Formula 1 Teams Jacques Villeneuve
Races: 165Jacques Villeneuve: Promised FulfilledBy Jeremy McMullenPage: 1
Career Points: 235
On a rather overcast day in early May 1982, many Formula One, and Canadian, racing fans would be left with promises unfulfilled. Their hero, the great wheel-to-wheel racer Gilles Villeneuve, was dead. There would be no World Championship for the man everyone believed was the heir-apparent. But his line wouldn't end with him. He would have a son and that son would not only chart his own course, he would fulfill the promise that had been left torn and broken against that catch-fencing in Zolder, Belgium.
Jacques would be just eleven years old when his father ended up against the catch-fencing having been flung from his Ferrari across the track as it disintegrated in mid-air as it turned over and over again. With his father's death that day in Belgium, the hopes of many Gilles fans and Canadian racing fans would be left unfulfilled. In many respects, Ferrari's hopes would also be dashed as it would be 21 years before a Ferrari driver would win the Formula One World Championship. However, in spite of his father's terrible death, Jacques would never deviate from what had been the family's occupation. In fact, the tragedy would only seem to accelerate the young man's growth.
Motor racing was a part of Jacques' life right from the very beginning. Though born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu in Quebec, Jacques would be mostly raised in that Mediterranean jewel known as Monaco. Though Jacques' father Gilles would be Canada's hero, the family would be filled with racing drivers. His uncle, also known as Jacques, would become the first Canadian to win a CART race when he won at Road America in 1985. Interestingly, Gilles would become the darling of Formula One, then there would be his uncle Jacques who earned success in CART, Jacques would prove the strength of family genes by finding success in both.
Initially, a motor racing career would be as a result of a bribe. Though he desired to follow in his father's footsteps it was contingent upon his mother's approval, and that would only come as long as he improved his grades. Proving himself with his grades, his mother Joann would set up a drive in a 100cc kart at a track right in the heart of Ferrari country—Imola.
Imola in 1982 had been the site of one of the greatest frustrations in his father's career. Passed on the last lap by Didier Pironi, the 2nd place at Imola in 1982, many would suggest, would set the stage for the tragic accident that would follow at Zolder that would take his life. But, for his son, Imola would prove a turning point. He would impress in his kart drive and would end up being offered a chance to drive a 135cc kart as soon as he came back in. But the day wasn't over. The son of the great Gilles, Jacques would prove he had the family genes, and, before the day was done would be behind the wheel of a Formula Four car on the actual grand prix circuit. Returning to Canada, his uncle would enter him in the Jim Russell Racing Driver School in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. Instructor Gilbert Pednault would declare Jacques then best student he'd ever seen. Villeneuve would then work in a garage to further train himself in car set-up. It was clear he was talented enough to contend with some of the best in the world, but, at 17 years of age, he was too young to get a racing license in either Canada or Italy. However, with a little help, he would get a license from the tiny nation-state of Andorra.
Able to go racing, Jacques would end up in the Italian Formula Three series from 1989 through 1991. This would be a great testing ground for the young Villeneuve but it would prove to be a most unsuccessful bid. He would earn better results racing in the Japanese Formula Three series in 1992. Over the course of that season he would win three races and would end up 2nd in the championship.
|Craig Pollock would become an important figure in Jacques career over time. However, in late 1992 Pollock would be relatively unfamiliar with Jacques but would invite the driver to a Formula Atlantic race at Trois Rivieres. Villeneuve would impress in the race finishing in 3rd place. This would impress Pollock to such a degree that he would give Jacques a drive in the North American Toyota Atlantic series for 1993.|
In spite of some driving errors, Jacques would finish the 1993 Toyota Atlantic series with seven pole positions and five race victories out of 15 races. Unfortunately, those mistakes would cost him and he would finish 3rd in the championship. Nonetheless, it was good enough to earn the Canadian the opportunity to take another step up.
Driving for the Forsythe-Green Team in the IndyCar Championship, Jacques would prove the Villeneuve genes were strong and unbreakable as he would take his first victory in CART IndyCar at the very same track, Road America, his uncle had won at back in 1985. Nearly ten years later, it was another Canadian coming through to victory at the Road America circuit. He would also go on to finish his first Indianapolis 500 in 2nd place. This would not only earn him the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award, but it would also earn him the 1994 PPG IndyCar World Series Rookie of the Year award.
