This year sees the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Gilles Villeneuve, a man nowhere near as famous as Senna to the world at large and yet one that I feel would easily befit a documentary in the same mould as Senna. The publicity surrounding this sad occasion has reminded many F1 fans who would put Gilles at the same level as Senna in terms of their standing in the world of motor racing. I feel that Villeneuve is a man that should not escape mention in a book about Ayrton Senna.
The two men shared many qualities:
FIA doctor Professor Sid Watkins considered Senna and Villeneuve, amongst all the drivers with whom he has worked, the most similar not only on the track but also in terms of their terrifying behaviour behind the wheel of a road car.
“Because they were so confident, they didn’t allow for ordinary mortals. With people at their level, the biggest chance of an accident was always what the other driver’s reaction was going to be to what they were doing.
“They were very alike in lots of ways, those two: both chargers on the track, but wonderfully gentle human beings. What distinguishes people like them from the rest is their flair, their total commitment, and their precision. If you were out on the track in the medical car, they’d miss you by a centimetre as they came by. That would never worry me with people like them – but some of these others, I wouldn’t give them a metre!”
And yet, despite Villeneuve’s heroic status among die-hard F1 fans, some of whom were not yet born when he died, it is some how doubtful that all but the most serious followers of the sport would go to see a film about him. This could because he died before F1 was truly a global TV sport, because his death occurred during qualifying when fewer viewers are likely to tune in, or because, aside from being a demon behind the wheel, he was merely a chap who was partial to playing the piano, was married with two children,and was by all accounts an absolutely lovely bloke?
Jeremy Clarkson is a man known for not shying away from expressing his often deliberately exaggerated opinions. He is known for talking in hyperbolic terms about everything from the latest supercar to the blend of coffee beans he uses in the morning.
He rather oddly said, in a 2010 Top Gear tribute, ‘I was never a Senna fan. I always thought that Gilles Villeneuve was the greatest racing driver of them all. But the thing is that Villeneuve was spectacular on a number of occasions…Senna was spectacular every time he got in a car.’
I think he’s got that in reverse. Villeneuve took his never-give-up philosophy to levels that could be almost considered idiotic, like when he trailed his Ferrari back to the pits at Zandvoort in 1979, leaving sparks and bits of car in his wake, or drove with his front wing bent up into his line of vision, in the driving rain in Montreal in 1981.
Senna was too intelligent a man to drive his 141 Grands Prix 100% flat-out all the time, despite his reputation. He said it himself.
‘I don’t care how strong or fit the driver; you can’t drive flat out the whole distance.’
It is often said that good drivers are unbeatable on their day, whereas great drivers have ‘days’ every time they wake up in the morning. This is what separates the crowd’s heroes from drivers like Senna. Apart from in Brazil and Japan he wasn’t as beloved as people would have you believe: especially in places like Britain, France or Italy.
It may be controversial to say it, but was Senna an exciting driver? He was many things: incredibly fast, scythingly quick through traffic, an opportunistic overtaker, but was he like Gilles? No.
source: © fanalistas.co.uk