Friday, January 27, 2012

Number 27

With today being the 27th I couldn’t help but think about the most famous number 27 in Ferrari’s history. All you tifosi will have surely guessed that I’m talking about Gilles Villeneuve. What is it about Gilles that inspires me so much? After all he died driving a Ferrari two years before I was even born. It isn’t simply the fact that he was arguably the greatest Canadian Formula 1 driver of all time (His son Jacques was statistically more successful, winning the World Championship in 1997…but lets face it, he never had the talent of his legendary father.) In fact, Gilles is considered by many to be amongst the greatest drivers of all time. For me Gilles was the physical embodiment of everything that I love about Ferrari…perhaps that is why Enzo Ferrari admired him so much. He was a fighter who could even drive a snowmobile fast (and indeed this was how he started his racing career.) He was determined, passionate and straightforward. I think that Gilles’s peer Jacques Laffite summed him up quite well when he said "I know that no human being can do a miracle. Nobody commands magical properties, but Gilles made you wonder. He was that quick."

The legend of Gilles Villeneuve is so intertwined with the legend of Ferrari itself that the little French Canadian’s presence is strongly felt in Maranello, even to this day. There are pictures of him in his racing overalls hanging in the streets, the museum is full of Gilles Villeneuve memorabilia and there is even a monument dedicated to him on a road that bears his name. Incidentally this is the same road that leads you to the entrance of Fiorano. For these reasons, the number 27 will always be special to me and to countless other tifosi.

Canadians pay tribute to their fallen hero every year when the Formula One circus comes to Montreal and races at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Although I have only ever attended races at two different circuits (Montreal and Monza) I have heard many people who have had the opportunity to watch Formula 1 all over the world state that the Canadian Grand Prix is amongst their favourites. Seeing as I grew up in Montreal, I think that the Canadian Grand Prix will also always hold a special place in my heart.

I started attending races with my father at the island circuit when I was a pre teen and first fell in love with Formula 1. I’ll never forget my first Grand Prix. It was 1998 and I was sitting at the Senna S (the first corner at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve) Aside from the spectacular collisions that I witnessed and of course the eventual Ferrari victory, one thing that stands out in my mind was the moment when I first saw a Formula 1 car. It was so big and polished to glossy perfection. The Ferrari red in those days was turning orange, but I still thought that it was magnificent. The engine notes were smooth and commanding and I could feel the ground tremble as I stood with my nose pressed up to the fence. Michael Schumacher was the Ferrari driver to watch and as he passed by he turned around to look at me from beneath his visor, searching for his braking point.

These days I couldn’t stand up against the fence like that even if I wanted to and the whole section where I witnessed my very first Grand Prix has been transformed into a VIP area. In recent years I have started sitting on the start/finish straight because I enjoy watching the team as they work throughout the weekend. Having been to Monza, I will say that Montreal still gives the fans amazing access to the cars and drivers. There is pit lane open day, which occurs a few days before the race weekend and the grandstands are notably close to the track. There is also the wonderful perk of being able to invade the circuit after all the action is completed. As a spectator you can get right under the podium for the champagne ceremony and the pit lane walls are very low so you can see right into the team’s garages and get close to parc ferme. The whole experience is very intimate.

The last time that I attended the Canadian Grand Prix was in 2010 when I first made my bold decision to give everything up and move to Italy. I decided that this year I will return to Montreal in June to catch the race. Currently I am debating where to sit, but I don’t want to procrastinate for too long because the event is always a sell out. As I said above, I have opted for the start/finish straight for several races and always enjoyed those seats. This year, however, I think that I will return to where it all began and sit at the first corner. I am looking forward to returning to my hometown and hopefully a Ferrari victory!

1 comment:

  1. *****PRIMO!*****

    And rightly so!

    Thanks for the great piece on my all time fav. F1 pilota

    Sadly missed by all

    PS/ On you visit back to Canada, please do photos of him home town and where he is buried etc.Thanks