In 1982, Ferrari Method 1 teammates Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi pushed one another over the brink. Determined for a World Championship at the price of their friendship, Villeneuve and Pironi sacrificed the whole lot for an edge, and it got here at a value: betrayal, loss of life, and career-ending accidents. Ferrari began 1982 with two promising drivers. By the tip of the season, each had been erased from the game of Method 1 perpetually. Now, in the identical heart-rending vein of Senna, a brand new documentary titled Villeneuve vs. Pironi: F1’s Untold Tragedy remembers the poignancy of the drivers’ deadly duel.
Villeneuve vs. Pironi: F1’s Untold Tragedy was launched earlier this yr on Sky Documentaries, so if you happen to (like me) reside in America, there’s a superb likelihood you haven’t seen it except you’ve requested to get your fingers on it (or are a VPN wizard). Should you’re an F1 historical past buff, you in all probability assume you realize all there’s in regards to the deadly rivalry between the francophone Ferrari teammates, however this documentary nonetheless manages to light up the tales you’ve by no means heard earlier than.
Specifically, this documentary options a sublime portrayal of the family members who had been left behind in Villeneuve’s and Pironi’s ongoing thirst for victory: the companions, youngsters, associates, and workforce members.
In my eyes, that’s the place Villeneuve vs. Pironi actually shines. So usually in motorsport, we hear tragic tales of cavalier rivals who fell sufferer to their very own ambitions. We mourn the lack of legends, however primarily inside the context of racing, questioning what they’d have achieved had the lived, questioning how the game we love would have been modified.
Not often, although, will we enterprise exterior the confines of the monitor. For a lot of racing followers, after the funeral is over, the tragedy is over, solely to be recalled on key anniversaries. However for the individuals who knew that driver, the ache doesn’t finish. The sudden shock of loss of life offers strategy to a lifetime they’ll spend trying to reclaim which means, to discover a new sense of normalcy, to stick with it.
In Villeneuve vs. Pironi, Gilles’ wife Joann Villeneuve is honest and direct about her relationship with her husband and her reckoning with the aftermath of his career. She keenly holds the pain of betrayal Villeneuve felt when Pironi overtook him at Imola, though as the years have passed, she’s able to reflect on its place in her life and the contextualizing she’s done around it. Villeneuve’s daughter Melanie shares that ache, stating that the pain she still feels is “the pain of an eight year old being recycled” rather than being the pain of an adult. Son Jacques makes critical appearances as well, opening up about his conflicted relationship with his father and the struggle of becoming a Formula 1 World Champion with a name carrying such a burden.
Another insightful interview is with Catherine Goux, who became Pironi’s partner in his final years of life. The two had known each other for years but reconnected in the wake of Pironi’s accident at Hockenheim, as she was struggling with her health as well. She and Pironi, Goux says, “were both broken, and we tried to reconstruct each other in the silence of the forest.” The couple chose to start a family in 1987, and after struggling with IVF, Goux found out she was pregnant with twins just before Pironi’s fatal powerboat accident. Hearing from the twins — appropriately named Didier and Gilles — about what it was like to grow up without their father was heartrending.
While every contribution was poignant, I was especially grateful for Goux and her children. For F1 fans, the tragedy of the Villeneuve-Pironi saga is centered around Villeneuve’s death, with Pironi’s career-ending injury completing the story. His recovery and death in another form of racing often come as afterthoughts. Here, they’re both critical elements of a tragic story that encompassed two incredibly promising racers who simply pushed past their own boundaries, no matter the discipline.
Of course, this is still a film, and there’s only so much that can be packed into a roughly 100-minute runtime. Certain details will be glossed over to ease the flow of the narrative, and not everything is going to be fleshed out exactly as it happened. But that’s OK. If you’re a longtime motorsport fan, you likely already know those details, or will be inspired to find them. If you’re new, the emotions will hook you in and convince you to learn more. A film is a story, and the story of these loved ones left seeking meaning in the aftermath of tragedy is one worth being told.