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Hey Gilles! Say hi to mum for me!


The James Hunt, Niki Lauda duel of 1976 is the first season of Formula One I remember being truly hooked on a fascinating sport.

It grabbed my heart, my mind and made my body react. Other earlier recollections of Formula One races on lazy Sunday afternoons with Murray Walker's voice drifting around the family room remain, but it was the 1976 season that got me hooked. Thanks to my F1 and car loving, mother.

So it was one sleepy Saturday afternoon on May 8th 1982, the Gilles crash at Zolder is the deepest F1 memory burned into my soul. Niki's horrorific crash in 1976 was alarming and heart battering to watch, but he always looked like he had a small chance as he did not fly through the air like a broken doll. Anyone with even a modest grasp of physics, or a love of the human condition, could see Gilles was in horrid, deep trouble the second his car fractured.

The violence of the crash, his Ferrari shattering, and he flying unprotected through the air into a tangle of the catch fencing in use at the time is a scene I can witness any time I care to close my eyes and recall it. Mum was ironing at the time. The iron fell to the floor and my mum burst into tears. She did not need to see any more to know that was the last time we would see Gilles on this earth. Any later repeats in the news mum would rush to turn them off.

We didn't watch the race.

We didn't watch the next race at Monaco either, but were back as a still shocked family for the Detroit GP on the 6th June. It was a sober, quiet affair in the Noble household. With Tambay in the Ferrari it simply wasn't the same. When they had the Canadian GP next, on the 13th June, my mum cried again.

Slowly we rebuilt our love for the sport, and with a mildly tense feeling watched Keke Rosberg take the championship. Somehow it didn't feel as wholesome as it used to. Yet as the river of constant change keeps flowing, so pain fades, and memories grow less emotional.

Five years later and on a lazy Sunday afternoon at Stokes Bay on the South coast of England we are watching the massive rooster tails of off-shore power boats screaming around the Isle of Wight. The family had a beach hut, so it was not unusual to find us at the beach on a Sunday, regardless of the English weather presaging more of an indoor pursuit.

So it was that, unknown to us, when we saw one of the distant rooster tails suddenly become a massive plume of water, then cease, that Didier Pironi had just met an abrupt end on Sunday 23rd August 1987, aged 35. When we learned of it on the evening news my mother was very sad, but she did not cry.

Rewinding to the James Hunt Championship victory. At that time Texaco was a big sponsor of the McLaren James raced to victory. After his success they toured his winning car around the UK on a trailer, placing it on the forecourt of their petrol stations around the nation. Local papers (remember those?) would advertise when the car would be at a Texaco service station near you.

So it was near Southampton on the South coast of the UK, that one cool, yet sunny Autumn day the winning car was parked on a petrol station forecourt not far from us. Mum instantly set about moving her working day around so she could drive me to see it. We arrived around 3:30pm, mum having collected me from school, and soon I was standing in awe of this machine sitting proud, yet relaxed, before me. This was the Championship winning car, and it knew it. The paint was better than I expected, the interior far more basic, yet the visible welds on the frame around the cockpit were flawless and things of beauty. The tyres looked, well, tired.

"Do you want to sit in it?" asked mum.

"What!" says I pointing at all the "Do not touch", "Do not climb" signs around it.

"Go on," said mum, "You'll never get another chance. Let me go inside and distract the attendant."

Off strides mum in her business attire, pausing at the entrance to the service station office to turn, smile, wink and nod. She then grabbed several spare parts from the product racks near the door and strode purposefully towards the cash desk.

My heart rate no more than 195 beats per minute I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and vaulted onto the trailer and into the cockpit.

It was spiritual. I was still just a school boy, yet the cockpit was a tight fit, and was utter purpose. Nothing unnecessary existed. Basic steering wheel, couple of controls, gear stick smaller than a pepper pot. Seat belts, pedals, wing mirrors easily big enough to display small flying insects and lesser ants.

Like the moment Gilles flew through the air to his tragic end, this was a moment that froze forever in time. I close my eyes and I'm back in that cockpit. I can smell the oil and raw metal. I can feel the, to my mind, too narrow steering wheel in my hands. I can feel the harsh unforgiving seat underneath me. I can feel the sides of the cockpit bite my elbows as I pretend to turn the wheel.

I felt like I had just spent the entire season sitting in that cockpit. In truth it was around a minute.

At which point the attendant had noticed my cheek, and I heard shouts from across the forecourt.

"Oi, get out! Don't touch that! Off!"

Turning I saw him trying to force his way out of the shop past my mother who was still brandishing car spares in his face, demanding to know which was best for our Ford Escort. Again it is an image that remains with me, and generates a smile whenever I recall it.

Minutes later we were on our way, with my mum having promised the attendant to never bring me to his service station ever again. We giggled all the way home.

I fell asleep with a huge smile on my face with images of the McLaren dancing through classic corners filling my dreams.

Not long after mum gifted me a model of that car, which was to sit on my home study desk for many years to come.

