'My husband the true racer': Gilles Villeneuve's wife, Joann pays tribute, 40 years on


Gilles Villeneuve's love of racing at the limit is among the memories shared by his wife Joann in a new interview to mark the 40th anniversary of his death

Gilles Villeneuve‘s wife, Joann, has paid tribute to him as a true racer who sought out the very edge of performance, in a video clip released to commemorate the anniversary of his death at Zolder.

Sunday will mark 40 years since the Ferrari driver’s fatal crash during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix and the footage features Joann sharing memories of his charismatic talent and his thrill of driving on the limit.

“The edge of it is where you have to be,” says Joann in the footage from an upcoming documentary. “And to him, the best thing that could happen is when the rear tires would just touch the guardrail, and he would come back with this huge smile on his face and he would say, ‘I kissed the guardrails everywhere. Perfect’.

“He was just a true racer at heart.”

From the archive

The short video was released by the makers of Villeneuve Pironi, a feature-length documentary, which charts Villeneuve and team-mate Didier Pironi‘s explosive, tragic 1982 F1 season.

The pair’s friendship switched to animosity at the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix, when Pironi ignored team orders and overtook the leading Ferrari, costing Villeneuve a deserved win.

The anger was still evident two weeks later when Villeneuve left the pits at Zolder on a mission to best Pironi in qualifying. He never returned.

“He was just this really down to earth guy coming from this little town in Canada,” says Joann in the video, which will form part of the documentary. “His way of driving, his personality, the fact that he had learned to speak Italian: all that made him likeable.

“He just embraced the whole thing. I think he just could deal with pressure in a different way. It didn’t look that way from the outside because he just seemed so calm.”

Nigel Roebuck and Maurice Hamilton, who witnessed the 1982 season first-hand, have written a new account of the Ferrari drivers’ rivalry in the June 2022 issue of Motor Sport.

Villeneuve Pironi is due to be released this autumn by Noah Media Group and Sky Studios, using archive footage of the drivers and interviews from both families to tell the story in greater depth.

Further footage from the documentary will be broadcast during coverage of the Miami Grand Prix, including interviews with Villeneuve’s children Melanie and F1 champion Jacques.