- April 09, 1971
- Nascar Whelen Euro Series
Like many other professions, racing is often passed on from generation to generation, and Jacques Villeneuve inherited the speed gene from his celebrated father Gilles and uncle Jacques. Born in April 1971 in Quebec and raised in Monaco, young Jacques was able to experience all the upsides and downsides of the life as a Formula One driver's son.
In 1982, when he was just eleven, his father Gilles Villeneuve suffered a fatal accident at Zolder, but that didn't deter Jacques from continuing where his father left. As he later said, that tragic event was the driving force throughout his whole career that made him a winner instead of a cry baby.
After years of skiing, Jacques debuted in karting at Imola at the age of fourteen. There, he impressed the track owners who sat him in a Formula 4 car the very same day. A year later, under the patronage of his uncle Jacques Sr, and with a big support of his mother Joann, young Villeneuve enrolled at Jim Russell Racing Driver's school, the same place where his father learned the tricks of the trade.
School's instructors named him the best student they've ever had, and in 1987, he attended Richard Sperand's racing school, where he was also praised for his high stability and determination.
Having been too young to obtain a racing licence at just seventeen, Jacques got one in Andorra with help from the Canadian Automotive Federation. His first series was the 1988 Alfa Cup where he battled with the likes of Riccardo Patrese and Johnny Cecotto, and from 1989 to 1991 Villeneuve competed in Italian Formula Three, but with no major success. The following year, he moved to the Japanese Formula Three, where he had three victories and finished the season second overall, with the third place at Macau Grand Prix.
After Japan, Villeneuve returned to his native continent after his former teacher and family friend Craig Pollock invited him to participate in a Formula Atlantic race at Circuit Trois-Rivieres. Jacques won third place and the very impressed Pollock arranged for him to drive in the upcoming 1993 North American Toyota Atlantic season full time for Forsythe-Green Racing. In the series, Villeneuve took seven pole positions and five race victories. However, he failed to finish his debut season as the best-ranked driver as several crucial errors ultimately demoted him to third place.
In 1994, Villeneuve moved up to IndyCar, where he won his first race at Road America and finished second at Indianapolis 500. At the end of the season, he was sixth, but with the Rookie of The Year award in his hands. In 1995, he started the season well, with four victories, including a heroic return to Indy 500 where he won just two seconds ahead of Christian Fittipaldi. Those wins were enough for the 1995 IndyCar title.
A combination of great recent performances and a famous name drew attention from Sir Frank Williams who signed a two-year contract with Villeneuve. Young Canadian was partnered with Damon Hill, and almost won his first Formula One race from pole, the Australian Grand Prix, but an oil leak forced him to pass the lead to his teammate.
However, Jacques soon got the taste of victory at the Nurburgring, his fourth race in Formula 1. With two third places, five second places, and four Grand Prix victories, Villeneuve was the only man who could beat Hill to the title in the last race at Suzuka. However, Jacques retired from the race which Damon Hill won, winning the title and leaving the Canadian in second place.
After winning the title, Hill departed from Williams, which meant that Villeneuve, who became the first driver for the team, got promoted. During the 1997 Formula One, Villeneuve was battling with Michael Schumacher who has already won two World Championships at the time.
The season's notorious battle between the Canadian and the German culminated at Suzuka, the penultimate race of the season, where Villeneuve finished fifth, but was disqualified, which left Schumacher leading by one point. The last race of the season was the European Grand Prix at Jerez, and the event was marked by Schumacher's disqualification after the German deliberately turned into Villeneuve's car on lap 48 while trying to defend the lead. That unsportsmanlike move prompted disqualification from the championship for Schumacher. Jacques managed to recover and get to third, which was enough for the 1997 championship title he won ahead of his teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
It turned out that 1997 was the most successful Formula One year for Jacques Villeneuve - his last F1 win was at the 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix. In 1998, Jacques won just two third places and finished the season fifth overall.
The following year, Villeneuve made a move to British American Racing, a newly formed team co-owned by his manager Pollock. Despite high expectations big and media coverage, BAR cars retired from the first eleven races of the season and Villeneuve scored no championship points.
The year 2000 was a bit less unsuccessful with Villeneuve scoring 17 points, though with no podium finishes and a seventh place overall. In 2001, his performance was again far from that of 1997: he scored 12 points, with two podium finishes in Spain and Germany, the latter being his last podium finish in Formula One.
Despite achieving virtually no results, Villeneuve stayed with BAR until 2003, even turning down an offer to return to CART. In 2004, he moved to Renault F1, but failed to adapt, so he signed for Sauber. He drove for the German team in 2005 and 2006, finally retiring from Formula One after the 2006 German Grand Prix.
Jacques found the decline of his Formula One success to be a door-opener in other racing series, so in 2007, he drove in NASCAR Nationwide and was confirmed as one of Peugeot's 24 Hours of Le Mans drivers. The car pitted from the start with engine issues and had to retire, but Villeneuve and his team returned in 2008 to take the second place behind the #2 Audi. If he had won the race, he would have become the first man after Graham Hill to win the prestigious Triple Crown of Motorsport: F1, Indy 500 and 24H of Le Mans title.
From 2009 to 2014, Jacques partially competed in several series: various NASCAR championships, V8 Supercar, Speedcar, FIA GT, World Rallycross. In 2014, he also drove at Indy 500, thus returning to open wheel racing.
For the 2015-2016 Formula E season, Villeneuve signed for Venturi Grand Prix, where he was planned to drive full season until they unexpectedly parted ways in January. After that, he occasionally participated in different racing competitions as a guest driver.
Photos: infomotori.com, www.f1fanatic.co.uk, , autoaction.com.au, news.nationalpost.com, www.autoportal.iol.pt
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