Everyone has that one memory of a certain moment in history- when their hero died. Elvis, Senna, you name it. For me though, May the 8th 1982 is the one I will always remember. The day the music died.
In the late 70s, Dad and I were huge F1 fans and both quickly became fans of Gilles Villeneuve. He was arguably the fastest driver on the grid, some said the fastest of all time, and he was definitely the most spectacular. We used to watch the BBC coverage of the races and in the event my mother would not let me stay up, Dad would record the race- on an audio cassette – and I would get up extra early and listen to it the next day before school!
In 1981, having battled, and entertained, for a few years in cars rarely comparable with the best, Villeneuve got his first turbo car, the 126CK. Despite a useless chassis, he scored two famous wins in Monaco and Spain, much to the delight of Dad and I. Over the winter, Ferrari built a new Harvey Postlethwaite designed car, the 126 C2. This was the first ever full monocoque Ferrari and was immediately hailed as a vast improvement over its predecessor. This, thought Dad and I, could be Gilles’ year…..
Exciting as he was to watch, our hero had more than his fair share of incidents. On the fateful weekend in May 1982, Dad and I were on a classic car run based in the Ryans Hotel in Sligo. When we got in from the Saturday part of the run Dad said he had heard that Gilles had crashed, and that it was a big one. There was no internet back then and definitely no Twitter, but I wasn’t worried. He would be fine and he would definitely put manners on Didier Pironi tomorrow, to avenge the stolen victory last time out at Imola.
The next morning Dad and I hurried down to the lobby to get the paper. I opened the paper, flicked through to the sports pages- nothing! I triumphantly said to Dad “nothing here- he must be fine!” I can still see my Dad’s face when I looked up and I still have the front page of that paper with the headline “Ferrari Ace Crashes To Death”……
From then on, Dad and I had little or no interest in F1. I remember watching the next race after he died and feeling there was nobody worth watching. Obviously the love of the sport came back, but it was never the same.
Here is why: