Mark Hughes, Autosport F1 reporter here. I've been following the Gilles Villeneuve thread and read your comments with interest. I’m reluctant to join the forum discussion because it rightly belongs to readers, not journalists. But while fully respecting the views of everyone on here, on Gilles there's one particular bit that actually I thought I could supply you with a bit more detail on, if you're interested. The bit where cheapracer says:
“No, the way you abuse your extra hp does it. There's not a sensible person alive who would agree Gilles had car sensitivity.”
I would argue that actually the common perception of Gilles lacking sensitivity is a myth, however destructive he may have been. His tyre sensitivity was amazingly good - as I believe I can show you with both the history books and the recollections of those I've interviewed over the years. I happen to have all this stuff handy because I've just been writing features for the forthcoming 30th anniversary of his death.
Some hard facts first:
Montreal 1978. He chose the 143 compound Michelin, significantly softer than the 135 chosen by Reutemann and the Renaults. Michelin advised they did not think it could do a race distance. He proved them wrong and won the race.
Long Beach 1979. He made the exact same choice of 143 compound. Again his team mate (Scheckter) and the other Michelin runners went for the harder compound. Michelin again said they thought it was marginal - he again proved them wrong and won the race.
In 1980, the T5 was such a dog of a car often it could not make its tyres do a full distance. The Michelins had developed to work on the ground effect Renault by now. Neither Scheckter nor Villeneuve could make them last but Villeneuve almost always made them last longer than Scheckter - whilst invariably being well ahead of him. Here are the numbers from that year at the races where they had to stop:
Brazil. GV stopped L8. Scheckter L9. (the exception that proves the rule!)
Long Beach. Scheckter L4. Villeneuve lap 39 (though this was because Scheckter had flat spotted)
Monaco. Scheckter lap 13. Villeneuve lap 21.
France. Scheckter lap 11. Villeneuve lap 21.
Germany. Villeneuve lap 13. Scheckter lap 17 (another one!)
Austria. Scheckter lap 8. Villeneuve lap 20.
Holland. Scheckter lap 10. Villeneuve lap 17.
Miss out the anomalous one where Scheckter has flat spotted and on average Gilles was making those tyres last about 5 laps longer than Scheckter.
Now here's some quotes I got from various people about this particular point (Villeneuve's tyre usage).
Pierre Dupasquier (Michelin): "Yes, he was a little crazy. But I tell you, he was not hard on the tyre! He had fantastic feel and sensitivity. I could not believe it at first, but he was giving us really good direction from when we first started testing with Ferrari, much better than we were getting with Renault. Of the two Ferrari drivers at that time, Reutemann was very sensitive too, but Gilles could actually make them last longer. At Montreal we told him no way were those tyres going to last - but they did. He was like a magician with tyres! I know people dont realise this because the image is of him driving with three wheels and locking up fighting Arnoux, but those instances were not about making the tyres last. When he again made the choice of the soft tyre for Long beach in '79 I was again concerned, but by this time I had more faith in him because of what he had done in Montreal - and also what he had done one race before Long Beach at Kyalami. If you remember, there he came from half a minute back to catch Scheckter, made Jody work his tyres too hard and then just cruised past."
Scheckter: "He loved the image he had at Ferrari as the daredevil. But it was just for show. I used to ride with him from Nice and all the way there he would drive perfectly normal but as soon as he got near the factory and people were recognising him, he'd be wheelspinning and sliding and driving like a crazy man. It was just show. He was actually a very sensitive driver, he seemed to have a better feel for tyres than I did, could seem to make them last better even when he was going faster. That wasn't really an issue for me in '79, but it certainly was in '80."
Bruno Giacomelli: "He was not only fantastically quick. He had everything. He knew a lot of the technical side - in fact, he was a connoisseur of that. He knew exactly what the car was doing and he could talk about it very well. He was a very sensitive driver actually. He was certainly the greatest driver I ever saw - a guy that was going to win many, many world championships. When he first arrived in F1 his driving style was not really suitable for F1. He was still quick but the style made him have accidents too. But he learned and though he remained spectacular, he became smooth as well. People get the two confused. You can still be super-smooth but be right on the limits, using all the track and more. People saw him pushing like hell because his cars weren't competitive in 1980 and '81 - up on the grass, crazy things - but I tell you, he was smooth in the way that he used the car, in the inputs he made into it. You could see that just following him. He had one of the smoothest styles of all of us."
There's more, but I've probably bored you enough. I, like some of you, watched every race Gilles did live. For me, he was head and shoulders above the others - and quite a few (but not all) of his peers agreed. Laffite, Lauda, Arnoux, Prost, Tambay all are on record as saying he was the best of them all.
Brilliant stuff Mark, thank you.