Motor sport

The real Gilles Villeneuve: inside the motorhome after the Imola betrayal

“He understood that I was not so happy. And because of that Gilles started giving me something every year on my birthday. The very first present he gave me was the Simpson white gloves he signed for 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 finished. And it was at home. So I was happy.

In the summer, the Villeneuve and Giacobazzi families literally lived side by side, in camper vans parked next to each other in the European racing paddocks. “Each time at night, after dinner, me and her boy Jacques and Melanie spent time together before going to bed.

“He was hanging out with my dad, my mum, it was like a traveling family life. We were using this motorhome that we still have to drive around all the grands prix in Europe.

“Gilles was like a big brother, my only idol. I haven’t had an idol since: I really lived with my idol.

Gilles with his wife Joann, his daughter Mélanie and his son Jacques in 1977


After a difficult 1981 season developing Ferrari’s first turbocharged car, the following year brought hope that Villeneuve would win the much-promised championship. He had shown he had the measure of Pironi and in the upgraded V6-powered 126 he had a car capable of winning consistently.

After three races without scoring, Imola was where his title bid would begin. At a pre-race press lunch, guests laughed at a prediction by a magician performing tricks that Pironi would win the race.

“Gilles was absolutely the leader of the team,” says Giacobazzi. “Everyone was sure that Gilles was winning, because in 1981 Pironi didn’t even get on the podium and Gilles won two famous victories.

“In qualifying, the first row was Renault and in the second [of René Arnoux’s pole time] was Villeneuve third. two seconds late [Arnoux] – two seconds with the same car – was Pironi fourth.

1982 San Marino GP rt

Arnoux and Prost in the 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 staying home after a row over minimum car weights.

With only Ferrari and Renault having a realistic chance of winning, a stealth deal was struck between the two teams and the circuit to ensure the crowds saw “one race”, but which also reduced the risk of cars breaking down, putting current entertainment concerns and sporting integrity into perspective.

Giacobazzi says he always heard the same tale from leading Ferrari personalities and mechanics of that era. “Everyone told me the same story,” he says. “There was a deal made the day 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 took care of the show. So because of that he asked the drivers to put on a show but once the half race is over they will stay in position to finish the race as Ferrari had a lot of brake issues.

In the race, the Ferraris battled Arnoux for the lead. Halfway through the race, the Renault driver took Villeneuve in the lead. But then the Grand Prix took an unexpected turn. Arnoux’s engine exploded on the pit straight and Ferrari took a comfortable 1-2 lead.

Villeneuve calmed down for Pironi to join him in lapping the remaining 15 laps in a triumphant ‘Ferrari Festival’, we reported. “They both received the ‘SLOW’ signal and Villeneuve slowed the pace.”

Didier Pironi beats Gilles Villeneuve at the 1982 San Marino GP

1982 San Marino Grand Prix with Pironi, n°28, in the lead

What happened next is legendary, as the Ferrari pair repeatedly and aggressively battled for the lead, Pironi picking up the pace every time Villeneuve slowed. “Gilles was sure he was doing this for the public, so he was sure 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 entered, furious. “It was quite a surprise to see Gilles arrive in our motorhome because he had to be on the podium so my father asked him: ‘Did you get on the podium?’

“‘I do not want to go’

“‘If you don’t want to do this for yourself, you should do it for him. tifosi’.

“Villeneuve went out, came back with a trophy and [threw] the trophy to my father. He said, ‘Remember my trophy was stolen, I brought it to you.’ It’s really the last image I have of him.

Ferrari sign calling for cars to slow down at the 1982 San Marino Grand Prix

The sign urging cars to slow down in Imola

Photo Grand Prize

“That day the team was led by Marco Piccinini because [team manager] Mauro Forghieri was not there on Sunday.

“Piccinini was Pironi’s best man at 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 authentic. He wasn’t a politician, you know, he was really crystal clear. He had something to say that he did. If you betrayed him, you betrayed him forever. There are no second chances. »

Villeneuve, his fury still unleashed, acted immediately. “He called my dad and he said, I’m going to leave Ferrari at the end of the year, I need to talk to you,” Giacobazzi explained. “He went to have a meeting with [Enzo] Ferrari and Jody Scheckter.


Overalls sponsored by Giacobazzi de Villeneuve from 1982

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“Ferrari instead of, you know, begging Gilles, he said, ‘Gilles, what do you want? In the end it’s a Ferrari that wins, very typical of Enzo Ferrari, because Gilles was getting taller than Ferrari: it was Villeneuve winning at Jarama, it was Villeneuve winning the very first Ferrari turbo race in Monaco, it wasn’t Ferrari doing miracles, you know, it was the driver.

“As has 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 kicked out of the company. Because that he intended the car and the Ferrari team to be in front of everyone.

“Gilles asked my dad if he wanted to follow him, and he said, Listen, Gilles, because of the relationship with Enzo Ferrari, we will never leave the team, but I will definitely stay with you. So I will do both.

“It is still difficult for me today to know whether it was to build a Villeneuve team, which was not unusual, because at the time you had a Fittipaldi team and a Merzario team, or to go to Williams. Or McLaren Or maybe stay in Ferrari at the end.