1980 got off to a slow start for me, but there were a couple of things that either happened in 1979 or 1980. One event certainly happened in 1979 and it happened in Monaco. I had always fixed a large Canadian flag to the lens hood of all my lenses. The one on my 350 was about three inches high and five inches long. It opened many a door. The door it opened this time happened to be on the fifth floor of an apartment building that sat on the outside of the exit of Loews Hairpin. From that vantage point I got shots no one else had ever seen. I suspect you are wondering how I got up into this private residence. As I was shooting back up into Lowes from ground level a marshal came up and tapped me on the shoulder. I thought he wanted me to move as I was right behind the guardrail. He pointed to the flag on my lens hood and turned and pointed up the building behind me. High on the wall of this building was a small balcony. On it was a very large Canadian flag! Even better, behind it were three beautiful young women! They were smiling and waving at me to come to the door downstairs in the lobby. Before I knew it I was standing on that balcony with the three young women and that beautiful Canadian flag! The view was wonderful and the track looked great too. The young woman who was attached to the apartment was a student from Montreal who was visiting her Father in Monte Carlo. She was attending school in Europe and the other two ladies were her classmates. That young girl eventually got well into the Formula One fraternity and spent a lot of time with one of the drivers. We are still friends to this day and chat often about F1 and the old days. After the race was over, which Jody won, I had the grand privilege of having these lovelies on my arm, albeit for too short a while, to attend an after race party that saw more champagne flow than I had ever seen. The trip to Maranello was very foggy the next morning…or was it afternoon?
The other event happened in Toronto. Gilles was to do a commercial for Midas Muffler. He, Gaston and I were staying at the Chelsea Inn just off Young Street. We had no car, but Len Coates offered to take us up in a media loaner. It was a Dodge Colt. It was quite a shitbox with, as Len told us, a two speed rear-end. Does Dodge have one of those in their history? Who knows? McLaren Can Am cars had one according to a journalist from Montreal, but that is another story. I remember Len picking us up in this little red four-door. I got in the back with Gaston. Gilles rode a very uncomfortable shotgun to Len. He kept fidgeting around and telling Len to get the lead out of his arse. At the shooting session Gilles seemed to be distracted and kept screwing up his lines. Once it was done we all headed for the parking lot with Gilles in the lead. Gaston told Len quite simply, “Don’t give him the keys”. He already had them! There was a light rain falling when we hit the 401 but that did not seem to make a difference at all. The car flew at a speed it had never been designed for across to the Don Valley parkway before it plunged into the drain to downtown. I only remember as we wove through the traffic past the Eglinton exit that the traffic started to back up. The car still did not slow down! Gilles got the car over to the right and down the shoulder of the road for nearly a bloody mile before it seemed to lighten up a bit. I had taken the exit to Bloor Street in many a fine automobile at speeds that caused great excitement in both me and any damned fool riding with me. Hell! I was the great Graham Hill! I could take any corner faster than any turkey on the road. WRONG! That bloody red shitbox entered that corner at such a rate that the wheels were trying to come off! There was a slight rise there and the car became ever so light and just drifted through the turn as Gilles calmly chatted about some who-knows-what. I could only hear my heart racing as my eyes stood out on stocks at the low median that seemed ready to send us rolling into the opposite lane. Well I’m sitting here so you know we made it through that corner, but that was not the end of the ride. Gilles missed the Yonge Street turn and headed down Bay Street. He turned left on Gerard Street toward the hotel. I expected him to pull into the front of the hotel, but Len wanted to park the car and pointed to a slot across the street between two cars. The wild man behind the wheel headed directly for it. He yanked on the handbrake and the car slid quietly in between the two cars. Three of us weakly got out of the car and followed the elf across the street to the hotel. Later Len told me he had to wait for the owner of one of the cars to come and leave as there was not enough room for him to get it out by himself.
I again divided my time between the World Cup skiing events, an airport, racing events, another airport, and any assignment I could find in between. I loved the travel and the skiing was the best to be had. The Crazy Canucks were always in the hunt for the win so it made for an exciting season. Gilles had become friends with Ken Reid in particular and both could often be found at the other’s race. The Formula One season got off to a poor start with the first 3 races almost failing to see a start with safety concerns in South America at Buenos Aires and Brazil’s Interlagos. The third in South Africa because of political bullshit. After the exceptional year which saw Jody win the DriversÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Championship with 51 points and Gilles second with 47 to Alan Jones with 40, the Ferrari team took a nose-dive. The design staff had not been able to solve the ground-effects difficulties caused by the flat-12 engine and transmission assembly. The T5 was more than a handful. Put the Michelins on it and it might as well have square wheels. Gilles drove his heart out, not that Jody didn’t, but he knew he could not wrestle the combination to more than 2 points for the season. Not too good for the reigning World Champion. Gilles managed just 6 points. They finished 14th and 19th behind Alan Jones in the Williams. After failing to qualify for the Canadian Grand Prix Jody finished a dismal 11th in his final Formula One race. Gilles retired from that race. He had declared all season that it was impossible to compete seriously in a car as uncompetitive as this one and loudly proclaimed the tires as ‘SHIT!’ Gilles let everyone within earshot know how he felt and cared little if they had their sound on. He longed for the new turbo and enjoyed the new car in practice at Monza. He wanted to race it, but it was decided the car needed more development before it was race ready. He thought it was a rocket! After such a lousy year Jody quietly retired and Gilles would have a new team mate in Didier Pironi. Didier had finished 5th in the Ligier over the 1980 season. Being French he and Gilles had no communication problems. By this time Gilles was fluent in English, Italian and his native French. The real lines between the two was Didier was of French aristocratic background. Gilles was just our man. He was just like us, a hard-working stiff who loved his job with every turn.
Death and serious injury had given the Grand Prix family a pass in 1979, but the 1980 season was dealt a number of bad cards. The brakes on Clay Regazzoni’s Ensign failed at the end of the long and very fast Shoreline Straight at Long Beach. The resulting accident would render Clay paralyzed from the waist down. He eventually returned to racing using hand-controls, but never raced in Formula One again. The real low part of the year was when Patrick Depallier died at the wheel of his F1 Alfa in a testing accident at Hockenheim. The penultimate race of the year held in Montreal would see Jean-Pierre Jabouille break both legs in an accident that would end his competitive career. He would drive five races the following year, but would never be a factor in Formula One again in a driving capacity.
Next: The Grand Prix book heats up with two more wins.
Red the whole Shutter Speed series here.