His first Formula One win came in his native Province of Quebec, Canada in the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix, held in Montreal. All told in his short career, he won six Grand Prix races. In 1979 he finished second in the championship to teammate Jody Scheckter.
Remembered for his frenetic style which seemed more like that of a rally driver, his wheel-banging duel with René Arnoux in the last laps of Dijon 1979 Grand Prix was one of the most intense moments in Formula one racing. Despite this, his six Grand Prix wins represent some of the most tactically astute and mechanically sensitive in the history of the sport. Perhaps his greatest achievements came in 1981, where he wrestled an unwieldy turbo Ferrari to victory at Monaco, followed by a classic of defensive driving at the Spanish Grand Prix, keeping 5 quicker cars behind him using his tactical acumen and the superior straighline speed of his car.
Villeneuve went into 1982 a clear favourite for the crown. He was widely regarded as the best Formula One driver in the field, and Ferrari, after two years of mediocre cars, produced an excellent design. After glimpses of promise in the opening races, Villeneuve was back at the front for the San Marino Grand Prix, only for his team-mate Didier Pironi to disobey team orders and beat him to the line. Betrayed and angry, Villeneuve vowed never to speak to Pironi again. Tragedy struck at the next race on the calendar. On May 8, 1982, on the final qualifying lap for the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder, his car somersaulted over the back of a car on a slowing-down lap, throwing Villeneuve out into the catch fencing. He died shortly thereafter in hospital.
His son, Jacques, would follow in his footsteps and join the Formula One circuit in 1997.
In June, 1997 Canada issued a postage stamp in honor of its favorite racing son.
The racetrack on Île Notre-Dame, Montreal, used for the Molson Indy and Grand Prix de Montréal, is named in his honour.