15 February 2014
Exclusive Jacques Villeneuve Q&A
Crash.net speaks exclusively to Jacques Villeneuve after the 1997 F1 World Champion announced a switch to rallycross, talking about his hopes for the new series and concerns over F1's future
What was the main temptation about the move in to rallycross?
Jacques Villeneuve: I love racing, and it's pure racing back to its roots. It's not artificial – which I like – and it's rough and tough. It's challenging, I love a challenge, and it's very exciting. Also because it's become a world championship, so that kind of made the difference.
Was it something you were following closely before or was it a new option that caught your attention?
Jacques Villeneuve: Not closely, but I was following it and paying attention to it because it always looked exciting, I just didn't know a lot about it. I knew that it was exciting and fun; I'd done some ice racing in France so I got a little taste of something similar, but I just never thought I would drive in it. So even though I looked at it and it looked exciting, that's where it stopped. It was hard to follow, I didn't know which championships to follow and you kind of had to grow up with it to know about it. But now that it has become a world championship and it basically goes to the masses suddenly it becomes attainable. Suddenly there was an opportunity where there wouldn't have been one before.
You've already had a test in France, how did that go and were there any surprises?
Jacques Villeneuve: It went great. Surprises? Yes, because it actually drove like a proper race car! That was a positive surprise for me because that I know I can do. But the secret is not driving quick laps on your own, the secret is what happens when you're with the pack and that is where I will have to learn a lot.
Obviously you've got a lot of experience from other categories as well but do you still get apprehensive when you're going in to a new venture like this?
Jacques Villeneuve: Oh always, because you don't know what to expect. You don't know how good you'll be and you always worry 'OK, how hard will it be to become good enough?' But I spent the last few years just jumping in different cars and categories and most of the time getting used to it quickly and getting competitive. A few times it just didn't work out and you feel terrible when that happens, but in general you find a way. You get enough laps in to understand the concept, the mechanical aspects of it and find a way to drive around the problems and then to set them up. I'm expecting the same thing to happen here; during the tests we worked a little bit on set-up just to get used to it and it was very reactive, so I'm quite confident.
What's it been like getting to know Andy Scott and the Albatec team and how does it compare to some of your more recent categories?
Jacques Villeneuve: The feeling I got from rallycross was a little bit more of the NASCAR aspect of it; it's a family of races where racing is a passion and it's not the politics that come with it. So I like that, that's why I got in to racing in the first place years and years ago. It's just fun, you go out there to compete and may the best win and that's it. That's very present in rallycross and Andy is extremely passionate about this. He's putting everything in place for it to be successful at the world level.
What are your hopes for the coming season, not just for yourself but for the series as a whole?
Jacques Villeneuve: Well for myself I will have to miss a few races because I'm doing TV commentary for F1. So I will have to miss a few F1 races and I will have to miss a few rallycross races as well. But I see this year as a learning year because there is some tremendous talent and experienced guys – some with world experience as well – and you need to get beaten by those guys a few times and learn to then get better and hopefully get to a point where you figure out a way to beat them. That's the goal, that's how I got in to IndyCar and that's how I got in to F1. You have a few fights in the first year, some wins and then you end up fighting for the championship in the second year. Hopefully that's what will happen with rallycross. But there's always a little bit of apprehension because ultimately, until you've done it, you know deep inside that you can but you never know what happens.
You mentioned some of your other categories there; moving on to F1 where do you think it can learn from other series?
Jacques Villeneuve: I don't know. I don't really think that F1 looks at other series or what happens anywhere else. It's gone too far now, so you need it all restructured. The current F1 is really far away from what F1 was and should be.
Do you feel that's a case of the way the sport is being managed means it is beyond help at this point?
Jacques Villeneuve: It's hard to know but obviously what they want F1 to be is not what F1 was. They have their own goals and plans; I'm just not sure what they are. I fail to understand them right now so I really don't know what the plan is with modern Formula One. I really don't get it.
You raced with both V10 and V8 engines in your career, what are your thoughts on the new power units?
Jacques Villeneuve: I don't understand the concept of always trying to make F1 go slower and slower and slower and have less and less power. There were turbo days with over 1000 horsepower and now we're down to ridiculously low horsepower. I don't know, I really don't get it. They're barely faster than GP2 and they have a hard time beating our lap times from 1997 so something is wrong.
And how about the look of the cars? Because they're a bit strange this year…
Jacques Villeneuve: That's the least you can say! And I don't think they will grow on us.
Do you feel there at least will be more emphasis on driving talent under the new regulations? Or do you feel it's becoming too technical?
Jacques Villeneuve: They're becoming easier and easier to drive so less and less talented. Even last year the drivers had to slow down in corners to save the tyres and the teams were telling them where to slow down. It's not even the drivers that were feeling it, the teams were telling them 'OK slow down a little bit in that corner or slow down in that other one because the temperatures are going up'. So it's not even the driver talent any more. The driver, slowly but surely, is becoming a passenger in the car, which is what was wanted a while ago.
Next year they're super-slow, they don't even push so it's not even physical any more and the fuel economy is done electronically. The engine slows down on its own half way down the straight; it's not even the driver that has to figure out when and how to save fuel, so he has very little to do.
Does that mean in your opinion it makes it difficult to pick out who is best of the current crop because you can't really see them displaying their full talents? Or does someone stand out to you?
Jacques Villeneuve: It's really hard to see someone stand out. Obviously a Vettel or an Alonso stands out because the rest of the field is mediocre.
Is that what you like about the other series you've been racing in; that it's a lot more about the driver?
Jacques Villeneuve: It's not just a question of it being about the driver. Ultimately the best driver will always do something special whatever the rules and whatever the regulations. Same thing with the teams. I just don't like when things are overly artificial, like the DRS or pressing a button to overtake, stuff like that. That kind of gets to my senses; maybe I'm too much of a purist. But some fans seem to love it so you have to cater to the people that watch it.
You mentioned you'll still be doing TV stuff this year, do you still see a future for yourself in F1? Perhaps getting involved with teams?
Jacques Villeneuve: I don't know, I haven't given it too much thought. I'm a racer at heart more than anything else and that will always be my priority, competing. But ultimately if you can't drive you can still have the competitive spirit outside of a car.
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