Jeremy Clarkson was F1's biggest fan boy - the driver he loved more than Lewis Hamilton

Jeremy Clarkson's favourite Formula 1 driver is not Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher
-Credit: (Image: PA)


While he never secured a Formula 1 title, Gilles Villeneuve made a lasting impact on one particular famous admirer. Despite the notable success of drivers like Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, and the renowned Ayrton Senna being celebrated by fans of certain vintage, none of them can compete with Villeneuve in Jeremy Clarkson's eyes.

The beloved Canadian icon started 67 F1 races in his tragically abbreviated career, securing his place as a Ferrari legend. Villeneuve might only have six race wins to his name and took second place in the 1979 championship, but his premature demise at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982 prevented him from reaching the top spot.

As a young man, Clarkson was inspired by Villeneuve's track performance, adorning his walls with posters of the Canadian racer. During a 2022 interview with the official F1 website, the host of Clarkson's Farm presented his reverence for this one-of-a-kind F1 hero.

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Clarkson recalled: "I think there were two events that cemented him in my adulation really. The first was - I know it was the [1981] British Grand Prix because I was there... At Woodcote, there was the most enormous crash. I can't remember who caused it. These were the days when they used catch-fencing. And it was complete carnage, cars everywhere, people, marshals.", reports the Mirror.

"When it all sort of settled down, you could plainly hear that one engine was still running, and it was Gilles'. He set off back onto the track with really only half a car and most of the catch fencing wrapped around what was left of it. And I thought, 'There's a man so determined to win this race, he's prepared to go no, no, I'm alright'."

"He was sort of like the knight in Monty Python with no arms and legs. He's still going to carry on racing, even though he didn't really have a car anymore. And then of course, there was the '79 French Grand Prix in Dijon."

"He was racing for second place with Rene Arnoux. How many times did they hit each other on that last lap, five times? They took it in turns to be knocked off and then came charging back on again... It was absolutely fantastic racing and I just thought, 'Okay, he's my favourite racing driver'. I've never really seen anyone race like him since."

Clarkson has since adopted Villeneuve's racing number, 27, as his favourite in life. He continued: "I still always choose 27 whenever I've got the opportunity, because of Gilles Villeneuve. If I see the number 27 in any context, whether I'm betting on a horse or anything, if it's 27 I will always bet 27 - because of Gilles Villeneuve."

"I definitely had pictures of his racing car on the wall. I bought a Ferrari because of Gilles Villeneuve, the 355. I loved Ferraris because of Gilles Villeneuve... And it had to be red. And I damn nearly painted 27 on the side of it."