He was the golden boy of F1 when he set his Williams Renault on pole at his debut in Australia back in 1996, and he was team-mate Damon Hill’s closest challenger for the world title that season. Only an incorrectly mounted oil pipe prevented him from winning that race in Melbourne.
Subsequently he traded that instant speed – only Mario Andretti and Carlos Reutemann had previously started their first grand prix from pole position – into victory at the fourth attempt and went on to add three more race wins, two more pole positions and six fastest laps to his tally that season.
A year later he was World Champion. The manner in which he had taken his Williams round the outside of Michael Schumacher in the last corner at Estoril, and later his pounce on the German in Dry Sack at Jerez, which resulted in their controversial collision and in Villeneuve cementing his title, provided two of the most outstanding passing moves and two of the most hotly debated incidents in recent history.
Villeneuve’s time at BAR was rarely fulfilling. It was a new team and it was still learning many of the hard lessons that all F1 enterprises have to assimilate. There were some podium finishes, but more often than not there was only frustration for an intensely competitive man, and the final dose of that came when he left the team prior to the Japanese Grand Prix in 2003, just before the team really began to make progress.
After the best part of a season on the sidelines he returned to F1 at the end of 2004 as Fernando Alonso’s partner at Renault before inking the deal with Peter Sauber that sees him with BMW today.
Interview with Jacques Villeneuve
People say that you are a rebel. Do you agree with that?
"I disagree with that. Being a rebel means going against the establishment purely for the fact of being against the establishment and not because of having your own ideas. Sometimes I disagreed with the establishment, but this is because I have my own ideas, which is different to being a rebel. Normally a rebel is without a cause."
You like to spend your spare time skiing and playing ice hockey with the “Monks of Bretaye”. You also love music. What do your hobbies mean to you?
"It means that you can get up in the morning and do what you like doing. It’s something for your personal satisfaction, and this needs to be part of your life. It’s very important."
You take your own motorhome to the European GP rounds. In doing so you separate yourself from almost all of the other drivers.
"Having the motorhome simply means being closer to the race track and the team I work with. That's the key element. On race weekends you never spend time with the other drivers anyway, even when you stay in a hotel room. You just go to the race track and work with the people, and then you go to the room to sleep. You don't have a social life outside the race track."
What was the reason for choosing Switzerland as your residence? Do you still feel like a Canadian or already like a Swiss?
"I went to boarding school in Switzerland when I was 12 to 17. And every year I kept going there in winter and in summer. I finally moved to the place I went to school. Being a Canadian I always loved the snow, the winter and the countryside, and Switzerland with its mountains reminds me a bit of Canada."
What is the ideal set-up of a race car for you: do you prefer understeer or oversteer?
"I prefer a neutral car, but I hate understeer more than oversteer. I can drive an oversteering car, but understeer I find difficult. You're limited with understeer. The fastest car is a neutral car, always. An oversteering or understeering car doesn't really exist, it's relative to your driving style. An understeering car could be oversteering with another driver, and vice-versa. It just depends on how you apply the pedals and steering angles."
Which race of your career did you enjoy most?
"There are two races: the Indy 500 in 1995 and Jerez in 1997."
Your overalls are always too large. Is there any practical reason behind it or does it have any other deeper sense?
"No, my overalls are not too large. All the other drivers have them too tight..."