“He understood that I wasn’t that happy. And because of that Gilles started to give me something every year on my birthday. The very first gift he gave me it was the white Simpson gloves that he signed to me. And then for the next birthday, he gave me the Nomex. And then the overalls. And then the helmet, and then the boots. So my Spiderman was completed. And it was at home. So I was happy.”
In summer, the Villeneuve and Giacobazzi families literally lived side-by side, in motorhomes parked next to each other in the paddocks of European races. “Every time at night, after dinner, me and his boy Jacques and Melanie spent some time together before going to bed.
“He was hanging around with my father, my mother, it was like a travelling family life. We were using this motorhome that we still have to go around all the grands prix in Europe.
“Gilles was like a big brother, my only idol. I haven’t had any idol since then: I was really living with my idol.”
Gilles with wife Joann, daughter Melanie and son Jacques in 1977
After a difficult 1981 season developing Ferrari’s first turbocharged car, the following year brought hope of Villeneuve achieving the much-promised championship. He’d shown that he had the measure of Pironi and in the improved V6-powered 126 he had a car capable of winning consistently.
After three races without scoring points, Imola was where his title bid would begin. At a pre-race press lunch, guests laughed off a prediction from a magician performing tricks that Pironi would win the race.
”Gilles was absolutely the leader of the team,” says Giacobazzi. “Everybody was sure that Gilles was winning, because in 1981, Pironi, didn’t even get on the podium and Gilles got two famous victories.
“In qualifying, the first row was Renault and within second [of René Arnoux’s pole time] was Villeneuve third. Two seconds behind [Arnoux] — two seconds with the same car — was Pironi fourth.
Arnoux and Prost lead at the start of the 1982 San Marino GP
It was a bizarre weekend from the start, with most British teams on strike and remaining at home after a dispute over cars’ minimum weight.
With only Ferrari and Renault having a realistic chance of winning, a furtive deal was struck between the two teams and the circuit to ensure the crowd witnessed ‘a race’ but which also reduced the risk of cars breaking down, putting current concerns about entertainment and sporting integrity into perspective.
Giacobazzi says that he has consistently been told the same account by leading Ferrari figures and mechanics from that time. “Everybody told me the same story,” he says. “There was a deal made the night before at the Olympia Hotel. And then another deal that was confirmed with [Roberto] Nosetto, the director of the circuit, the two Renault drivers and the two Ferrari drivers.
“Nosetto was taking care about the show. So because of this he asked the drivers to do the show, but once the half race was done, they will keep in the position to finish the race because Ferrari was having a lot of brake problems.”
In the race, the Ferraris fought Arnoux for the lead. At half-distance, the Renault driver took Villeneuve for the lead. But then the Grand Prix took an unexpected turn. Arnoux’s engine blew up on the pit straight, and Ferrari took a comfortable 1-2 lead.
Villeneuve eased up so that Pironi joined him to reel off the remaining 15 laps in a triumphant “Ferrari Festival”,” we reported. “They were both given the “SLOW” signal and Villeneuve knocked the pace down.”
San Marino Grand Prix 1982 with Pironi, No28, leading
What happened next is legend, as the Ferrari pair repeatedly, aggressively battled for the lead, Pironi stepping up the pace each time Villeneuve slowed. “Gilles was sure that he was doing this for the public, so he was sure that he was winning the race in the end,” says Giacobazzi. “We know how it ended.”
He was in the motorhome with his father when Gilles walked in, furious. “It was quite a surprise to see Gilles coming in our motorhome because he was supposed to be on the podium so my father asked him: ‘Did you go on the podium?’
“‘I don’t want to go’
“‘If you don’t want to do this for you, you should do this for the tifosi’.
“Villeneuve went out, came back with a trophy and [threw] the trophy to my father. He said, ‘Remember my trophy’s been stolen, this I brought for you.’ That’s really the last image I have of him.
The sign calling for the cars to slow at Imola
Grand Prix Photo
“That day the team was managed by Marco Piccinini because [team manager] Mauro Forghieri wasn’t there on Sunday.
“Piccinini was the witness of Pironi in his wedding the week before. Gilles Villeneuve was not even invited. So when my father asked, ‘Gilles, why didn’t he invite you to the wedding?’ he said he probably forgot.
“Because Gilles was genuine. He wasn’t a political guy, you know, he was really crystal clear. He had something to say he did. If you betrayed him, you betrayed him forever. There is not a second chance.”
Villeneuve, his fury still raging, took immediate action. “He rang my father and he said, I’m gonna leave Ferrari the end of the year I need to talk to you,” says Giacobazzi. “He went to have a meeting with [Enzo] Ferrari and Jody Scheckter.
Villeneuve’s Giacobazzi-sponsored overalls from 1982
Grand Prix Photo
“Ferrari instead of, you know, begging Gilles, he said, ‘Gilles, what do you want? In the end a Ferrari won’ which is very typical of Enzo Ferrari, because Gilles was becoming bigger than Ferrari: it was Villeneuve winning in Jarama, it was Villeneuve winning the very first race for the Ferrari turbo in Monaco. It was not Ferrari doing miracles, you know, it was the driver.
“As it happened many times in the past, you know, because if you look from Alberto Ascari to Niki Lauda in the Ferrari, almost every world champion he has kicked away from the company. Because he was intending that the car and the Ferrari team is in front of everybody else.
“Gilles asked my father if he wanted to follow him, and he said, Look, Gilles, because of the relationship with Enzo Ferrari we’ll never quit the team, but I will definitely stay with you. So I will do both.
“It is still nowadays unclear to me if it was to build a Villeneuve team, which was not unusual, because at the time you had a Fittipaldi team and Merzario team, or to go to Williams or McLaren. Or maybe to stay in Ferrari in the end.”