Family arguments over Nigel Mansell. Oh dear. My mum a true Lion supporter. My father irritated by both the moustache (either be clean shaven or darn well grow a beard), and his 'act' of exhaustion after a trying race (help me from the car, I cannot stand...). So it was I learned the diplomacy of agreeing with both parents at the same time, when their views were totally opposed. A useful life lesson.

Damon Hill and Schumacher, dear Lord, Adelaide 1994. We respected Schumacher was a good driver, but we were 100% Damon fans. As a family we jumped to our feet and screamed at Damon not to pull back on track where Michael could side swipe him. Sadly, inside his race helmet, Damon did not hear us. My mum just shook her head. My dad was furious and had to leave the room. I sat and watched the final moments of the race, hoping for a miracle which didn't come.

I reflected long and hard on the lessons of that moment. Still do today. You can only act with conviction based on the information you have right now.

My respect for Michael was a minor cause of tension with my dad, who never liked him, but never an issue with my mum, who loved all the teams and drivers equally. Gilles had been special to her, yet she respected them all, and would always praise a good drive, or the winner, regardless of who it was. She would note they were the most deserving on the day, and they all had to work sensationally hard just to be on the gird.

My respect for the entire grid, the fact I do not have a favourite team. The fact I love the racing, the engineering and the courage to drive that fast. That I applaud a fine lap by any driver, that I cried, leaping to my feet, the instant Romain cashed for I feared he was dead, yet he survived that horror crash to the delight of us all. Are all gifts of understanding and wisdom from my dear mother.

Flash back. Sliding out of a curve in the rain in our brand new Ford Sierra, at a speed slower than we used to take it in our Ford Escort was the birth of my dislike of Pirelli tyres. Mum always had the Pirelli taken off her company car after that. She never trusted them again, and I followed her lead.

So Gilles. Now mum is there with you. Could you be so kind as to discuss her favourite races with her, tell her what it was like to drive a Ferrari flat-out? Share with her that part of your soul that is special, that makes life worth living, because it is a life well lived. And should you want to tell a few lengthy tales that matter to you that folk don't normally have time to listen too... well don't worry. Mum always makes time. You talk, and she will listen.

She will smile, share the moment with you, chuckle about what an imp Jacques turned out to be... and then let you know it is ok. Everything is just as it is supposed to be. So rest now. Eternal.

Thanks mum.

Foot Note:

• Should you care to honour my mum's (or Gilles) passing please consider the following...
• Donate to Cancer Council of Australia (mum was a big supporter)
• Go hug a family member that needs it (we all need support on bad days)
• Be kind (if we all do our best to be kind we all end up with a better life)



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1. Posted by Max Noble, 01/06/2023 15:05

"@Bill Hopgood - my thanks. Glad you enjoyed. I’ll aim to keep the quality high in future times.

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2. Posted by Bill Hopgood, 01/06/2023 10:07

"Condolences in regards to your mum.
As others have noted, this is your best article to date.
Thanks for sharing this."

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3. Posted by Max Noble, 28/05/2023 9:14

"@ffracer - my thanks for affirming feedback. And yes I echo your finely worded thanks to John Lane. PitPass is nothing if not a remarkable community of diverse, honourable, F1 loving folk!

@Ted Baker - again my thanks. Well received, and as I’ve noted I’ve passed the warm support received on to my family, and especially my dad. I’ve printed out the article and your responses for him to read, and he has been moved by the warm show of emotion, so once again, thank you all.

…three I’m in tears of joy just about at your own wonderful car moment story! Mikkola’s World Cup Rally Escort! What a moment to treasure for all time! My mum would be smiling most approvingly at your “taking the long way home” to get the car into the show room! The Sierra never really won her over. She was always more of a fan of the Escort, and all those lovely racing variants.

Wishing us all the finest possible year ahead.

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4. Posted by Ted Baker, 27/05/2023 15:09

"Thank you Max for such an emotional and moving feature which really "tugs at the heart strings". This takes me back to my younger days also when my hero was Jim Clark. I really got into F1 watching him at Silverstone when he won the British GP in 1965 with a failing engine. That was probably one of the most exciting and "nail biting" F1 races I have been to. Clark just managed to hold off Graham Hill winning by just a few seconds.

I was a complete fan after that and watched him many times, in awe, at Brands Hatch in the Mk1 Lotus Cortina lifting a wheel going into Clearways.. I worked at Ford at the time and so I also had to have a Mk 1 Lotus Cortina, which I rallied, as Jimmy had one! I was completely devastated by his death, not really believing it. How could that happen to Jimmy?

Anyway, a few years on still working for Ford as an Area Manager the Dealerships across the country had what they called a "FORD on Show" week when the dealers were supplied with a transporter load of some of Fords historic racing cars to put in their showrooms and invite their customers to have a look at them. There were Le Mans GT40's, Touring cars and Rally cars.

