Jacques Villeneuve has built a reputation for being outspoken and opinionated and never wrong about anything, though his battle royal with Michael Schumacher in 1997 to win the F1 drivers’ title is one that many F1 fans will never forget.
The Canadian driver was disqualified from competing in the penultimate race of the season that year having been found guilty by the stewards of failing to observe yellow flags in qualifying. Michael Schumacher won the race in Japan and led the drivers’ championship by 1 point heading into the final race in Jerez.
Saturday afternoon was to become another notable affair when Villeneuve, Schumacher, and Frentzen all registered the same fastest qualifying time. Villeneuve was awarded pole position on the basis he had set the time first. As fate would have it, this would be the final pole position of Villeneuve’s career. Schumacher made the best start, overtaking Villeneuve, but by lap 48 the Canadian was fighting back for the lead and, braking later than Schumacher, held the inside line into the Dry Sac corner. Schumacher turned into Villeneuve, who was now ahead, though the result was different from the one which saw the German end Damon Hill’s race in Adelaide just three years earlier.
Schumacher retired and Villeneuve managed to claim third place and the F1 drivers’ title. Michael Schumacher was later punished by the FIA for ‘causing an avoidable accident’ and was disqualified from that year’s Championship.
Williams retained Villeneuve’s services the following year, though Jacques now reveals to Auto-Hebdo he had another offer. “Adrian Newey called me asking me not to sign with BAR and to join him instead [at McLaren]. He liked me because he had seen what I could do with his cars at Williams and there was enormous respect between us.” Mika Häkkinen went on to claim the 1998 and 1999 F1 drivers’ title while driving the very Newey-designed McLaren car Villeneuve had been offered.
Despite this Jacques admits, “My only mistake was to renew the contract with BAR in 2002 when I had an offer from Renault.” Renault signed Jarno Trulli to join Jenson Button instead, and a certain Fernando Alonso gave up his drive at Minardi to become the team’s test driver. This also opened the F1 door for Mark Webber to take Alonso’s place.
Renault went on to build a successful team and of course it was Fernando Alonso who was their title winning driver in 2005 and 2006.
Jacques Villeneuve retied from Formula One in 2006 after suffering an injury at the German GP, though he has led an interesting life since then. He raced for Peugeot at Le Mans 2007/08, jumped to NASCAR in August 2007 and competed as an invited driver in the Argentinian Top Race V6 series and the Australian-based International V8 Supercars Championship.
Jacques Villeneuve was recruited by the Venturi team to replaces the ‘unlucky’ Nick Heidfeld for the Formula E 2015/16, though their partnership lasted just three races before he was replaced by British driver Mike Conway.