In the seventh episode of Formula 1’s ‘Beyond The Grid’ podcast, 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve opens up on his racing career, relationship with dad Gilles, title win, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and more.
The 47-year-old starts the podcast to talk about his life with racing only on his mind since childhood irrespective of his dad Gilles also being a race car driver. He says he wanted to be competitive in something and racing was the choice even though he did skiing.
He then talks about Gilles with whom he doesn’t have huge memories with as their family never lived together for long. Jacques only has the memory of Gilles as a race car driver and not as his dad.
However, he admits listening to stories about his dad that he has a lot in similar to how he was back in his days especially to be the wolf in the pack and do things which not everyone would do like taking Eau Rouge flat out in those times when no one dared to.
Villeneuve’s road to F1 was different as he did Formula 3 with no karting experience and moved to IndyCar before eventually landing in F1 with the then champion team Williams. He said it was no brainier to join the British outfit.
In the test itself he could feel quite the step from Indy to F1. As he made his debut at 24-years of age, it was considered as a big call as in those days the drivers started late in their career. He fondly remembers his time with Damon Hill in the team.
He said he learnt a lot from Hill and their shared a good rivalry but he reveals he tried to get one up from his teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 1997 while also recalled his title fight with Michael Schumacher.
Interestingly, they only got to battle against each other at Jerez where they had a collision for which Schumacher was penalised heavily to be excluded from the championship results but he still kept his race results from the season.
He still regards Schumacher as the fiercest rival with the aura he had about him but felt Mika Hakkinen lost interest after winning two titles. He was impressed by Fernando Alonso during his time in Renault though.
Even though the Spaniard had some issues in qualifying but his race craft was something to learn from for Villeneuve and the Canadian wished to remain as his teammate for a longer time to learn more.
Later in the podcast, he actually called it right for Alonso’s decision to leave F1 even before the announcement was made (the podcast was recorded before Alonso’s news). According to him, the best choice for Alonso remains IndyCar and Indy500 to complete Triple Crown.
Like Christian Horner, Villeneuve too alluded to the bad blood Alonso creates wherever he goes which was only hurting his image and considering the results of the teams, he was piling on more baggage on his name and image.
He also discussed the stint with British American Racing where he was part owner of the team and that it eventually failed due to too much politics internally. He revealed he had the offer to join McLaren in 1999 from Adrian Newey but couldn’t take it.
The BAR stint also hurt his chances to race for Renault. He was forced into sabbatical and his return with Sauber ended up in a career-ending disaster. On BAR, he revealed Gilles also wanted to run a F1 team with Jody Scheckter but had no funds in the end.
He then shifts to the racing today and feels it is certainly the same as before even for kids as he thinks in the current times, it is more about rich kids in the sport rather than talented ones and that is one reason for not forcing his children into racing.
However, he added he will support his children if anyone decided to do racing. He also thinks, it is wrong in today’s time to prepare a driver for F1 than how it was in the past where the driver had to do it himself and reach the pinnacle.
He also thinks it is easier these days for drivers to drive the cars which is more about managing everything and feels the camaraderie between race drivers was more before as the danger level was still high.
He also admitted that he has always been an outspoken person and continues to be but adds it doesn’t affects his relationships with drivers hugely. He feels Kimi Raikkonen has become more chirpy these days and is driving his best despite being a father.
In fact, he thinks Ferrari will be wise to retain his services as he feels Charles Leclerc needs at least another season to fine tune his racing as a jump in 2019 will be hugely tough on him where he will be ‘eaten up’ by Sebastian Vettel.
He adds the current situation with Raikkonen is harmonious for Ferrari and with Leclerc coming in – at least in 2019 – it could damage the team than help them. From among the current drivers, Alonso is more like Villeneuve than Lewis Hamilton as per him.
He concludes the podcast talking about his hobbies which includes working on vintage computers, composing music, playing hockey & skiing and enjoying his current life as a commentator. He also has designed a race track in Vancouver.
[Episode 6: Christian Horner]