• The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve’s To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours

The Canadian was magical behind the wheel of the outclassed 312T5 on more than one occasion

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The 1977 F1 World Championship wasn’t even over when news came that Ferrari’s top man and new World Drivers’ Champion Niki Lauda would leave the Scuderia. In the Austrian Ferrari had found a leader it had lacked since the days of John Surtees but now the team was seemingly back in the doldrums.

The rescuer was like fire to Lauda’s ice in every way conceivable and, arguably, there has never been another one quite like him since. He was the ’Piccolo Canadese’ and he should’ve been the 1980 F1 World Champion but 14th in the standings is all he got. This car is the reason.

Try your hand at being Gilles Villeneuve this year!

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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"He brought much prestige to the name of Ferrari. I loved him," said Enzo Ferrari in an official statement in May of 1982. It arrived the day after he, Canada’s mercurial Gilles Villeneuve, perished following an unfortunate collision with March’s Jochen Mass.

Angered by the fact that team-mate Pironi held the benchmark time in practice, Villeneuve jumped back into his 126C2 to try and squash the Frenchman who’d beaten him two weeks prior at Imola. But Mass found himself in Villeneuve’s way approaching Terlamenbocht and moved to the right to allow Gilles through. It was, sadly, too late as the scarlet No. 27 car had already moved to take up that same piece of real-estate that Mass was also on. Villeneuve’s car somersaulted following the impact and the rest is, as they say, history.

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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Prior to that fateful day in Belgium, Villeneuve had enjoyed a near-vertical ascent in F1.

After impressing in the North-American Formula Atlantic series where he’d often bump into F1 regulars including Alan Jones or James Hunt, Villeneuve was picked by McLaren to do the British GP of 1977 in a third car entered alongside full-season drivers Hunt and Mass. With next-to-no prior experience of the M23, an older car compared to that used by his tea-mates, he split them in qualifying and ran as high as fifth in the race before mechanical ailments saw him lose two laps.

This sole outing wasn’t enough to persuade Teddy Mayer to sign him for 1978 but it did put Gilles on Ferrari’s map after the Italian team realized that Lauda wasn’t interested in driving anymore. Despite some rather lackluster test sessions at Fiorano, Villeneuve got the seat for the last two rounds of the 1977 season, Enzo Ferrari taking a liking in him from the get-go playing no small part in this decision.

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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Those two GPs were disastrous and it all got particularly grim at Fuji, Japan’s GP venue, when Gilles and Ronnie Peterson banged wheels and went off, the Ferrari flying over the guardrails before landing right where a group of spectators was located. They shouldn’t have been there but the death of one of them certainly marred Gilles’ early days in F1 and a problematic 1978 aboard the 312 T3 did little to mend his reputation in the boiling Italian press that was calling for his departure.

But Enzo could care less what the press wanted and stuck with the Canadian, whose past involvement in snowmobile racing in native Canada gave him an edge in slippery conditions, for the 1979 season when the team finally had something competitive to work with, the 312 T4.

So competitive was the T4, in fact, that Ferrari managed the double as Jody Scheckter won the Drivers’ Title and the Scuderia was on top in the Manufacturers’ standings. Villeneuve showed signs of brilliance in a string of races that year but ultimately fell short of challenging for the title following a tough Belgian GP during which Scheckter nerfed Williams’ Clay Regazzoni into him sending him off the road.

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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But displays of utter brilliance, such as at Watkins Glen where, in the first qualifying session, Villeneuve outpaced team-mate Scheckter by a scarcely believable margin of 9.5 seconds. To put that into perspective, Ayrton Senna’s "lap of the Gods" at Monaco in 1988 was just 2.5 seconds better than Alain Prost could muster in an identical McLaren MP4/4. Granted, the session was wet and Scheckter never excelled in such conditions but Villeneuve’s audacity to go out there on slicks stunned the entire paddock as did his drive on Sunday. Pulling away as if the field was made up of soccer moms driving Ford Explorers, Villeneuve mastered the slippery conditions and did so on slicks. The gap at the end was just 50 seconds and that’s because there was barely any oil in the T4 for the better part of 30 laps.

1980, the year of false hopes for Ferrari

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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For 1980, people expected that Villeneuve would fight for the title but, as ever, the 'Garagistas' worked wonders behind Ferrari's back and gave the big, red Prancing Horse the finger.

Williams and Lotus poured all of their expertise in high-tech machines that were built around the concept of ground-effects pioneered by Chapman’s Lotus 79. These things, with their gargantuan venturi tunnels running the length of the underbelly, were developing downforce the faster you dove into a corner meaning you had to have trust in the physics.

