You’re nine years too late, Jacques

Jacques Villeneuve, BAR-Honda, Suzuka, 2002Ex-F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve has split from his manager Craig Pollock. In a statement the 1997 world champion said:

He has stuck with me through good times and bad, and I have a lot to thank him for.

I think that’s incredibly charitable. If Villeneuve hadn’t followed Pollock’s half-baked idea nine years ago, to set up their own team with British American Tobacco cash, he might have more race victories and titles to his name.

The writing was on the wall in 1998 that Williams, after Villeneuve’s title-winning season with them in 1997, were a spent force. Star designer Adrian Newey had left, and prized engine supplier Renault had gone off on one of their periodic absences from the sport.

Villeneuve could have commanded a race-winning seat at a host of teams, but plumped for the brave-yet-foolish option of following Craig Pollock to the newly-formed British American Racing team.

With a Reynard-designed chassis the team claimed it would keep up the car builder’s string of debut victories. Of course, it won nothing in 1999 – not even a single point, Villeneuve finishing just four races of 16 with a best of eighth.

The team took seven years to win a race, by which time Villeneuve was long gone and Honda had bought out BAT.

His reputation took a battering in five long years with BAR, finally storming out before the end of the 2003 season. He returned with Renault, then Sauber, who in turn became BMW – and again Villeneuve left before the end of the season.

He never recaptured the dazzling high of his 1996 debut season, where he so very nearly won his first race, and famously angered Michael Schumacher by passing him around the outside of Parabolica at Estoril.

I’m sure those skills will serve him well in his d??but NASCAR season this year. But I’ll always hope to see him back in a proper single seater – say, when the operators of the IRL and Champ Car finally put their differences aside and create a unified American open wheel racing series.

More about Jacques Villeneuve

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11 comments on You’re nine years too late, Jacques

  1. funny I just realized that I was there in Shanghai when he returned with Renault and then also in Germany when he crashed out of his last F1 race …

    towards the end of his F1 career he was far far from his best, but it is a pity we saw the best of him way back in the 90s …

    he was the first in a string of people making wrong career choice and moving or sticking with BAR / Honda … Good luck to Ross Brawn :-)

  2. Journeyer said on 30th January 2008, 12:06

    Odd how when JV leaves any given team, they have a big, if not HUGE, performance leap the year after:

    Williams were 3rd in 1998, then moved down to 5th in 1999, but that was more due to Zanardi’s 0 pts. Look instead at… Ralf! And his run of podiums that year.

    BAR were 5th in 2003, then moved WAY up to 2nd in 2004, being the only team to regularly challenge Ferrari.

    Renault were 3rd in 2004, then won titles in 2005 AND 2006.

    BMW Sauber were 5th in 2006. But right after JV left in the middle of that season, the team scored 2 podiums! (Heidfeld at Hungary and Kubica at Italy) The year after, they too leapt to 2nd in the championship.

    Keith, what were JV’s other options for 1999? I believe he should’ve just stuck it out with Williams, who were due to get a big boost from BMW for 2000. I believe they already knew about the BMW deal at the end of 1998.

  3. William Wilgus said on 30th January 2008, 17:22

    It’s my understanding that JV won the F1 championship that year `because nobody else did’. What I remember most is his ability to blame everyone and everything else.

  4. Always hated Villeneuve, thought he managed to almost lose the title in 1997 when his car was streets ahead of all the others. His music’s awful too.

  5. Cooperman said on 30th January 2008, 17:42

    I miss Jaques Villeneuve from F1.

    I wasn’t his biggest fan but he drove with a sort of flair and passion that you see less off in modern day, corporate F1 – more like a Jean Alesi than a Kimi Raikkonen. Heart-on-sleeve stuff. When he was ‘on it’ he was brilliant to watch. That pass on Schumacher at Estoril in 1996 was the move of the year by a long shot.

    He wore baggy overalls out of personal style and he said what he thought. BAR / Honda’s mistake was – as JV himself put it – to buy into his style for their own marketing purposes and then later try to change him.

    F1 lost two of its biggest characters, and talented drivers, to NASCAR in a very short space of time. Villeneuve and Montoya. Neither conformed to the modern F1 stereotype and it’s a pity that either of them had to. F1’s very big loss.

  6. Perhaps Jacques is being so charitable because Craig gave him what he desired most: money. For Jacques the BAR adventure was a disaster on all other fronts so that’s the only explanation I can see. I seem to remember a later team principle, dave richards I believe, complaining publicly that if only he would take a pay cut the car could be made to go faster. all to no avail.

  7. AmericanTifosi said on 30th January 2008, 22:16

    Poor Jacques. Did anyone notice in the 24hrs of Le Mans, his crew had trouble strapping him into the Peugot because of his baggy racing suit!

  8. JV was always and foremost about about JV. Not much to like there as far as I am concerned. I am somewhat stunned over his fast adaptation to NASTYCAR, and I for one will cut him slack until he reverts back to his prototypical complaining about everything to anyone who will listen.

    What a monumental waste of talent and opportunity.

  9. I think everyone makes mistakes. JV did make a fair share of his. I think he made a mess out of 97 campaign, yet, he did win it. So respect where is due. Also, i miss the in your face characters, Monty Python(really, he had a gut growing) and JV and the likes. F1, should perhaps try not to be so politically correct and remain a sport, which we like. The stuff the legends are made of.

  10. JV never won ANYTHING after his title year. Not a single race. Again, a monumental waste of talent and opportunity.

  11. Number 38 said on 2nd February 2008, 6:45

    F1 is NASCAR training and he’s gently adapted to the big cars, never my F1 favorite but he’s been accepted by many Americans.
    I guess there’s a time and place for everyone.

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