Jacques' star was on the rise and would only rise all the more the following year. Still in the CART/IndyCar series, he would take victory in the first round of the championship. Then, at the 79th Indianapolis 500, Villeneuve would overcome a two lap penalty to come away with a surprising victory. Not since the 1981 Monaco Grand Prix, had the Villeneuve family celebrated such a monumental victory. The victory would not only lead to the CART/IndyCar championship that year, it would also bring Formula One beckoning at his door. The victory at Indianapolis, especially after coming back from a two lap penalty, would cause many within Formula One to pay attention to the son of the man who Enzo Ferrari compared to the great Tazio Nuvolari. One of those to especially pay attention to the young Canadian would be none other than the Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone. Not since Michael Andretti in 1993 had Formula One had a driver from North America. The series badly needed an ‘American' driver and Villeneuve fit the bill, at least to some degree. Frank Williams, the owner of the strongest Formula One team and the one bearing his name, would agree. Villeneuve, at the age of just 24, would land a ride with the best team in Formula One.
Landing such a ride, the expectations would be high. The fact his last name was Villeneuve only made things worse. However, Jacques would weather the storm perfectly by taking pole-position in his very first race. He would prove the pole was no fluke as he would nearly win that Australian Grand Prix had it not been for an oil leak late in the race that caused him to have to hand the victory over to his teammate, another son of a Formula One great, Damon Hill.
The pairing of second generation drivers would prove nearly unbeatable over the course of the 1996 season. The two sons of Formula One would run in a class unto themselves over the course of the season. Aided, undoubtedly, by the best car in the series, Villeneuve and Hill would take 12 victories out of 16 races. Hill would score eight of those victories. However, because of Villeneuve's four victories, and more consistent driving, the championship would go down to the final race of the season—the Japanese Grand Prix.
The pressure was firmly on Jacques as the points advantage still swung in Hill's favor. However, the Canadian would prove equal to the task claiming pole-position for the race and going on to set the fastest lap. Unfortunately, Hill would be in control of the event and would be untouchable once Villeneuve ran into trouble late in the race. The title would go to Hill, but Jacques would finish his first season in Formula One as the runner-up. Gilles had finished 1979 runner-up to Jody Scheckter. However, Hill would be departing Williams at the end of the season, Jacques was in a position to fulfill what his father never managed to achieve.
Even before the start of the 1997 Formula One season Jacques had already reached a level his father could have only dreamt of. Both had marquee wins with Gilles winning at Monaco in '81 and Jacques coming through to win Indy fourteen years later. Gilles' short career would end with six World Championship victories. Jacques would already have four to his credit along with a CART/IndyCar championship. The son was carrying on, and in many respects surpassing, the family legacy. There was just one more level of achievement that had to be attained for there to be total fulfillment.
Though in just his second season in Formula One, Jacques would take over as Williams' number one driver with the departure of reigning World Champion Damon Hill. Villeneuve would be joined by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, a German driver many were tipping to be as good as Michael Schumacher. This was going to a great test for Villeneuve and he needed to exert himself straight-away.
Jacques would do that in qualifying posting a pole-winning time that was nearly two seconds ahead of that set by his teammate. Unfortunately, it would be his slower teammate that would get the jump at the start to lead the way. Villeneuve would then get squeezed by Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari and Jacques would end up out of the race after making contact with Johnny Herbert in his Sauber. This was not how his season was supposed to start.
Villeneuve would make up for the poor start to the season with three victories in the next five races. He would then go on to add another four over the course of the rest of the season. However, some car troubles and erratic driving would allow Michael Schumacher to stay in the hunt for the World Championship. As it did the year before, the World Championship would go down the final race of the season.
Heading into the final race of the season, Villeneuve would find himself trailing again, this time by just a single point. Still, the Canadian needed to do everything right against the German if he had any hopes of finally taking the World Championship for the Villeneuve family, the championship many believed was his from the very beginning of the season. Page: 1 Sources:
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