The following story takes place mid-way through the 1981 Formula One World Championship season. Come the Monaco Grand Prix, Gilles Villeneuve had scored only three points in five races and sat 31 behind Championship-leader Nelson Piquet.
Jacques Villeneuve had to leave the Monaco Grand Prix when he developed a bad headache. His English nanny took him up the hill to the villa before the race was half over. John and Elizabeth Lane were guests of Gilles and Joann that weekend, and Lane notes that ‘When Gilles was racing Jacques became almost a basket case. He would sit there and you could see him gritting his teeth with his jaw muscles working and eventually he would have to leave. Melanie was always screaming and cheering for her dad and she would stay to the end of the race. But not Jacques.’
For several years Jacques had been experiencing nervous headaches and was having difficulty in school. Joann thinks it was because of the pressure his father put on him. ‘Gilles was very demanding with Jacques and not at all with Melanie. He spent more time with her and in his eyes she was perfect. He wanted his son to be more than perfect and accepted from his daughter all the little faults children have and thought they were nice and cute in her. But not in Jacques. I was the only one who really saw the difference in the way he treated the kids. I didn’t have any problems with Jacques. He would sit calmly at the table and not drop his glass of milk. But when Gilles was there he would drop the glass of milk. He would get very nervous just trying so hard to please his father.
‘Towards the end he was becoming a better father. He began to realize that he was too demanding and he had to treat them both more equally and fairly. But the kids sensed there was a lot of tension and friction between us. It made them unhappy and unsettled them.’
Joann, too, became very unsettled when what had begun as petty bickering and quarrelling had now escalated into full-scale marital strife, at first in private, then in public. ‘He would pick a fight with me before we’d go outside: “Why are you wearing that terrible dress?” And obviously it would put me in an awful mood and I couldn’t cope with it. Or he would say, “Oh what a terrible meal you’ve cooked” – this is after telling me fifteen minutes before that we have seven people coming to dinner. But he could always put himself on show and be charming. I could never figure out how he could do that and it was infuriating to me. He would criticize me in front of others and was forever creating situations that he was very good at coping with and I wasn’t.’
This story was taken from Gerald Donaldson’s biography “Gilles Villeneuve: The Life of the Legendary Racing Driver” and is available at most online retailers. Book review pending.