Letter to CBC

From: Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff
Newsgroups: rec.autos.sport.f1
GillesSubject: G.Villeneuve on CBC National
Date: Mon May 13, 1996

Last Wednesday, on May 8th, the CBC did a small piece on Gilles Villeneuve.  It was aired at the very end of Canada's 'The National' news show in their Flashback segment.  I stewed on it all night and most of the next day and finally decided I had to say something.  I sent the following message to The National's email address (national@toronto.cbc.ca).  I haven't received any reply, nor did I really expect to.  So I thought I would just post the same message here.  Maybe if other people wrote in too, it might prompt a response.


Date: Thu May  9 16:26:56 1996
From: Ferdinand Trauttmansdorff
Subject: Gilles Villeneuve - Flashback
To: National@toronto.cbc.ca

I suppose it was good to see 'The National' giving any tribute at all to Gilles Villeneuve on the 14th anniversary of his death.  I'm certain you've already received many responses, but I feel a strong need to add my own opinions and to tell you that I am very disappointed in what was aired last night in your Almanac segment.

Formula AtlanticI was a big fan of Gilles Villeneuve from the moment I first saw him drive a Formula Atlantic car at Mosport.  I followed his career into Formula One with fascination.  I was at Mosport again to see him drive in his first Canadian Formula One Grand Prix.

Victory in MontrealAnd I was in Montreal the following year when he won a Grand Prix for the first time, at home in front of his wildly ecstatic fans.  I have gone to every Canadian Grand Prix since.

Contrary to popular opinion, race fans do NOT go to races hoping to see someone killed.  For me, the attraction has always been to see a skilled driver controlling a car at the very limits of its performance.  It is extremely difficult to put together a perfect lap.  It is next to impossible to repeat a perfect lap again and again over the full distance of a Grand Prix.  It is a joy to witness the most skilled drivers in the world attempting this feat.  It was also a source of some pride that a Canadian should be at the pinnacle of this group of talented drivers.

To win in anything, one must make less mistakes than the competition.  In this respect, auto racing is similar to any other competitive sport.  For instance, if you blow a shot in golf it is very difficult to recover the lost stroke unless your competition later makes a similar mistake.  Overstepping the limits in auto racing most often results in only the loss of a few milliseconds of lap time.  Or a misjudgment may cost the driver a track position if a competitor can profit from the mistake by successfully passing.  A more significant mistake can result in an expensive repair bill for a damaged car.  In thankfully rare cases the mistake can result in injuries.  And in a few extremely rare incidents, the outcome can be fatal.

GIlles 27Why is it that the media generally tends to ignore the accomplishments of auto racers until someone is killed?  Why is it that in tribute to Canada's greatest auto racer to date, the CBC chose not to highlight any of the brilliant accomplishments of Gilles Villeneuve - accomplishments for which he is still passionately admired by fans all around the world?  Instead, fourteen years after the fact, the CBC chose to air only footage of his fatal crash complete with a shot of the track marshalls attempting to resuscitate his lifeless body.

Shame on you!  I am astounded to see that the CBC has sunk to the depths of some of the American stations who like to lead off their tabloid-style newscasts with graphic footage of the latest highway fatalities.  I mean really, even golf can be dangerous.  Suppose a famous golfer like Greg Norman were to be struck by lightning and killed in action on the golf course.  If he were to be remembered in tribute fourteen years after the fact, do you think his fans would rather see scenes from the day he finally won the Masters, or do you really believe his fans would prefer to see him struck by lightning again?

Victory Lap in MontrealI count myself lucky to have seen Gilles Villeneuve drive a Formula One car and to have been there at his first win on that freezing cold day in Montreal, sharing the jubilation of the crowd.  I remember too the following years when the Ferrari was less competitive, yet Villeneuve consistently wrestled performances from his car that awed everyone.

Watkins Glen in the RainFor instance, there was qualifying at Watkins Glen in the rain in 1979.  Differences in F1 lap times usually are measured in thousandths of a second.  Villeneuve's Ferrari teammate, Jody Scheckter, had just set the fastest qualifying lap and said that he had scared himself silly doing it because of the appallingly wet conditions.  Villeneuve promptly beat his time by a full 11 (eleven!!!) seconds!

Then there was the French Grand Prix in 1979 which should have been remembered for being the race in which Jean-Pierre Jabouille won the first F1 victory for the all-French Renault team.  It really should have been a one-two finish for the Renault team in their home Grand Prix.  Yet for the rest of time, that race at Dijon will be remembered for the titanic, wheel-banging duel in the last two laps during which Villeneuve in his Ferrari successfully grabbed 2nd place away from Rene Arnoux in the second Renault.  No one who witnessed that race will ever forget it!  [See Dijon79.mpeg with sound (1,971 k)].

Zandvoort - Click for story and picturesNor will they ever forget Villeneuve's determined effort at Zandvoort Holland in 1979 to bring his Ferrari back to the pits, with the flat left rear tire flailing madly.  The tire gradually tore away the whole wheel and suspension assembly.  Yet Villeneuve managed to deliver the steaming wreck all the way back to the pits, not willing to acknowledge that his race was done.  (Click here for full story and more pictures.)

Jarama Spain 1981 -  Click for story and pictureOr how about Spain in 1981?  Villeneuve succeeded in fending off the attacks of superior cars for the entire race distance, ultimately leading a train of five cars nose-to-tail over the finish line.

Monaco 1981And there was his win in Monaco in 1981 in the turbo-charged Ferrari, the first time a turbo-charged car won in Monaco.  The power characteristics of the turbo cars were such that the throttle pedal could just as easily have been replaced with an on/off switch.  The sudden extreme power delivery of the turbo engines was particularly unsuited to the very tight Monaco circuit and Villeneuve's victory there is considered nothing short of miraculous.

Anyone lucky enough to have witnessed Villeneuve's performances behind the wheel will certainly have other cherished memories to share.  And every single one of those people, like myself, will surely also have painfully and permanently seared into their memories those images from May 8, 1982.  It really was not necessary to air them again last night.  [Everyone will also have remembered that it was a Saturday, not a Sunday afternoon as Peter Mansbridge incorrectly reported.]

Sideways again.When Pierre Bourque and his Gilles Villeneuve Commemorative Stamp Project finally succeed in getting Canada Post to issue a commemorative stamp, I trust they will choose a more appropriate image to remember him by.  My preference would be one with the #27 Ferrari riding up the curbing at full opposite-lock in a huge power slide with sparks flying!

Niger - Jacques Stampp.s. It would be refreshing to see Jacques Villeneuve mentioned in any article just once without the constant reference that he is the son of "Gilles Villeneuve who was killed in qualifying at Zolder in 1982."  Jacques is already a superstar in his own right.  And he is well on his way to reaching the F1 World Championship which his father tragically never attained.

p.p.s.  The Republic of Niger printed a postage stamp in honour of  Jacques Villeneuve one year before Canada finally issued a stamp in honour of Gilles.  Stamp sourced from the webpage of "Michel Talbot" <mtalbot@odysssee.net>.

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