gilles Villeneuve was nobody’s
stooge. Did he run so consistently close to demonstrate he could have taken the
lead? Whatever, it was extremely uncharacteristic for a man who was never slow
to put his car’s nose ahead… and keep it there… to apparently accept second
best on this occasion. During the year, when they both finished without a
problem, Villeneuve beat Scheckter 6:4.
I have no
desire to denigrate Scheckter’s Championship – I just find Villeneuve’s
behaviour unusual. Unless it was a Ferrari decision…
In his last ever interview Villeneuve would use this to explain his feud with Pironi, after the
’82 Imola GP: “When I was behind
Scheckter, in South Africa in ’79, I only passed him when he was in the pits.
When I was in Monza, and it was my last chance to win a race, and the
Championship was at stake (’79), I stayed behind Jody without trying to pass
him. When I was at Monaco, before the gearbox broke, Jody was in front of me,
going slowly. Because he had a huge lead, and I never tried to pass him. That was
the Ferrari rule!”
enough Scheckter would comment about that Monza win:“As much as I trusted Gilles – I was looking in my mirors more than
usual. On the last lap I slowed right down in one section, then just went as
fast as I could for insurance… I would have been surprised if he had tried
anything but I always look out for surprises.”
Villeneuve qualified second, between the two all-conquering Williams cars,
while Scheckter languished in ninth. Villeneuve jumped into the lead and held off
Jones for fifty laps before having to give best to Williams, though he held on
to second from a really hard-pushing Regazzoni.
Watkins Glen. The record book shows Villeneuve won, in wet conditions, but he
was 48 seconds ahead of Arnoux… after Jones had crashed, from an ill-fitted
wheel. But there’s a lot more to that story:
The rain was
so heavy for the Friday practice session and only a few cars ventured forth.
Villeneuve was fastest, 11(!) seconds ahead of Scheckter. Yes, you read that
right. Eleven seconds! Scheckter would later recalled: “I scared myself rigid that day. I thought I had to be quickest. Then I
saw Gilles’s time and — I still don’t really understand how it was possible.
minutes before the race started it was raining again. Villeneuve jumped ahead
and after two laps was five seconds ahead but, as the track began to dry, Jones
closed in and went ahead on lap 31. Villeneuve pitted for slicks but, when
Jones did the same, one wheel wasn’t properly fitted, and he was soon out of
the race, leaving Villeneuve almost a full lap ahead of Scheckter, who later
lost a tyre. Villeneuve cruised home, with fading oil- pressure, 48 secs. ahead
out to be Villeneuve’s best year – he would not even get close to winning a
mechanic Scaramelli: “The Villeneuve
era was wonderful, and it peaked in 1979. That year the T4 engine would only
break if you dropped it off the back of the truck. And Gilles was fantastic. We
were accustomed to Lauda and Reutemann, who respected the machinery. Gilles gave
us a lot more work, but he also completely re-awakened our enthusiasm! After
each race, if you worked his car, you could see that he thoroughly wrung his
car’s neck. The limiter on his accelerator pedal would always be pushed a
little further down…”
Now came a
dreadful year for Ferrari, 1980 – not a single win, no pole position, no
fastest lap, no podium even… and finishing 10th in the Constructors
Championship with just eight points – how the mighty can fall. It wasn’t just
the Williams cars who took over; Ligier, Brabham and Renault all won two or
three races each. Even the Fittipaldi team scored two podium finishes, to place
eighth with, sandwiched in the middle, the also once-mighty McLaren team, whose
drivers, Watson and Prost, only amassed eleven points between them… In the
Drivers Championship Villeneuve finished fourteenth, with defending champion
Scheckter in nineteenth
very bad accidents to Regazzoni and Jean-Pierre Jabouille, and the loss of
Patrick Depailler, 1980 was a dreadful year for more than just Ferrari.
decided to call it a day in 1981 and Villeneuve was joined by newcomer; Pironi,
to drive Ferrari’s first turbo car which had considerable power and
straight-line speed, but turbo-lag and handling problems prevented a challenge
for the Constructors Championship, eventually finishing fifth. Nevertheless
Villeneuve scored an amazing victory at the slow Monaco circuit and, at Jarama,
he held back five faster cars who were able to close up on the corners before
Villeneuve roared away on the straights. He also took pole position and fastest
lap at Imola.
