Jacques Villeneuve

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff member
Premium Contributor
Before reading further, just consider this.

If someone told you that there was a driver who finished second on his Indy 500 debut and within 4 years had not only won the Indy 500 but the Indy Championship title and the Formula One world championship. You would think to yourself that sounds like one hell of a driver......

As soon as people mention the name Jacques Villeneuve however, the above paragraph gets completely forgotten and the view that forms in most peoples minds is one of a driver only motivated by money and who paddled around in an uncompetative car and struggled to beat the likes of Ricardo Zonta. He finally left F1 with his tail between his legs after being dumped mid season by Sauber.

The question is, does he deserve the latter reputation based on the former statement?

Villeneuve arrived at Williams at a time when they were without doubt the best team on the grid. His debut in Australia was outstanding and almost resulted but for an oil leek, in a superb win. The title could also, almost have been his that season and perhaps with a bit more luck and experience it would have been. After Hill's exit from Williams closely followed by an angry Adrian Newey, it was left to Villeneuve to capitlise on the last great Newey designed Williams to bring home the title which he eventually managed to do but not before breaking the hearts of Arrows fans everywhere by sneeking past a failing Damon Hill's Arrows on the last lap of the Hungarian GP. We all know how the title race ended that season as Schumacher proved that 1994 was not a one off.

Villeneuves final season at Williams saw the team fall way off the pace, now without Newey and with year old rebadged Renault engines he still managed to see the podium twice and outscore his team mate.

On leaving Williams, he was given the opportunity to join BAR which was part funded and co-owned by his manager. Let's be honest, when you look at the team that Schumacher built around himself at Ferrari and the success that this brought, if you were a driver and your manager offered you the opportunity to join a team that was to be built around yourself with you as number one in almost every area, I'm sure you would jump at the chance.

The problem with BAR is that it was the ex Tyrell squad using the same rebadged Renault engines (this time called Supertec) that had been so un-successful in the Williams the previous year, with a chassis designed by Raynard whose most recent F1 expereince were a failed attempt at entering on their own and several design components from that car being used by Pacific GP. What with Pollock claiming the team would win a race in its first season and a budget the size of a midfield team with results of back of the grid team and it was always going to be a farce.

What really did for Villeneuve at BAR was the arrival of Jenson Button who outpaced his more experienced team mate at almost every race leading to the ultimate humiliation of Villeneuve being replaced by Takuma Sato for the final race of the season.

So, is it time to re-think the Jacques Villeneuve story and consider him one of the best multi-skilled drivers in Motorsport (with wins in Indy Car, F1, NASCAR and almost completeing the Graham Hill by finishing 2nd at Le Mans) or will his time at BAR forever hang around his neck?
 

RasputinLives

Not dead
Contributor
Great article C_a_T. I have to say I'm probably guilty of being one of those people who forgets Jacques purple period even though I was there to see it. I recently managed to find the book review of the 1997 F1 season (forward by Oliver Panis) and on reading it I'd forgotten how good Villeneuve was that year. That 'superior' Williams was far from being the super car it had been in previous years and whilst its far to say it was the best car the others were much much closer and Jacques did a great job in staving off a very hungry and on form Schumacher - not to mention the second half of the season Mclaren revival.

You mention the move to BAR may have been motivated by the fact Schumacher had a whole team built around him and I'd never thought of that before but I have often wondered if Villeneuve was defeated by Schumacher physcologically. Its no secret that Jacques has a passionate hatred of Michael especially after the season finale in 1997 at Jerez and I wonder if his need to beat Schumacher may have been responsible for his dip in form. The more sucess Schumahcer had the worse Villeneuve's career seemed to get and I wonder if maybe he was focusing too much on his bitterness and not on his driving.

I'm glad he's given up on his 'return to F1' ambitions and lets hope as he fades out of the public eye that maybe people will forget the BAR years and remember him when he really was a top F1 driver.

Would put money on him trying to win Le Mans again though.
 

Road of Bones

MTC Mole
Premium Contributor
What really did for Villeneuve at BAR was the arrival of Jenson Button who outpaced his more experienced team mate at almost every race leading to the ultimate humiliation of Villeneuve being replaced by Takuma Sato for the final race of the season.
Indeed - that and all the "I don't rate Jenson as a driver" comments leading up to the 2003 season. He must really have been gnashing his teeth at the results they were getting in 2004 too! :snigger:

I can only really think of a few on-track moments of his that made me go "Phwoar" - taking Schumi round the outside at the final corner in Estoril, qualifying fourth at Imola in '99,....er - I really can't think of any more!

...and that, basically is the problem with Jacques Villeneuve, IMHO - he never seemed to light up a racetrack the way his dad was able to (not in F1, at least - I'll admit I never saw any of his CART career).
 

