Former Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has claimed that one of the principal problems with the top flight now is that the drivers no longer 'want to win so badly that they hate each other' as they used to in his day – lamenting the fact that there is only one real 'warrior' left on the grid.
Having already made his name in CART – subsequently Champ Car and now IndyCar – circles, Villeneuve lifted the laurels at the end of only his second campaign at the highest level with Williams-Renault back in 1997, famously getting the better of arch-nemesis Michael Schumacher, who deliberately tried and failed to take him out in the final grand prix of the year at Jerez in southern Spain.
From then onwards, however, the French-Canadian would never again stand atop the rostrum, as he endured a series of increasingly fruitless seasons with BAR-Honda and latterly BMW-Sauber, before parting company with the Bavarian outfit midway through a disappointing 2006 and returning across the Pond.
Having had to duel tooth-and-nail with Schumacher for the crown, however – with the pair at the time making little secret of their mutual antipathy for each other away from the race track – Villeneuve suggested the 2008 title showdown between McLaren-Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari ace Felipe Massa was tame and characterless in comparison. Despite being close to 40 now, he has similarly made little secret of his desire to return to the grand prix paddock should the opportunity arise in F1's new 'low-cost', budget-capped era.
“The problem with Formula 1 is that there are no more warriors,” he bemoaned in an interview with German publication Sport Bild
. “Alonso is one, but who else is there? These days no-one says anything unless a PR person has told them they are allowed to. There are no more fights.
“I realised it last year, when Massa was fighting Hamilton for the title – you didn't get the impression that these guys want to win so badly that they hate each other. It was different with myself and Michael Schumacher or Eddie Irvine.”
There are, though, some drivers whose talent on-track and manner away from it Villeneuve clearly does appreciate, and aside from Alonso he was full of praise for Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel and ex team-mate Jenson Button, with whom he endured a somewhat frosty relationship at BAR-Honda in 2003, as the Briton outperformed him in what he contends is still to a certain extent 'his' team.
“I don't know him (Vettel) personally,” the 38-year-old mused, “but I like what I see because he is different, he gives refreshing answers in interviews, he is fast and he seems to be very strong in the head. I think you always have to be yourself in everything you do, but I am not sure this is the case with all the drivers of today.
“I remember in 1992 when I was driving F3 in Japan, I got an offer to go to IndyCars but they said I had to change my helmet design to the colours of the sponsor. I said 'forget it, I'll stay here'. The people around me shook their heads, but I didn't care. Two years later I went to IndyCars anyway, with my own helmet!
“[Button] hasn't made any mistakes; Lewis Hamilton was making mistakes even when he won the championship. I think Jenson is stronger than Lewis mentally, in dealing with pressure.
“I'm happy for him (Button), but I also see the team as a negative part of my past. I feel as though a lot of my own money is still there; in 1999, my former manager Craig Pollock set up that team (as BAR) with some of my money as well. From BAR it was then Honda, and now it's Brawn.”