Villeneuve gets a bad rap, he was a talented driver but he moved for money instead of for the best car.
Villeneuve didn’t just move for the money. He had some very nice offers from Benetton and McLaren between 1998 and 2001. Villeneuve also moved because he figured BAR would be ‘his’ team, much like Schumacher ‘ran’ Ferrari. I mentioned JV’s mentality before, because he really didn’t feel like doing anything other than getting in the car to set it up on Friday, to Qualify on Saturday and to race on Sunday. F1Rejects has a great article on his years at BAR, which is worth reading regardless of this discussion.
Both changed their drives for big money to a wealthy new team.
The reasons varied very much, though. Villeneuve wanted to be ‘in charge’ at a team and believed his manager and close friend Craig Pollock would get a team going that could win in its first season. The budget and people were certainly there, but the experience and ability perhaps less so. Don’t forget; Jacques was always going to be judged as Gilles’ son. He had something to prove, especially since most people subscribed the 1997 title to the Williams, much like they’re doing to Vettel. Villeneuve had a lot to prove; he could win for another team than Williams. I’m sure Williams’ 1998 season helped the move to BAR as well.
Hamilton had been involved with McLaren since he was a kid. Much like people will get tired of living with their parents after some time, he seemingly got tired at McLaren and needed some breathing space. I’d say he isn’t doing too great emotionally this season, but you can tell he’s acting different than at McLaren, so he is going though personal development; which is what I imagine he wanted to do by leaving McLaren.
Money is of course a factor, but I don’t think Villeneuve would have moved to BAR if Craig Pollock wasn’t involved, much like Hamilton wouldn’t have moved to Mercedes had he been in a more open environment at McLaren.
It’s a little late now, though. In 2006, they were already great drivers, but still developing. Now, they’re at their peak and perhaps even a little over it. Now, if Alonso had joined Ferrari with Raikkonen in 2007 or 2010, that would have been something. I’m still excited, but not as much as I would have been back then.