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Dr. Strangelove

Formula One cars and heavy rain work about as well together as British transport and light snow. Much like many commuters over the past few weeks, drivers won't take the risk of going out in bad conditions if they don't have to. Lap times become meaningless as the track dries, a mistake could put an end to a whole weekend's work and, more than anything, it's downright dangerous.

So when only six cars ventured out for a practice session on a streaming wet Watkins Glen circuit in 1979, nobody was particularly surprised. Nothing was left to play for as the drivers' and constructors' titles had been sewn up by Jody Scheckter and Ferrari two races earlier at Monza. What was surprising, however, was just how much faster one car was going than the rest. The car in question was the No.12 Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve.

"When we saw him going out in the rain, we said, 'This we've got to see'," renowned F1 journalist Dennis Jenkinson recalled. "Some members of the press, who think they know it all, don't bother going out when it rains. But I was on the corner watching him and all the hardball members of the press were with me. We had to see this. It was something special. Oh, he was fantastic! He was unbelievable!"

Nigel Roebuck was another 'hardballer' who braved the elements and saw the performance first hand.

Gilles Villeneuve won huge respect from all those who saw him compete Sutton Images
"Gilles was the one bloke who made you go and look for a corner in a practice session, because you knew that where everybody else would go through it as if on rails, Gilles would be worth watching. That day in the rain at Watkins Glen was almost beyond belief. It truly was.

"You would think he had 300 horsepower more than anybody else. It just didn't seem possible. The speed he was travelling at didn't bear any relation to anybody else. He was 11 seconds faster. Jody was next fastest and couldn't believe it, saying he had scared himself rigid! I remember [Jacques] Laffite in the pits just giggling when Gilles went past and saying, 'Why do we bother? He's different from the rest of us. On a separate level'."

On returning to the pits Villeneuve whipped off his helmet and beamed at the assembled members of the paddock, who were looking on in disbelief. "That was fun," he said. "I was flat in fifth on the straight, about 160mph. It should have been faster but the engine had a misfire and was down about 600 revs. But for that I could have gone quite a bit faster, but then maybe I would have crashed."

A dry qualifying session the next day meant the time became meaningless and he qualified third. He then went on to win the wet race and finish second in the championship, four points behind his team-mate Scheckter. But with Villeneuve it wasn't about race wins and titles (he won just six races in his career and 1979 proved to be his best championship finish), it was about making the rest look average, about being on a separate level.

I love reading these stories. I already read an old book by Jackie Stewart, I might have to see if I can find a good one on Gilles, or Senna.
Yeah, Gilles very much knew no fear and never knew when to give up.

There was one particular grand prix in 1979 i believe where he fucked up, massive puncture but rim intact (but there was nothing left of the tire) and he hobbles the car back to the pits. By the time he gets to the pits the whole rear-left assembly was torn off and dragging against the ground hanging on by a single rod. All the FErrari mechanics were telling him it was a TKO but he kept insisting on them fixing it before they managed to coax him out of the car.
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