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Formula 1

Villeneuve clarifies Leclerc tribute helmet issue after ‘insults’

by Matt Beer
4 min read

Formula 1 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve has given his side of a controversy over Charles Leclerc’s use of his father Gilles’ helmet design in a tribute at the Canadian Grand Prix.

Ferrari announced before the Montreal weekend that Leclerc would run Gilles Villeneuve’s helmet colours at the track named in his honour.

Charles Leclerc F1 Canadian GP Gilles Villeneuve tribute helmet

But on Saturday Leclerc reverted to his usual helmet design for final practice, amid reports of a disagreement with the Villeneuve family and an intervention from Jacques.

This was resolved before qualifying, with Leclerc posing for pictures with Gilles Villeneuve’s wife Joann and daughter Melanie.

On Sunday Jacques Villeneuve took to social media to hit back at ‘insults’ the Villeneuves had received over the situation, explaining what had taken place between him and Leclerc.

“To clarify the situation regarding the recent incident where some individuals felt the need to insult me and my family over Charles Leclerc using my dad’s helmet, I want to provide some context,” Villeneuve wrote.

“As I was arriving at the track, my sister called me in a state of anger. She had seen Charles using our dad’s helmet without any prior knowledge or communication about it.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari Gilles Villeneuve helmet F1 Canadian GP

“The entire family was taken by surprise, as we had not been informed beforehand.

“I immediately conveyed the message to Charles, who was kind enough to give me a call.

“We had a heartfelt conversation where he sincerely apologised for the situation.

“I reassured him that I considered it a touching tribute and that I personally had no issues with it.

“However, I stressed the importance of him reaching out to my sister, as she is the one responsible for managing everything related to our dad.

Charles Leclerc Ferrari Gilles Villeneuve helmet F1 Canadian GP

“I also suggested that he invite both my sister and mother to the track to address any remaining concerns.

“Fortunately, everything eventually worked out, but it would have been preferable for these discussions and arrangements to take place before the weekend in a respectful and professional manner.

“Unfortunately, the incident was blown out of proportion, turning it into an unnecessary controversy.”

The Race says

Edd Straw

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There’s no doubt that Charles Leclerc’s tribute was always intended in good faith, but it’s entirely right and proper that the Villeneuve family moved to ensure it was done in the right way.

Image rights and copyright can still be protected even when the originator is long gone – just try using the character of Sherlock Holmes for commercial gain without permission and see how the descendants of Arthur Conan-Doyle react for proof of that. When you are dealing with a brand that has the significance of Gilles Villeneuve, it’s understandable that it should be protected from being taken advantage of even if done so inadvertently.

Remember, this wasn’t simply about a contemporary Ferrari hero paying tribute to a legend of the past. There was a commercial angle. As soon as you put sponsorship stickers on a tribute helmet, as inevitably demanded by your own partnerships, which also raises the possibility of downstream spin-offs, there is an added dimension. Fail to protect that image properly and you run the risk of being taken advantage of.

It’s clear the Villeneuve family was more than happy to give permission once properly consulted. Once both sides were aware of the problem, a conversation happened and the situation was resolved. Oversights and misunderstandings happen and what matters is how they are responded to.

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This isn’t a story worthy of outrage on either side given the Villeneuve family weren’t trying to stop what is a beautiful tribute and Leclerc and his management weren’t trying to take commercial liberties.

Thankfully, it was resolved and Leclerc will carry the famous helmet colours varied by Villeneuve on his way to victory here, at the track that now bears his name, in 1978 in today’s race.

Asked after qualifying if he could clarify what had happened regarding the Villeneuve helmet’s temporary disappearance, Leclerc replied: “I don’t want this to be the headline, everything is fine now.” He also emphasised that he “wanted to do this tribute in good faith”.

Gilles Villeneuve won six F1 races – the first of them the inaugural Montreal Canadian GP in 1978 – for Ferrari while regularly achieving near-miracles in its cars between late 1977 and his death in qualifying for the 1982 Belgian GP.

Gilles Villeneuve Ferrari F1

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