That one time an F1 driver raced a supersonic fighter jet

Gilles Villeneuve standing with his Ferrari 126CK in front of an F-104 Starfighter, moments before the race
Gilles Villeneuve standing with his Ferrari 126CK in front of an F-104 Starfighter, moments before the race

November 21, 1981.
It’s been 38 years since Formula 1 champion Gilles Villeneuve raced his red Prancing Horse against a supersonic military jet at the Istrana military base in Italy.

On that day, the base hosted an unusual race: several F1 drivers were to race the Aeronautica Italiana (Italian Air Force)’s fighter jets. Among those drivers were Brabham’s Nelson Piquet and Riccardo Patrese, Alfa Romeo’s Bruno Giacomelli and Ferrari’s Gilles Villeneuve.
Their opponent was the Lockheed/Aeritalia F-104S Starfighter, a.k.a. “missile with a man in it”, one of the fastest planes of its time.

The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, also known as "the missile with a man in it", was the fastest plane of its time has been used by the Aeronautica Italiana for many, many years.
The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, also known as "the missile with a man in it", was the fastest plane of its time has been used by the Aeronautica Italiana for many, many years.

The challenge consisted in a drag race between the F1 cars and the F-104s on a distance of about 1 km.
The Starfighters were penalized by their heavier weight, caused by the additional fuel tanks mounted on their wings. The weather wasn’t particularly good, either, due to the presence of fog.

That day, Villeneuve drove the Ferrari 126CK, the first F1 Ferrari with a turbocharged engine. To reduce drag and increase top speed, the rear wing got removed.

The 1981 Ferrari 126CK was the first F1 car built by Ferrari to mount a turbocharged engine
The 1981 Ferrari 126CK was the first F1 car built by Ferrari to mount a turbocharged engine

If you want to know the results of Villeneuve’s unusual drag race against the F-104 watch the video below:

Sadly, Villeneuve died just 6 months later in a terrible accident. He will be forever missed.

R.I.P. Gilles Villeneuve
1950-1982