• May 8 down the years

The day Villeneuve's luck ran out

What happened on this day in Formula One history?
Gilles Villeneuve © Sutton Images

The death of Gilles Villeneuve at Zolder was, according to Professor Sid Watkins, almost inevitable. Villeneuve took incredible risks - taking off in his helicopter with the fuel gauge at empty and flying in and out of pylons. A fortnight earlier he had crossed swords with Ferrari team-mate Didier Peroni - Villeneuve believed Peroni had disrespected him and the team by winning the San Marino Grand Prix against orders. In qualifying at Zolder he was like a man possessed but was struggling to beat Peroni's time. As he sped round the circuit he saw Jochen Mass' March making his way back to the pits; Villeneuve tried to squeeze through a non-existent gap, clipped the March and his Ferrari took off, flying through the air before nosediving into the track and then somersaulting to a stop. As the front of the Ferrari was torn away, Villeneuve's helmet was ripped off and he was hurled into the crash fence. When marshals arrived he was still strapped into his seat, the belts attached to a lump of metal torn from the chassis. He had suffered a fatal fracture of the neck and the base of the skull.

Tazio Nuvolari won the prestigious Targa Florio in Sicily for the second year in a row, driving an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Monza, prepared for him by the Alfa Romeo racing team manager Enzo Ferrari. Nuvolari wanted a riding mechanic smaller than him, so he brought on board a new and inexperienced mechanic, Paride Mambelli, to ride with him. He told the youngster to duck low for tricky turns. Afterwards, Ferrari asked the young man how it went, and he was told he stayed ducked down throughout and saw nothing.

Mario Andretti opened the European season with a win at the Spanish Grand Prix in his JPL Lotus, lapping all but four of the 23 starters. Niki Lauda was forced to withdraw before the race after being flown to hospital with serious back pains, while defending champion James Hunt was forced out of the race early with an engine failure.

Kimi Raikkonen won the Spanish Grand Prix in a pole-to-flag victory for McLaren, with championship leader and local hero Fernando Alonso in second. "More than 100,000 were packing the grandstands to capacity, and they cheered, waved their flags and blew their air- horns with an undimmed enthusiasm as Alonso grabbed second place and extended his lead in the world championship," reported the Guardian. Michael Schumacher's poor start to his quest for a sixth successive title continued as he retired after two tyre failures. "We will keep on working and keep on fighting," he said. "It is not over."