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Top 5 Drives of Jaques Villeneuve

Jaques Villeneuve burst into the scene of Formula 1 like a meteor 22 years ago when he made his debut in 1996. The Canadian took pole position and very nearly won his very first race in F1.

He fought with his teammate Damon Hill for the title until the last race of 1996 and came up just short of winning it. The next season he went one step further up the standings and won the title in only his second season in the sport.

Unfortunately, 1997 was the last year when Villeneuve had a race-winning car at his disposal, and throughout the rest of his career he was racing in teams that only gave him mid-pack cars, but Villeneuve was still capable of showing his talent even with these during the peak years of his career.

1999 Spanish GP

Villeneuve left the Williams team after a disappointing 1998 season. He and his manager Craig Pollock decided to form their own team, British American Racing.

With hindsight, we know that Villeneuve’s impatience with Williams came to cost him, as Williams become a race-winning packed by 2001 again thanks to their BMW engines, while BAR never became serious title contenders.

The 1999 season was a disaster for both Villeneuve and his new team in terms of results. The team ended the season with 0 points, while Villeneuve failed to even finish in any of the first eleven races of the season.

Still, occasionally when the unreliable car showed glimpses of speed Villeneuve showed that he still had it. One such occasion was the Spanish GP. After a decent qualifying which saw Villeneuve inside the top 6, the Canadian had a lightning start and was up to 3rd by the end of the first lap.

He had no chance to keep up with the superior McLarens, but he succeeded in keeping behind him both Ferraris for over 20 laps, and after he was passed by the red cars in the pit stop phase he was still running a strong fifth, the best of the rest by a long way. Unfortunately for him and the team, a great drive went unrewarded when he had to retire from the race with a gearbox failure.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Villeneuve won four races in his debut season.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. True

1997 Austrian GP

Williams dominated the 1996 season and won both the driver's and the constructor's titles very easily. Many expected them to continue this form onto 1997, however, it was not to be. The entrance of Bridgestone into the sport started a tyre war and made the life of the teams much harder in 1997 than it was in 1996. Williams also lost Adrian Newey, and as the season progressed, the team seemingly was losing its edge over the competition.

Michael Schumacher was also driving the wheels of his Ferrari to win the championships, while both Williams and Villeneuve made mistakes and were very often simply unlucky.

As the two rivals arrived in Austria, Schumacher was leading Villeneuve by 10 points in the standings.

Villeneuve needed a win to close the gap on his rival. He took a superb pole position in the qualifying, while his rival struggled and only managed a 9th position.

Villeneuve had a poor start and dropped to fourth instantly. Hakkinen took the lead, but it did not last long as his McLaren broke down on the second lap. Trulli inherited the lead from Hakkinen, he was followed by Barrichello and Villeneuve. Villeneuve was a lot faster than Barrichello but unable to pass the Brazilian for a long time. Trulli used this to his advantage and pulled a 10-second lead. Villeneuve eventually got by Barrichello and closed on Trulli to take the lead. Once he was leading, the Canadian did not look back and took a superb win coming from behind to reignite his title challenge. His rival Schumacher finished only 6th after a stop and go he received for passing under yellow flags.

Quiz

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

Scroll to Continue
  1. Villeneuve won 7 races in 1997.
    • False
    • True

Answer Key

  1. True

1996 French GP

Villeneuve was trailing his teammate Hill in the middle phase of the 1996 season. The Canadian showed flashes of speed, but he was still too inconsistent and error-prone to keep pace with Hill. He showed this again during the qualifying when thanks to a crash he only managed 6th.

The race was a very different story, and Villeneuve was lightning fast in race trim. He made up a few positions after the start and was already up to fourth from sixth. He was stuck behind Mika Hakkinen in the first stint but got by the Finn after the first pit stops. During the middle stint, he closed up to Jean Alesi who was running second. After a brief period of following his French rival, he passed him with a clinical move.

Villeneuve set the fastest lap after and looked very quick, but the lead of his teammate Hill was simply too great to catch him.

1998 German GP

The Williams team had a very underwhelming 1998 when one looks at the form of the team between 1991 and 1997. Williams generally had the quickest car in these years, and their drivers either won or at least were fighting for championships during this period.

1998 was a very different story. Williams was way off the pace of McLaren and Ferrari and was the best of the rest on their good days, and not even that on their bad days.

Villeneuve failed to even score a podium in the first 10 races of the season.

The McLarens once again looked dominant in the German GP, and Mika Hakkinen took pole position from his teammate Coulthard, but for once, it was not Michael Schumacher following them on third, but Jaques Villeneuve’s Williams.

He had a sluggish start and dropped back, but recovered during the race to get back to a comfortable third. In the closing stages of the race, the McLarens seemingly slowed down, and Villeneuve was closing on them, unfortunately, he did not have enough time and pace to close up and snatch victory from the McLarens, but he still earned himself a well deserved and hard-fought 3rd place.

Villeneuve's pass on Schumacher

1996 Portuguese GP

With two races left from the 1996 season, Damon Hill was leading his rival and teammate Jaques Villeneuve with 13 points. This meant that all Hill had to do to win the championship was to finish ahead of Villeneuve.

Hill edged his teammate by a small margin in qualifying to take pole position. Hill also had a better start than his teammate. After the end of the first lap, Hill's lead from Alesi, Schumacher and Villeneuve was only fourth. The Williams was the fastest car on the grid by some margin which allowed Hill to pull away effortlessly from the following pack. Villeneuve tried, but failed to pass his rivals for the time being. His chance finally came when they came up behind backmarker Giovanni Lavaggi. Lavaggi was caught on the last corner of the track, he slowed down Schumacher, which allowed Villeneuve to pass the German from the outside.

Soon after the Canadian jumped into the pits. He passed Alesi in the pit spot phase and cruised up behind his teammate in his second stint. Villeneuve was much faster than Hill, but he was unable to get close enough to his teammate to attempt a move.

Villeneuve stayed out a bit longer than Hill and after he emerged from the pits, he managed to just stay ahead of his teammate. After he was first, he used his superior pace to pull away from Hill to win the Portuguese GP with a superb recovery drive, in my opinion, probably the best drive of his career.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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