The son of an itinerant piano-tuner, Gilles Villeneuve and his brother Jaques grew up in Quebec province in Canada. After dabbling with music Gilles developed a passion for automobiles and at the age of 15 his father gave him an old 1958 MGA sports car which he had bought for $100. Gilles stripped the car down, learning as he did so and eventually the old car became roadworthy although he was still legally under-age. His early career as a driver was frightening as he destroyed a series of cars, including his MGA. When he finished school he started competing in drag racing events before a visit to Mont Tremblant to watch some racing convinceed him that he could better than most of those competing. He did not have enough money to get into single-seaters and so used the money he earned from a job with a construction company to fund snowmobile racing. He was quickly successful and soon became a professional snowmobile racer and eventually went to Mont Tremblant to enroll in the Jim Russell Racing racing school there and after that started out in Formula Ford with a two-year old chassis which he ran with some of his friends from snowmobiling. He won the provincial championship at his first attempt. He moved on to Formula Atlantic with the Ecurie Canada team. He sold the family house to pay for the drive and the family lived in a camper van. The early races of the 1974 series were disappointing and in the midseason Villeneuve crashed heavily at Mosport Park and broke his leg in two places. He lost his drive with Ecurie Canada and had to scrape together money to get a new chassis for the rest of the season. The following year he continued with his own team and he began winning with a victory in the pouring rain at Gimli. he finished the year fifth in the championship but his reputation was growing and at Trois Rivieres he was able to battle with viiting stars Jean-Pierre Jarier and Patrick Depailler. That winter he dominated snowmobile racing and in 1976 had offers for Formula Atlantic from several top teams. He joined Ecurie Canada and the Villeneuve Family travelled from race to race in a motorhome he was soon winning. That summer he was invited by Ron Dennis to race a Formula 2 car at Pau. he showed well but the car overheated. At Trois Rivieres in September he beat James Hunt - who would become World Champion a few weeks later. It was the breakthrough he needed. Hunt went back to Europe and told the McLaren management about the French-Canadian. In the autumn McLaren signed him to take part in a number of races as third driver to Hunt and Jochen Mass, with an option for 1978. He also put together a deal to race in Formula Atlantic but it was going to harder as a new challenger had emerged in the form of Keke Rosberg. In July Villeneuve made his Grand Prix debut at Silverstone. He qualified ninth but set the fifth fastest lap of the race after an earlier pit stop. A few weeks later Villeneuve received a telephone call from Ferrari. A month later he was a Ferrari driver and he made his debut for the team at Mosport Park. At his second race in Japan he had a huge accident, cartwheeling off the track. Two spectators were killed but Villeneuve was unhurt.