Villeneuve finished forty seconds ahead of Jones, who was fifty seconds ahead
of Lafitte, the only other drivers on the lead lap but, in Spain, only 1.24
seconds covered 1st-5th places – the second closest finish in F1 history. It
was also Villeneuve’s last victory, and is often held up as a tactical
masterpiece. He only qualified seventh but at the start he jumped to third at
the first corner, and was second at the end of the first lap…
Jones was in
full control, until he spun off on lap 14, and Lafitte, Watson, Reutemann, and
de Angelis closed up on Villeneuve, and all five were packed like a 215kph tin
of sardines, to the line. [Some F1 purists childishly denigrate ovals but check
the 2013 Indy Lights race at Indianapolis – a four-abreast finish, with 0.0026
secs. between them.]
Ferrari acquired the services of Harvey Postlethwaite to pen the 1982 car (with
a young Adrian Newey in the drawing office), who said: “That car…had literally one quarter of the downforce than, say Williams
or Brabham. 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.”
penultimate race at Ile Notre Dame, which would be renamed, Circuit Gilles
Villeneuve, the following year, Gilles drove with a seriously damaged front
wing for much of the race, probably obscuring much of his forward vision, and
in heavy rain… But I expect he thought it was nothing compared to his
snowmobile days. Nevertheless he should have been black-flagged but after
several frightening laps the wing became disconnected, and Ferrari left him to
decide. I say this because the wing could have easily caused a death if it had
hit anyone when it let go, and even the debris could have had severe repercussions.
As with the missing wheel in 1979, Villeneuve drove without apparent concern
for what could have happened behind him.
mechanic Corradini: “Another
legendary race. Gilles was charging in the wet with his front wing bent upwards
and compromising his visibility. But for him it made no difference. He was on
his way to the podium. I was terrified that Forghieri was going to stop him.
Call him in to change his nose. I was Pironi’s mechanic, but I was a fan of
Gilles. So what I did, crazy as it may seem, was to grab the board with ‘Box’
written on it and hide it. At that point Forghieri could say what he wanted:
the signal, the order for Gilles to surrender, couldn’t been shown by
1982: Now came disaster, with which I have already dealt with in the
Pironi article. I don’t enjoy writing of tragedies, and the loss of Villeneuve
in a practice accident was, and still is, a tragedy. Many people have attempted
to ‘explain’ the incident – most have a highly subjective opinion. All we know
for certain is that Villeneuve came across another, slower- moving, car, both
drivers took evasive action, but failed to avoid a collision, and the Ferrari
took off. Villeneuve, still strapped to his seat, was thrown from the
disintegrating vehicle and died in hospital that evening.
Villeneuve was especially noted for his exuberance, even devil-may-care
approach to racing. Certainly he so often put his car where a lesser man (i.e.
almost all other drivers) would not have dared, and his impeccable car control
enabled him to pull it off. But.. in his final performance even Villeneuve’s
skill proved insufficient to get himself out of trouble.
said of him: “He was the craziest devil I
ever came across in Formula 1… The fact that, for all this, he was a sensitive
and lovable character rather than an out-and-out hell-raiser made him such a
unique human being. Gilles was the perfect racing driver, I think. In any car
he was quick. He didn’t drive for points, but to win races. I liked him even
more than I admired him. He was the best -and the fastest- racing driver in the
Watkins once said about Villeneuve that what an inch was for Gilles was like a
yard for anyone else. He was that precise.
Chris Amon: “People always talk about Senna, who
obviously had brilliant races too. But Senna had the advantage of being in top
rate equipment for some of those races. Gilles most exceptional races were driven in uncompetitive cars.”
Rene Arnoux: “At Watkins Glen one time, I asked him
-the corner before the pits, I take a small lift there, do you? He said he also
lifted a little there, but in final qualification he would try it flat out. So
just before the end of the session I came to this corner and there was his car.
Completely destroyed in the wall. But he was OK. So when I got back to the pits
I asked him if this bend could be taken flat out? ‘No, Rene’ he said, ‘I tried,
but it is not possible.’ But he had decided that it could be done so he tried
it… And that was Gilles Villeneuve for me.”
In the end Villeneuve would only score six wins (from 67 starts), two
pole positions and a further 13 podiums. Plus eight fastest laps. But he
created this immortal legend. I’m a massive Villeneuve fan, and perhaps I
romanticise his story a bit too much. If you ever go to an F1 race and you come
across a guy with a massive Villeneuve tattoo on his right arm come say ‘Hi’ to
In Formula 1 ci sono, fortunatamente, ancora dei luoghi magici, legati ad un pilota e ad una scuderia, nonostante le vittorie siano state merce rara, o, anzi, proprio grazie a questo.
