1983 was a very emotional year on hallowed home soil for Maranello and the Tifosi, as victory was to help remember a fallen hero, thanks to a man that took his place under very difficult circumstances. Gilles Villeneuve was an “adopted” son, a treasure that was highly praised by both Scuderia Ferrari and the Tifosi, who idolized him greatly and were hoping for good things in the future with the Canadian family man. However, that was never to be the case…
Gilles’ horrific death at Zolder at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix was a very difficult affair for his family, the team and the fans to deal with, as the Canadian’s car collided with Jochen Mass’ March at the Terlamenbocht corner at around 140mph, launching him into the catch fencing without his race helmet. Such was the force of the resulting injuries, Gilles lost his life at 9.12pm that evening, and the world of motorsport mourned another lost soul, as motorsport still to this day has its moments that we wish to not remember, but cannot forget.
A young French driver by the name of Patrick Tambay, whose interview with us last year you can find here, was called by the late Enzo Ferrari to take the place of Gilles behind the wheel of the #27 Ferrari 126C after the tragic turn of events in Belgium. Tambay was able to secure his first of two wins at the German Grand Prix later that year, with it being only his fourth race with the Scuderia.
But when the “Prancing Horse” came back to home soil at Imola the following year, with the Tifosi making clear their affection, as well as which driver they wanted to win that race. Being a part of the F1 community, as well as being Jacques’ godfather, Patrick really showed how much of an emotional affair it was for everyone in this brief excerpt from the interview itself: “Altogether, it really felt like a magical, unreal, spiritual and emotional moment. The Italian fans had put their faith and support in me to drive the number 27 Red Ferrari, in honour of their fallen hero, to victory.”
The Tifosi are a very powerful band of united brothers and sisters based around the globe, that help to will and push Scuderia Ferrari towards victory, as it is the oldest team in the history of the sport, with success unparalleled throughout the last six or so decades. That “force majeure” was there, as the fans were packing out the San Marino circuit in force, with the hillsides full to bursting point.
Race 4 of the 1983 season was held at the Autodromo Dino Ferrari (later known as the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, after the passing of “Il Commendatore” in 1988), with the Emilio-Romagna region seeing a sea of fans, mainly in scarlet red, flock to see both Tambay and Rene Arnoux uphold Italian honor and pride for those that would chant loudly and wear the Ferrari symbol proudly.
Qualifying went well for the French duo, as Arnoux secured pole, with Tambay in 3rd behind Nelson Piquet, who promptly stalled as the pair of Ferrari 126C2Bs shot off into the distance, ahead of Riccardo Patrese, Alain Prost and Andrea de Cesaris. Patrese was the man on the move, as his Brabham was the fastest car out there, as the Italian took the lead on Lap 6.
However, due to a pitstop issue for the Brabham driver on Lap 34, Tambay took the lead and kept his head until Patrese came back at him in the latter stages of the 60-lap race. However, he took back the lead with just six laps to go at Tosa, passing Tambay, but at Acque Minerale, he ran off the road and hit the barriers, forcing his retirement.
The French driver lead a clean sweep of the podium at Imola, which was clearly a race of attrition that year, with both Prost and Arnoux rounding out the top three places, as Tambay secured an emotional win on home soil for Ferrari. The banderoles were clear to see, the cheer for victory by a Ferrari driver was huge, plus with the win being dedicated to Gilles himself, one of the many fallen heroes we have lost over the years, it was one to never be forgotten and emotional for all to celebrate.
Villeneuve’s legacy was carried on by his son, Jacques, who is Patrick’s godson, who went on to achieve so much more that his father had not, both in Indycar and Formula One. Gilles’ time with the Scuderia was not that long, but during those days of speed and bravado, the Canadian did himself, Ferrari and his home country proud on his short-lived and very brief affair with the fastest sport on four wheels.
The emotions that followed after such a welcomed victory was one of those moments where tribute was paid in the right way, and that a man’s life was celebrated, rather than his passing. Tambay said that he was not alone in that car that day, so maybe a guardian angel was there to keep him on the track, and take the chequered flag as everyone on of the Tifosi had hoped…..
Images courtesy of Patrick Tambay and motor posts.com (c)