Slyboogy

World Champion
Contributor
Maybe he was one of those drivers that excelled in a fast car and the opposite in a slower one, however if he was that good in '97 I highly doubt Schumacher would have even challenged him for the title.
 

Pyrope

Podium Finisher
Supporter
Jacques is a very odd beastie. I too have met him at Mont Tremblant, but my encounter was at the circuit on an afternoon where he was punting a McLaren F1 GTR around in a historics race, but too be honest he was far too busy chatting to Bobby Rahal to even notice who it was that had just asked him to sign a poster. Big points off for that in my book. Anyway...

There was a recent interview with Damon Hill in, I think, Motor Sport that sheds a lot of light on Jacques's problems. In short, he was useless at car setup and development. His setups were always extreme, and he couldn't stand any roll whatsoever in a car. Williams had to make special anti-roll bars for him as even their stiffest setup was not to his liking. Most other people found that car set up for him were undriveable. Reading between the lines it would appear that Jacques was very much like his father and Ronny Peterson, in that he had amazing natural skill and car handling abilities and so could drive around many problems, he just couldn't fix them. His 1996 and 1997 seasons benefitted hugely from the fact that Damon Hill (a renowned car developer and setter-up) was responsible for the cars' development. Once he was in charge of getting a car sorted it all fell apart, as Williams's 1998 season showed in stark relief. Even allowing for the engine, which was effectively only the last year's engine with little modification, he was woefully off the pace. That carried over into BAR, and a lot of their lack of improvement could have been due to a lack of decent feedback from the cockpit.

If you put him in a good car Jacques was amazing. If you put him in a slow one he had nowhere to go.
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
I must admit, my feeling about 1997 was that the Williams was a good deal better than either driver made it look, at times. There were some blunders by the team - at Monaco particularly - but also the car was often inexplicably off the pace, such as at Hockenheim.
 

RasputinLives

Not dead
Contributor
Jacques is a very odd beastie. I too have met him at Mont Tremblant, but my encounter was at the circuit on an afternoon where he was punting a McLaren F1 GTR around in a historics race, but too be honest he was far too busy chatting to Bobby Rahal to even notice who it was that had just asked him to sign a poster. Big points off for that in my book. Anyway...

There was a recent interview with Damon Hill in, I think, Motor Sport that sheds a lot of light on Jacques's problems. In short, he was useless at car setup and development. His setups were always extreme, and he couldn't stand any roll whatsoever in a car. Williams had to make special anti-roll bars for him as even their stiffest setup was not to his liking. Most other people found that car set up for him were undriveable. Reading between the lines it would appear that Jacques was very much like his father and Ronny Peterson, in that he had amazing natural skill and car handling abilities and so could drive around many problems, he just couldn't fix them. His 1996 and 1997 seasons benefitted hugely from the fact that Damon Hill (a renowned car developer and setter-up) was responsible for the cars' development. Once he was in charge of getting a car sorted it all fell apart, as Williams's 1998 season showed in stark relief. Even allowing for the engine, which was effectively only the last year's engine with little modification, he was woefully off the pace. That carried over into BAR, and a lot of their lack of improvement could have been due to a lack of decent feedback from the cockpit.

If you put him in a good car Jacques was amazing. If you put him in a slow one he had nowhere to go.
Really interesting post that one Pyrope - shed a lot of light on things. Might have to seek that Interview with Hill out. If that is the case - and from the way you explain it and what I've seen it seems more than likely - you think that somone at BAR might have been smart enough to bring in a team-mate for Jacques that could do the set up work for him - someone reknown for being good at it. It was before Barrichello went to Ferrari - although that might be with benifit of hindsight that we see him as a good car developer - so he was an option. Damon was scrabbling round for a drive in 98.

Just wonder if things might have turned out a little differently for the Jacques and the BAR team if they'd thought smart on it. Maybe they weren't aware of the issue but as Craig Pollock was involved they really should have been. They couldn't really have thoght of it though as I doubt they would have brought in Riccardo Zonta if they were after a steady hand to sort out set up.
 

Dash Racing

Points Scorer
It's official, Jacques Villeneuve will be driving for Venturi Formula E this year. :cheer: As possibly one of very few Villeneuve fans on this forum, I'm very excited about this, though sad to see unlucky Heidfeld go, as I quite liked him too. If Villeneuve can do well in Formula E, it'll be another piece of evidence that he's a multi-skilled driver who deserves better than the reputation he had following his disastrous F1 career post-Williams.
 
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FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
As one of the few drivers to win the F1 title, the Indy car title and the Indy 500 JV's pedigree cannot be questioned. I'd like to see him go back to Le Mans and win that race to take the triple crown. Problem is he's a bit past his prime now.
 

Dash Racing

Points Scorer
If JV managed to finish his Triple Crown, I'd be jumping for joy, honestly. Sadly, I do have to agree with you, I suspect he's probably past his prime, but I'd be delighted to be proven wrong.
 
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