Villeneuve’s Legacy Lives On In Modena
Growing up in the Formula 1 paddock (with Scuderia Ferrari no less) would be an absolutely incredible childhood. Jonathan Giacobazzi lived that dream as a child, traveling as part of the Ferrari entourage in the late ’70s and early ’80s. During his time there, he met many legendary drivers, but none left such an impression as Canadian ace Gilles Villeneuve. While in Modena, Italy, we caught up with Mr. Giacobazzi to discuss Villeneuve, Formula 1, and his unique childhood experiences.
Q: How did your father begin working with Gilles Villeneuve?
A: In 1978, my father got a call from Enzo Ferrari, because he had a new Ferrari driver from Canada, named Gilles Villeneuve, who had completely white overalls that needed to be filled with sponsors. Enzo Ferrari was looking to my father to be a sponsor, since our winery under the Giacobazzi brand was already quite famous in the US and Canada. My father went to see Enzo, and Enzo told him, “Look, you are already selling in Canada and the United States—this guy is a Canadian driver, and he is going to drive the Ferrari in place of Niki Lauda. We need you to support him from the beginning. My father didn’t say anything, he just came back that same day with a signed contract and sponsored this driver who was really unknown to everybody, probably even in Canada.
Q: Was Gilles the first person your father sponsored in F1?
A: Yes. We already had a true friendship with Enzo Ferrari and his family, because we were only 20 kilometers from Maranello. My father was already supplying the Ferrari team around the world with the Giacobazzi wine. The wine was in the box, on the car. You can find photos that show the bottles of wine on the cars.
Q: What are your earliest memories of your father working with Gilles Villeneuve?
A:I am probably the only Italian that is not in love with soccer [laughing]. From the beginning, I was really in love with Formula 1, so thank God my father got this contract with Gilles Villeneuve.
In ’77, when I was only four, I remember seeng the John Player Specials on television and watching people like Gunnar Nilsson and Ronnie Peterson. Then Gilles Villeneuve came into our life. For me he was a hero, because I had always heard about Gilles Villeneuve and watched him on television. My father and mother would leave to follow the races around Europe in ’78 and ’79, when I was a boy, so I grew up hearing about the legend of Ferrari and Gilles Villeneuve.
When I finally had the chance to meet Villeneuve and was really disappointed, because I had hoped that he would be wearing his helmet and overalls, but he was only Gilles Villeneuve the human, you know? Being a kid, it was quite a surprise, because I was intending to meet the hero, and not the human. Eventually, I started to travel with my father and mother to the Grands Prix, and the whole thing really started to mean something to me after I started going to the events. Even though Formula 1 isn’t even close to what it was before, I’m still in love with it.
Q: So from when you were four years old, every summer you traveled with the Formula 1 team?
A: I was actually traveling with my father and my mother in a caravan, and we went around with the Formula 1 team and stayed in the Formula 1 paddock. My family’s motorhome was the place where we hosted the drivers and crew as a hospitality point, so everybody came together to eat and drink with us. We made kilos of pasta and liters of wine for everybody, and we had some great parties at night.
I came to be very familiar not only with Ferrari, but also with the other drivers. In fact, I have photos with Mario Andretti, Jacques Laffite, and other drivers that have been forgotten, and are only remembered in books. While the other teams were around, Villeneuve was not one of those drivers that enjoyed this kind of lifestyle with us very much, but later at night, after having his last briefing with Mauro Forghieri and the mechanics, he would come eat with us.
Q: What made Gilles Villeneuve a hero to you?
A: For me, he was first the driver that I had the privilege to meet. He was so direct on the track, and he was the same in life. He was not discreet at all. If he had something to tell you, he would simply say it. I had the chance to meet the real Gilles Villeneuve, not just the driver. The real Gilles Villeneuve was really someone related to speed and to risks, like on the track.
Q: Did being around Gilles Villeneuve have any specific influence on who you are today?
A: To tell you the truth, there is no day that I don’t think about Gilles Villeneuve since May 8, 1982. When he died, it was a very big loss for me, something that still matters to me, because he was my real hero. I am very, very sorry for how it all ended, because it all started at Imola two weeks before.
I was at Imola, at the race when Pironi won. And afterward I was there when Villeneuve stepped into our trailer, not willing to go to the podium. I was only nine years old, so to witness those intense emotions put me in a mood that was really heavy for someone of my age. Nobody had ever heard Gilles talk the way he did immediately after the race. In the end, my father forced him to go to the podium, but when Gilles came back with the trophy, he threw it at my father saying, “I didn’t want it.” After that race, Gilles’ fans around the world wanted him to come back and win.
At Zolder, two weeks later, it was like the end of a movie. It felt unreal, but it was the real end. I think that I, along with many other Villeneuve supporters, were frozen in that time. That event has really influenced my life, my collecting, my passion for Formula 1, and Ferrari. If Gilles hadn’t died two weeks later in Zolder, my style of collecting would probably be a lot different. Nowadays, whenever I find something about Gilles Villeneuve, I have an impulse and just have to get it. This is why I became the biggest Gilles Villeneuve collector in the world, because he gave so much to my family. I have found many things over the years from many other collectors, friends, mechanics, and even from Enzo Ferrari. The Gilles Villeneuve collection is in service for the public, for the fans of Formula 1, Gilles, and his memory. I think it’s the right way to represent him and keep an enduring legacy.