E Montreal vuol dire numero 27 rosso. La prima vittoria di Villeneuve esattamente 40 anni fa, l’impresa di Gilles con l’alettone anteriore smontato 3 anni dopo, la doppietta del 1985 ad opera del grande Michele e di Johansson, e, 10 anni dopo, la prima e unica vittoria di Alesi. Sempre il 27. Poi l’indigestione dell’era Schumacher, l’ultima vittoria nel 2004, l’ultima pole nel 2001 e a seguire più niente. Perchè sul circuito canadese ha imposto il suo dominio Lewis Hamilton.
Fino a ieri, quando il suo grande rivale di questo periodo, che di nome fa Sebastian e di cognome Vettel, ha di nuovo piazzato la rossa in pole, lasciando Lewis nervoso alle prese con i suoi problemi. E in gara ci regala un dominio come, per la Ferrari, non se ne vedeva da tempo.
Pronti, via, e Vettel saluta subito la compagnia, portandosi dietro, a debita distanza, la Mercedes sbagliata per i tedeschi e giusta per lui, quella di Bottas, che in questo week-end si è mostrato molto più forte del compagno, a parità di motore spompato (da segnalare l’ottimo controllo sull’arrembante Max). Probabilmente Lewis è incappato in uno di quei fine settimana che ogni tanto ci regala, dove avrebbe bisogno di girare per una settimana per capirci qualcosa. E stranamente in queste occasioni il compagno, meno forte per definizione, viaggia che è un piacere. E così i primi due si fanno metà gara con le gomme viola, girando su ottimi tempi, e l’altra metà con quelle rosse, arrivando in fondo indisturbati e in totale gestione della situazione. L’unico ad utilizzare una strategia simile è Raikkonen, il quale però ha navigato per tutta la gara in un’anonima sesta posizione, senza mai essere in grado di attaccare quello davanti. E, citando Forrest Gump, su questa faccenda non ho nulla da aggiungere.
Dietro ai primi due, in fila dall’inizio alla fine, o quasi, Verstappen, Ricciardo ed Hamilton. L’unico sorpasso si è visto ai box, con Daniel autore di un insolito overcut su Lewis. Strano, perchè il venerdì si diceva che le Red Bull avessero un passo gara strepitoso, e fossero pronte a sverniciare tutti in partenza con le loro gomme hyper-soft. Ma il passo gara, si sa, è buono giusto per scrivere qualcosa sulle FP1 e FP2, ma poi la domenica è un’altra cosa.
Poco divertimento, insomma. Anche dietro i primi 6 non si è visto molto movimento in più. A parte i primi giri, con il botto iniziale fra Stroll e Hartley che ha tolto di mezzo subito e in una volta sola due dei maggiori candidati a dare lavoro a Maylander. Una ruotata di Sainz a Perez a alla ripartenza e poi la solita processione, con le due Renault “best of the rest” ad un intero giro di distacco, poi Ocon che questa volta non ha avuto bisogno di cedere il passo alle Mercedes, e il solito immenso Leclerc,
Fuori dai punti, di pochissimo, Gasly con il motore Honda aggiornato, poi le due Haas molto al di sotto delle aspettative, Perez, penalizzato dalla citata ruotata, e poi, a 2 giri di distacco, i casi disperati: Ericsson, col quale il compagno ha ristabilito le distanze, Vandoorne con una McLaren assurdamente lenta, e Sirotkin con una Williams in versione “cosa ci siamo venuti a fare qui”.
Ritirati i già citati Stroll e Hartley, e il povero Alonso, al quale gli dei della meccanica sono amici più o meno quanto lo erano con Patrese ai bei tempi (in Toyota pare abbiano già assunto uno stregone, memori degli eventi di due anni fa).
La Ferrari riparte dal Canada con Vettel là dove è giusto che sia, e cioè in cima alla classifica mondiale. E si sposta su un circuito storico, il Paul Ricard, un nome che a chi, come chi scrive, è stato testimone di diversi decenni di Formula 1, riporta alla mente un’epoca con macchine e piloti straordinari. Anche se, ovviamente, non è più quello di una volta, con quel fantastico rettilineo di 1800 metri terminato da una velocissima curva a destra. Troppo pericoloso, meglio metterci una chicane in mezzo.
