The 2012 race season marks the 30th year since Gilles Villeneuve's tragic departure. Here is 1978 world champion Mario Andretti's testimony of the late hero.
Mario Andretti, then a driver for Colin Chapman at Lotus, was the man to beat when Gilles Villeneuve set foot in Formula 1 for his first full season in 1978. The Italian-born American took the title that same year, driving the famous ground effect Lotus 79.
"Gilles arrived in F1 at a time where I was on top of my game, so I saw him mature and grow into a fantastic competitor," reminisces Andretti, also a NASCAR Daytona 500 et IndyCar Indianapolis 500 champ.
"Gilles was incredibly good to be around; relax and fun, down-to-earth in a very candid way. Simply stepping into a room was enough for him to earn everyone's respect, so unpretentious he was. That's not why he was most loved, though. He was driven. Therefore everyone around him inside Ferrari was bound to be seduced, like under a spell.
"At the wheel, Gilles would always give it his all. Nobody else ever drove quite like him: sideways in a fast way. Because he was such a character, the day of his death was incredibly hard to swallow for me. 'Love' doesn't quite pinpoint what we all felt towards 'the acrobat'.
"I know first hand how praised he was by the big boss, il Commendatore himself. Il Piccolo Canadese [the small Canadian] was the only discussion topic with Enzo Ferrari. Rightly so, there was only one like Gilles. I always wonder what career he would have had if it hadn't been for that untimely death. A world championship was imminent, I'm sure."
Mario Andretti went on with his F1 career until 1982, season during which he race two Grands Prix for… no other than the Scuderia Ferrari, the team being in need of a replacement driver for Didier Pironi, Villeneuve's teammate, who had been seriously injured in Germany.