GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #36 - Jacques Villeneuve

08-02-2020 19:00
by Adam Newton
General
GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #36 - Jacques Villeneuve

Hello and welcome back to GPBlog’s countdown of the top 50 F1 drivers of all time. We’re slowly getting closer to racing returning at Albert Park, with lights out just 36 days away. If you missed David Coulthard at number 37 then click here, but today is all about Jacques Villeneuve…

Son of Gilles, Jacques Villeneuve made an immediate impact when he joined F1 following a very successful period in America, where he won the Indy 500 and the CART Championship.

He made a dream start to his F1 career by becoming just the fourth driver to take pole position on his debut in the sport. He was set to take the race win as well, but an oil leak allowed teammate Damon Hill to pass and Villeneuve came home second.

He didn’t have to wait long for his first F1 victory however, picking up the winner’s trophy at the fourth round of the season at the Nurburgring, bringing himself back into the title fight with Hill after the Brit had taken victory in the first three races.

Two rounds without points dented his hopes, but the Canadian went on an incredible run of podiums afterwards, finishing in the top three seven times in succession, including two wins.

With three rounds to go he was 13 points away from the more experienced Hill and another win in Portugal meant it would go down to the final round.

Unfortunately for Villeneuve, he retired as Hill charged to victory and took the title.

After an almost perfect debut season, Villeneuve stayed with Williams and was joined by Heinz-Harald Frentzen after Hill left the team.

He won three of the first six races as he battled Michael Schumacher for the championship lead, and it looked to be slipping away when the Ferrari man won in Belgium, giving him an 11 point lead.

He won at the Austrian and Luxembourg (held in Germany, but that’s another story) Grands Prix and was only trailing the German by one point heading into the final race at Jerez.

Incredibly, Villeneuve, Schumacher and Frentzen all set the exact same time in qualifying, but Villeneuve was given pole having set the time earlier in the session.

A poor getaway gave Schumacher the lead, but Villeneuve was catching and made a move for P1 with just over 20 laps to go.

As he had done three years earlier to Hill, Schumacher tried to hit Villeneuve and take him out of the race, but he only managed to put himself in the gravel.

Fearing damage, Villeneuve let Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard past on the final lap, coming home third to secure the F1 title at just his second attempt.

1998 was a poor season for Williams and Villeneuve moved to BAR the following year, with the partnership yielding just two podiums and 39 points in five years.

He left the team at the end of 2003 and didn’t have a drive for 2004, but was drafted in at Renault when Jarno Trulli was fired.

His performances at Renault were less than impressive and he raced for Sauber in 2005 and 2006, but quit halfway through the 2006 season, replaced by Robert Kubica.

In some ways Villeneuve had an F1 career in reverse, starting at the top before slipping further down the grid.

He is often remembered for his poor performances towards the end of his career, or for his controversial opinions on modern F1, but it cannot be denied that in his early days of F1, Villeneuve was a superb talent and one that truly deserved his title.

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