Why ‘Wow Gilles!’ Is So Much More Than Your Typical Coffee Table Book
If you have a coffee table you should have a few books on it too, and if you call yourself a fan of motorsport you should know who Gilles Villeneuve is. At the very least, you should recognize the clip of him battling Arnoux in one of the greatest open-wheel duels recorded. Before touring the international Formula 1 calendar as a Ferrari factory driver though, he had a brief racing career sat atop a snowmobile in Quebec. He became world skimobile champion in 1974, and his father quite rightly remarked later on that “Gilles didn’t feel fear at all. He always made everything he drove go as fast as it would go.” He totaled his parents’ Pontiac joyriding it a few years prior.
Gilles quickly moved up through the typical ranks of regional Formula Ford and Formula Atlantic series, and secured a brief ride with McLaren in Formula 1 before joining the team he’d be with until the end: Ferrari. And though he’d never become a world champion like his son Jacques, his legacy shares the stratosphere with the greats of his time, of all time; plop him between a steering wheel and an engine and he could hang with anyone. The single-minded determination and daring he displayed on the race track—“You can’t lift off if you’re on a quick lap. No way. All you can do is hope he’s looking in his mirrors.”—paired with his infectiously smiley and loving personality results in one of the most compelling and exciting drivers in the history of the sport. Like too many others’, Gilles’ life would come to an end because of an accident sustained in an F1 car, in 1982 practicing for the Belgian GP, but in his 32 years of life he made a fuller one than most.
This book, a largely photographic documentary of a life in pursuit of speed, is exactly what it should be; the writing from Giorgi Terruzzi is fast-paced, stylish and sharp, delivering just the right amount of emotion and context to pair with the extensive visual story told through the work of Ercole Colombo’s photos. Taken individually, nearly every shot in this book could be framed and hung. Collectively, they tell the story of Gilles Villeneuve through his post-race pit-lane antics, his on-track triumphs (like winning the Monaco GP in ’81 and giving the turbocharged Ferrari its first ever victory), and through views into his personal life on the other side of the Armco. Reading through, looking through, it’s evident that this is a project undertaken by two people who truly loved their subject matter. And Gilles was remarkably lovable, even to those like me who were never around when he was. He was more than respected by the other greats in the sport (Lauda called him the “craziest devil” he’d ever come across, Scheckter called him “the fastest driver in the history of motor racing,” Rosberg said “he was the hardest bastard I ever knew,” and Amon said only Jim Clark could equal Gille’s ability to control a racing car), and he lived at the same pace he raced.
He drove a Ferrari 308 from Monaco to Maranello in two hours and forty-five minutes. There are photos of that car in here. He drag-raced a fighter jet with his de-winged Ferrari. There’s a shot of him in the cockpit. He would stall his helicopter mid-air, letting it free fall before restarting. There he is at the joystick, preparing to take off. The point is, this book is so much more than just a collection of photos of his famous No. 27 Ferraris. Just like the man himself was so much more than just a racing driver.