Ferrari’s Scheckter and Villeneuve never trusted their 312 T5 in the same way. On the one hand, Ferrari’s old warhorse, the 3.0-liter Type 015 V-12 was impossible to adapt in a car with venturis. Its horizontally-opposed cylinder banks made the engine far too wide for tunnels to be molded either side, something that teams running the Cosworth DFV V-8 could do with ease. This meant that over-body downforce was all that Ferrari focused on, as well as squeezing every last bit of power out of the V-12 - all while working on a new engine for the future.

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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Sadly, that engine, a 1.5-liter turbo mill, wasn’t ready in 1980 and Ferrari couldn’t do much to improve the over-body downforce of the T4 meaning that the T5 that Scheckter and Villeneuve had to work with was something that, as Scheckter put it "wasn’t terrible. It was just a year out of date at a time when big advances were being made." Long-standing Ferrari fans saw as the 1962 season played back before their eyes all over again as Ferrari went from the dominant force to a team that filled the tail end of the grid.

"When we got into the season, I realized the teams running DFVs had taken about three steps forward with their ground-effect cars and we had only made a small improvement over the 312 T4," underlined Scheckter who only scored two (2) points in 1980 compared to his title-winning tally of 51 points. It was so bad that a dismayed Scheckter hung up his helmet for good at the end of the year. Bonhams tried to sell chassis #046, one of those manhandled by Scheckter in 1980, but the car you see here, that’s for sale via Kessel Auto in Switzerland, is Villeneuve’s.

Its only attribute was its power as Mauro Forgheri’s men found a few extra horsepower for a grand total of 515, 25 horsepower up on the DFV. The engine itself was also slightly narrower - but not narrow enough - and the body was altered too including new, squarer flanks. The suspension was revised, as were the rear brakes but the Italians shot themselves in the foot by deciding to stick with Michelin as their tire supplier. It wasn’t that Michelin’s tires were bad, but the French company mainly looked after the needs of the front-running teams and those teams ran turbocharged cars, not N/A ones like Ferrari.

The carcass of the tire offered by Michelin and the compounds made available catered for the way a turbo car sent power to the ground meaning extra struggles for the engineers that were sometimes unable to set the car up the way they would’ve wanted to. The frustrating state of affairs was highlighted in Canada, scene of Villeneuve’s first win back in ’78, where Scheckter didn’t even make the cut to race on Sunday.

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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Despite the obvious plight, Villeneuve scored three times as many points as Jody (which still amounted to just six points) but, in any case, people remember some of his astounding drives that year better than his points tally. "Gilles had very good performances in [the 312 T5], I didn’t," summarized Scheckter back in 1999. "I was more advanced in my career and found it very difficult racing for tenth place, whereas he just drove. He brought it near the front a few times, which I couldn’t do."

There was that time, for instance, during the Argentine Grand Prix when Gilles threatened Alan Jones for lap after lap despite the fact that the Aussie and soon-to-be World Champion was driving the dominant Williams-Cosworth FW07. Then there was his virtuoso performance at Monaco. Wikipedia will tell you he finished fifth mirroring the result he got in Canada, these being the best days he had all year.

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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What Wikipedia won't tell you, however, is how Gilles climbed up to fifth.

In qualifying, the Canadian had been almost two seconds slower than pole-sitter Didier Pironi in a Ligier but he soundly beat Scheckter (by little over a second). His time, good enough for the third row of the grid, was seen as a miracle by pundits but the real miracle was to come on race day. With Scheckter unable to move through the field and Gilles also having a hard time keeping up with the fast guys in the top 10, it seemed like the Scuderia would endure another painful day. Then, with 20 laps to spare, the clouds began to let go of generous amounts of water. The shower was so sudden that most drivers elected to stay on slicks for fear of losing track position on a course where you could barely ever make a pass.

Gilles too stuck with the slick Michelins but, while most others faltered (Prost, Jones, Jabouille, Scheckter, Pironi, and Depailler retired with many crashing out), he drove at a sterling pace and danced his way past the grey Armco barriers as if the puddles had no effect on his car’s adhesion to the road surface. In the end, one of his peers, Laffite, put it best when he said that "I know no human being can do miracles but Gilles could really surprise us sometimes."

The 1980 Ferrari F1 Car Was Gilles Villeneuve's To Tame But It Can Now Be Yours
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You may not be able to do magic the way Gilles could but, at least, even after 40 years, the roar of the T5’s flat-12 is still magical in its own right. Just don’t put period-correct Michelin rubber on the car. Having said that, the car, chassis #047, now shows itself in ’80 bodywork which is rather strange given that Ferrari’s chariot for 1980, the 126 C, was very different from the T5 with notably few carry-over parts.Ultimately, though, both cars were awful - maybe on par with the 2020 SF1000? - and both too could only be tamed by Gilles while either Scheckter or Pironi were left scrambling in his wake.

Source: Classic Driver

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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