Formula One sets out on its new course as Bernie Ecclestone begins to tighten his grip on it — can the magazine keep up with the times?
Driver: Gilles Villeneuve
These days we’re always being told that “things aren’t what they used to be” as far as grand prix drivers are concerned. After spending a couple of hours chatting to this French-Canadian driver prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix meeting, we can report that the same emotions, enthusiasm and attitudes which have motivated great drivers through the ages still prevail in 1981. Many people on the inside of the grand prix game may feel that Villeneuve is a political animal whose opinions are shaped by loyalty to his own racing team. We think that Villeneuve’s whole approach to motor racing shows such allegations to be shallow and ill-considered.
He has driven for the Maranello team in typically enthusiastic style, his determination to give his best never once wavering with the team’s varying fortunes.
Watching Villeneuve in practice at Long Beach, locking up the wheels of his Ferrari into corners and scrambling round under circumstances which were sending lesser drivers skating up the escape roads, the sheer effort he was putting into his driving was plain to see. But what is he looking for in his own performance, and what does he seek to improve?
“I think we’ve got to realise that the perfect lap doesn’t exist,” he says. “My idea is to get as close as I can as often as I can to it, and to make fewer mistakes than anybody else. I am very conscious of thinking about my driving when I’m away from the track, wondering where I can make some slight further improvement. I am always trying to brake deeper, yet get on the power out of a corner earlier.”
Inevitably, there will be occasions when a driver loses control. If you examine photographs of talented drivers spinning you will see them twisting their head, trying to face the way they are going. This faculty of remaining orientated is not something that you can learn, but is something you are born with, and `naturals’ like Villeneuve have it to a high degree. Is he aware of it?
“As far as the qualities I’m consciously aware of, I think the will to survive is probably the most crucial. So when I’m spinning down the road it’s this will to survive that makes me try to work out where the car is going. I want to go on racing, and that means extricating yourself from this sort of problem.”
There is one thing which Villeneuve insists without a trace of brashness: “I will never ease off, except when I am first. I have never got out of a car and said, ‘I could have tried harder’.”
According to most grand prix drivers, the races one doesn’t win are the ones which demand the most effort. Villeneuve endorses this.
“Take Montreal in 79, when I finished second to Jones. I put everything I’d got into that race and I derived tremendous satisfaction from finishing second. Again, when I finished second ahead of Amoux at Dijon the same year — we were both absolutely flat-out. Very satisfying.
Villeneuve has a genuine concern for motor racing. But he also feels that grand prix racing is lacking in certain areas. There is not enough overtaking, he feels.
“People come to see racing, not processions,” he says, getting suddenly very firm. “In Formula One we have too much adhesion to deal with the power. When I first drove the McLaren M23, Stowe and Club at Silverstone were comers, where the car was sliding. That’s the situation we need now. Give us 800bhp and then we’ll be able to sort the men from the boys.” — AH