La prima gara disputata al Ricard che ho avuto l’occasione di vedere alla TV fu quella del 1978, e mi colpì il fatto che dall’inizio alla fine la classifica che appariva in sovrimpressione sul piccolo schermo in bianco e nero cambiò pochissime volte. Anche all’epoca c’erano gare noiose, ma erano un’eccezione, oggi sono diventate la regola, con piloti che devono fare durare i motori per 7 GP e le gomme per qualche giro in più. Altrimenti gli ingegneri si arrabbiano. Le ultime due gare che abbiamo visto devono suonare come un campanone d’allarme per i signori che governano la Formula 1. Esiste già un campionato Endurance e si corre con macchine a ruote coperte. Di sicuro sabato e domenica prossimi ci divertiremo molto di più.
“Renè, se domani in qualifica la perdo al Terlamen Bocht posso solo sperare che mia madre in Cielo mi accolga a braccia aperte”
Zolder, 7 maggio 1982
Gilles dopo il duello a Digione nel 1979 prese l’abitudine di confidare ad Arnoux quello che poi andava a fare in pista. Al Glen nel 1980 col Mondiale già vinto da Jones ed un quinto posto come “miglior” risultato di quella disastrosa annata ci sarebbe di che pensare a dove portare moglie e figli in vacanza dal giorno dopo la gara. Ma lui non è così, lui vive per l’attimo ed in quel momento ha in testa una cosa sola: provare a vedere se la curva che immette sul Back Straight si possa fare in quinta piena anzichè in quarta. “Io domani ci provo” dice a Renè il venerdì sera. Arnoux dirà poi che quando vide la 312T5 numero 2 sbriciolata contro il rail pensò “nessuno può far quella curva in quinta piena, perchè se non c’è riuscito Gilles non ci può riuscire nessuno”.
Già, Gilles. L’han chiamato “Aviatore” e “Sfasciacarrozze” ma la verità era molto più semplice: lui era incapace di provar paura ed usava la sua pelle come merce di scambio per vedere se fosse stato possibile o meno spostare il limite più in alto, come quella volta al Glen ma anche a Digione 1981 in prova il venerdì o a Baires 1980 in gara. O la domenica a Long Beach nel 1978, oppure ad inizio gara a Jarama nel 1979. Al Fuji nel 1977. A Zandvoort nel 1979. In gara a Silverstone nel 1981 per provare a tenersi dietro Brabham/Williams in confronto alle quali la sua 126CK ha l’efficacia aerodinamica di uno Scania. Ancora nel 1981 sempre in gara a Zeltweg, con la 126CK distrutta alla Bosch-Kurve perchè il suo tremendo telaio non riusciva minimamente a contenere la furia del V6 biturbo Ferrari. A Monaco nel 1978 quando esagerando nel tunnel si tirò dietro l’ira dei “Senatori”. A Long Beach nel 1981 quando, dopo aver masticato amaro un anno intero nel 1980, non appena ebbe il Compressore dietro alle spalle passò da settimo a primo al via salvo mancare completamente il braking point del tornantino e tornare settimo in un amen. O ad Imola nel 1981 quando montò le slick con pista bagnata perchè voleva andare a doppiare tutti salvo finir doppiato lui poichè si rimise a piovere e dovette fare 2 cambi gomme in 3 giri.
Quel giorno a Zolder sulla sua 126C2 c’era montato un set di gomme usate ed il tabellone dei tempi lo dava in settima piazza con Didier Pironi in quinta. Al Terlamen Bocht sono le 13:52 quando Mass si leva di traiettoria per farlo passare solo per scoprire, quando è già troppo tardi, che Gilles era uscito dalla racing line per superarlo. La Rossa wing car vien strappata letteralmente da terra e con ogni probabilità Gilles subìsce la frattura delle vertebre cervicali già al primo impatto del suo muso sull’asfalto, senza l’HANS (che comparirà solo più di 20 anni dopo) il suo collo fa uno “snap” avanti/indietro che gli è fatale. Poi, per non farsi mancare nulla, il sedile viene strappato dalla 126C2 ed il casco dalla sua testa che finisce contro un paletto delle reti di protezione.
Avevo 10 anni e mezzo e piansi per mesi.
Ora che ne ho 46 e mezzo piango ogni 8 maggio, oggi non ho scampo.
Life is racing, all the rest is waiting
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