F1: Would Gilles Villeneuve be successful today? (Part 1 of 2)

I love motor racing. To me it’s a sport, not a technical exercise. My ideal Formula 1 car would be something like a McLaren M23 with a big normally aspirated engine, 800 hp, 21 inch rear tyres. A lot of people say we should have narrower tyres, but I don’t agree because you need big tyres to slow you down when you spin. And you need a lot of horsepower to unstick big tyres, to make the cars slide. That would be a bloody fantastic spectacle, I can tell you. We would take corners one gear lower than we do now, and get the cars sideways. You know, people still rave about Ronnie Peterson in a Lotus 72, and I understand that. I agree with them. That’s the kind of entertainment I want to give the crowds. Smoke the tyres ! Yeah ! I care about the fans, because I used to be one of them ! I believe the crowd is really losing out at the moment, and that’s bad.”

If Gilles Villeneuve could get back to life 30 years after and return to racing, he would be shocked. He thought that the F1 machines of his time had too much grip and too little horsepower. The behaviour of modern F1 cars would be repulsive to the little French Canadian. So much downforce and stability. And what about these “Formula 2” engines? Gilles would probably not be interested in making it to the pinnacle of open wheel racing so most likely we would not see him there. If somehow he ended up in Formula 1 and reproduced his performances of ’77 and ’78, he probably would have been fired. If he wasn’t fired he would quit out of boredom. Or because it’s too politically correct.

Where could he survive, or indeed thrive? Rallying would be an option, although he would be writing letters to the FIA to ressurrect Group B. He would try NASCAR and conclude that the machines are likeable but why the hell are they used to go round in circles like an idiot? And what is the point of tandem drafting? That’s not racing!

Whilst in North America he would check Indycar. If F1 was repulsive, a modern Indycar would make him vomit. He would call Randy Bernard and say “Randy, the closest thing I would consider doing is to drive those 90’s Indycars. I saw a few videos and yeah, wouldn’t mind racing those babies. Could you please bring them back?”

Motor racing used to be wild. Now it’s civilised. That’s why we love Villeneuve. Like the centre of the universe, he represents something that is lost in the spacetime continuum and we can never access again…


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