Moments In Motorsport (29): Jacques Villeneuve

In any sport, the children of successful parents have to overcome a degree of prejudice before becoming appreciated for their own abilities. In the case of Jacques Villeneuve, he had a very hard act to follow when he chose to make motorsport his career since his late father, Gilles Villeneuve, was revered within the world of Formula 1.

Moments In Motorsport (30): Jacques Villneuve


While Gilles was quiet and modest, Jacques proved to be a quite different character who was never afraid to speak his mind. Inevitiably he became indoctrinated into motor sport from birth, especially Formula 1, as he travelled the world from race to race with his family. Gilles settled for a while in Monaco which allowed Jacques to finished his schooling; as a French-Canadian from Quebec his was fluent in French and English. He was 11 when his father lost his life during a practice session at Zolder and at the age of 18 Jacques entered the Italian Formula 3 championship, competing for three seasons prior to moving to the Toyota Atlantic series. In 1994 he progressed to the American Indy Car World Championship and was named ‘Rookie of the Year’ in the series and at the Indianapolis 500. In 1995 he won the series title as well as the Indy 500. His success was noted by the F1 world and Bernie Ecclestone, determined to cash in on the Villeneuve name, secured him a place in the Williams team for 1996 alongside Damon Hill, another son of a famous driver. Jacques gave notice of intent by securing pole position in the first grand prix of the season which he would have won had the engine not begun to leak oil. He also underlined his competitive approach to racing when he overtook the very wide Ferrari of Michael Schumacher around the outside of a 180-degree bend during the Portugese grand prix. He finished the season in second place in the drivers’ championship while the following year saw him lift the title, winning seven of the seventeen grand prix in 1997. He secured the title by holding off a predictably physical challenge while overtaking the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher during the final race of the season at Jerez. 1998 saw Williams lose its Renault engine contract which resulted in Jacques finishing fifth in a less than competitive car. Concerned about his future he rejected offers from some of the top teams and made the mistake of joining a new team, BAR, that had been put together by his manager, Craig Pollock. The car was fast but seriously unreliable and despite his attempts to turn things around, the following four years brought little reward. Despite joining the Sauber team, his grand prix career came to an ignominious end when he walked out half way through the 2006 season. He still wanted to race so accepted offers to drive in a wide variety of categories from NASCAR to truck racing via the Le Mans 24 Hours until he hung up his helmet in 2016 and turned to commentating.

The photograph shows Jaques Villeneuve waiting patiently in his Williams-Renault FW19 in the team garage at Silverstone during a Goodyear tyre test session, July 1997, the year in which he won the drivers title. At the time, F1 cars were permitted to test as much as they wished; tyre test days might have been a chore for the drivers but were a necessary requirement in order to remain competitive.

From ‘Moments in Motorsport’ by Trevor Legate.

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