There are a surprisingly high number of family-related racing drivers in the world and this series will explore them. We start the series with Canadian father and son Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve. Gilles has had a fantastic racing career that spanned many years in F1. Now his son has followed in his footsteps and wants to influence the sport just like his father. This is the story of a family that lives and breathes motorsport.
Did James Hunt help Gilles Villeneuve secure his place in Formula 1?
Gilles was born in Quebec, Canada in 1950 and started his racing career with snowmobiles there. He showed that racing doesn’t always start with karting. He did a good job and performed well to move up quickly to formula racing where he won the US and Canada Formula Atlantic championships at the age of 26.
Thanks to James Hunt for introducing Gilles McLaren and the world of Formula 1 after witnessing the Canadian races at a street race, the Trois Rivieres, in Quebec. James told his McLaren team boss Teddy Mayer about Gilles and his talent as a racing driver. That recommendation was also endorsed by Chris Amon, a former McLaren racing driver, who confirmed that Gilles would be a talent worth pursuing for McLaren and Formula 1. Because of this high praise, Gilles was invited to take part in the 1977 British GP, where he drove an impressive race. Because of this, it’s strange that Teddy chose not to sign him for the remainder of the season. But that decision left the door open for reigning world champion Ferrari, who signed Gilles for the following season, where he drove until his death in 1982 (aged 32) after a high-speed accident at 140 mph during qualifying at the Belgian Grand Prix. The chicane in which he died in Zolder was named in memory of Gilles Villeneuve-chicane.
Brief information about Enzo Ferrari and Gilles Villeneuve
Gilles Villeneuve was one of Enzo Ferrari’s favorite drivers. In fact, Enzo was team manager for Alfa Romeo when Tazio Nuvolari drove for the team in the 1930s. Enzo saw the similarities between the two drivers and after Gilles’ death his homage was incredibly personal … “His death robbed us of a great champion – one I loved very much. My past is marked by sadness; parents, brother, Son. My life is full of sad memories. I look back and see the faces of my loved ones and among them I see him. ”
The inspiration that led Jacques Villeneuve to the world title
Jacques was born in 1971 and should follow in his father’s footsteps. Jacques was just 11 years old when he lost his father, Gilles, in a Formula 1 accident. This did not deter the young Canadian. In fact, it inspired and spurred him on to achieve what his father didn’t have time for – to become world champion. Unlike his father, Jacques began his racing career in 1985 in the more conventional kart series, not in the snowmobile – at the age of 14. He was discovered in 1985 and invited to compete in a 100cc go-kart race in Imola. Jacques impressed the track owners and tested a 135cc kart and then a Formula 4 car.
Both attended the same driving school in Canada
After the death of his father, Jacques’ uncle played an important role in the development and advancement of his racing career and enrolled him in 1986 at the Jim Russell Racing Driver School in Mont Tremblant, where, interestingly, Gilles was also enrolled for his racing license. Jacques completed a three-day course in a Van Diemen Formula Ford 1600. At the age of 17 Jacques was invited to take part in the Italian Touring Car Championship, which was to be his racing car debut. Ironically, he was not granted a license by the Canadian and Italian authorities because he was one year below the minimum age. So he decided to get his international racing license in Andorra with the help of the Canadian Motor Racing Club. Jacques then signed a three-year deal to drive for Prema in Italian Formula 3 for Reynard-Alfa Romeo. Surprisingly, he struggled with the series and enrolled in the Magione Driving School to develop his skills under the guidance of Henry Morrogh. This training helped and Jacques qualified for each of the 12 laps and achieved 14th place in the drivers’ championship with 10 points.
Jacques drove in the CART before joining the Williams F1 Team in 1996, the engine of which was supplied by Renault. Jacques replaced David Coulthard, who was leaving the team, and Bernie Ecclestone took this opportunity to lure Jacques from CART. Jacques tested for Williams in August 1995 and signed a contract for 1996 and 1997 as a partner of Damon Hill with an option for 1998. When Damon left Williams for Arrows in 1997, Jacques was promoted to lead with a new teammate, Heinz-Harald Frentzen. In the same year Jacques fought the mighty Michael Schumacher before finally winning the Formula 1 drivers’ championship. Jacques Villeneuve was the first driver to win a CART championship, the Indianapolis 500, and a Formula 1 World Championship. He is also Canada’s first and (currently) only Formula 1 world champion.
Jacques Villeneuve was given the opportunity to honor his late father by driving the famous Number 12 Ferrari that he made famous.
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