Ferrari logo

Picture story: When Enzo shared a laugh with Gilles

07 gennaio 2019

Richard Aucock

Enzo Ferrari loved Gilles Villeneuve, as this image proves. We tell the story behind the photo

By the 1980s, Enzo Ferrari preferred not to visit racing circuits, with the exception of Fiorano. He had experienced many highs, but also too many lows: cars crashed, legendary drivers lost. He spent race days at home or at the factory, being fed information from trusted confidants at the track via telephone. However, after staying away from racetracks for almost a decade, Enzo decided, one hot day in July, to go back. The circuit was Imola, named after his son Dino, which was to host the 1980 Italian Grand Prix just a few months later. He arrived around lunchtime to watch the team test the 1980 T5 racer, with star driver Gilles Villeneuve at the wheel. This famous photo, a familiar sight to anyone who’s visited the Ferrari Driver Academy, captures a moment from that day.

Here, in black-and-white, we see the warmth and cerebral connection between the two men, which went far beyond team owner and driver, or boss and employee. Both men are laughing. Enzo loved Gilles: it is said he reminded the great man of his original favourite, Tazio Nuvolari. Both drivers were fast, spectacular, thrilling and passionate about the sport. Gilles seems relaxed, totally at ease in Enzo’s company. The respect is clearly mutual. Some have assumed Gilles is holding a bottle of champagne, and this is a victorious post-race conversation. Ferrari did not break his rule, though, and would never see Villeneuve win. In fact, the Canadian is drinking water, because of the heat.

It may be Italy in July, but Enzo is dressed immaculately in a suit and tie. His attire contrasts with the grubby overalls of Villeneuve. Testing Formula One cars is hard work, usually unglamorous, mainly involving lap after lap in between working on the car in the pits. It is relentless. Onlookers say the two men spoke in French, rather than Italian. This itself showed the respect Enzo had for his French-Canadian driver (Ferrari was, however, multi-lingual, a talent he had relied upon when crossing Europe during his early years of motor racing). They also both sat on fold-up chairs, as equals. Just out of shot are Autosprint publisher Luciano Conti and Imola racetrack director Roberto Nosetto, again sat on the same basic chairs. This is the behind-the-scenes graft of F1 racing, yet there is readily apparent joy in that endeavour.

Afterwards, Enzo held an impromptu press conference, to the excitement of the assembled media who thought they were only there to watch Villeneuve test. Incredibly, the conference lasted several hours. Numerous times, Ferrari spoke in confidence, asking for tape recorders to be switched off. Everyone present was awestruck. The Italian Grand Prix, at the Autodromo Dino Ferrari Imola, ran on 14 September. After testing the new turbocharged 126C, Villeneuve qualified reasonably well in the old T5, but sadly suffered a puncture during the race, and crashed heavily. The corner where he lost control still bears his name today. The following day, Enzo embraced Villeneuve in public, relieved that his charismatic friend was OK. His racing car was destroyed, but Gilles was unharmed. That was all that mattered.