Well I just happened to be around at this dealership when the transporter arrived. The cars were unloaded and left on the forecourt, some could only be pushed into the showroom but some could be driven. One of the cars was a World Cup Rally Escort driven by Hannu Mikkola. It just so happened that the dealer had a set of trade plates available and we took a rather round about route to get it into the showroom!! That was a "spine tingling" moment to think where that car had been and who drove it !

Anyway Max please accept my condolences, that piece is a wonderful tribute to your Mum who I hope is enjoying now mixing with her heroes."

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5. Posted by ffracer, 26/05/2023 20:44

"Max, thank you for that moving article as it hit so many trigger points... and nice to read that it touched many readers.

Milestone moments, like Gilles' death, still feel raw and electric with such incredible detail. Being Canadian with Italian heritage, we lost an incredible national hero and the Ferrari patron saint of tifosi, pure talent and love of speed, sparks and kissed guardrails.

Adelaide 1994: A mute Williams pit, Hill not entering the corner more cautiously and then being sideswiped by Schumi is still a head scratcher for me... like lukewarm sympathy for a team losing the world cup when they missed open nets.

John Lane: your modest post is very graciously received. You are very humble as the history books depict you as being a large part to the immortal story of Gilles Villeneuve. Thank you for all your efforts in helping Gilles, this article bears credence to the fact that your efforts made fans the world over, including Max's late mum, get to appreciate his legendary exploits behind the wheel. "

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6. Posted by Max Noble, 26/05/2023 13:45

"@ClarkwasGod - many thanks, humbly appreciated. Then oh yes! Can you imagine Clark, Brabham, Bruce, Gilles, Senna… Damn… what a tea party to discuss the irritations of poor tyres, weak brakes, and questionable team calls!.. Then the after parties, the food, the fine wine, and the joy for life! Then James Hunt will walk over put an arm around my mum, and say “It’s good to see you. Can I get you anything?” And mum would reply, “Actually James, given the moment, I’d love a glass of bubbles…”

Bless them all.

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7. Posted by ClarkwasGod, 26/05/2023 10:36

"Simply the best (piece you have written). Hope your mum also manages a word with the VERY best of them all up there."

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8. Posted by Max Noble, 26/05/2023 9:41

"@Chester - my thanks for such strong positive feedback and I so pleased the article spoke to you.

@JL - my thanks for sharing such a personal story. It is remarkable the lives that PitPass readers have lived. Thank you so much for sharing.

@Tristian - A beautiful personal comment. Thank you. Yes treasure your father now. Surprise him with a trip somewhere you both enjoy, or a fine glass of unexpected red… or possibly both! We should all treasure each other for the days that we remain together."

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9. Posted by Tristian, 26/05/2023 3:29

"I'm terribly sorry to hear you've lost your mum, Max. But my, what a tribute you've written here, awash with joy, warm memories, poignancy, and love.

It's a piece of writing that will linger long in my mind. Simple, heartfelt, direct, a conduit from your heart to ours.

I'm 56, so all the moments you've singled out from Gille's crash to Damon's clash with Schumacher are emotional touchstones for me, too. I watched F1 with my dad who was always strict about bedtimes, overstrict, in truth, but as I was the eldest son, I was allowed to watch the F1 highlights with him on Sunday nights, as a ten-year-old, and well remember Hunt's rain-soaked third place that secured his World Championship.

I am lucky enough to still have my father and always remember watching F1 with him. I know it will stay with me after he's gone. Your article has reminded me that I should treasure him whilst I still have him.


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10. Posted by JL, 25/05/2023 16:38


Your feelings for Gilles were almost universal. I had the privilege of being Gilles friend, which started when I got involved with some financial help for the Ecurie Canada Alantic team at Mosport as his sponsor had gone bankrupt. We became best friends and that day in May I got a call from Teddy Mayer telling me it was bad and I flew to Monaco that night to be with Joann, Melanie and Jacques. Prime Minister Trudeau (the good one, not his idiot son) diverted a Canadian plane to bring Gilles, Joann, Melanie and Jacques home to Canada.

I am 81 now and that day, over 40 years ago, is as clear in my memory as the birth of my daughters. I miss him still, and the black-bordered copy of Autosport that came out that week still sits behind my desk.

John Lane"

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11. Posted by Chester, 25/05/2023 15:16

"Wow. Poignancy does even touch this. As a person who feels deeply, you succinctly and palpably presented a woman we can all love. My God, I am floored. May the perpetual light shine upon her."

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 25/05/2023 10:59

"@all - my thanks for reading the article, glad you enjoyed. Then my sincere thanks for the very kind words you’ve all offered back. I’ll let the family know PitPass readers are thinking of them. Most kind.

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13. Posted by Mike23, 25/05/2023 9:58

"Condolences on your loss Max. Thank you for sharing such beautiful if bitter sweet memories."

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14. Posted by Burton, 24/05/2023 21:02

"Sorry for your loss, Max. Outstanding text."

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15. Posted by PaulButler, 24/05/2023 18:59

"As ever Max , beautifully written. Condolences on your loss but , as you say , imagine the conversations that are being had."

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