Having been in attendance at a number of recent races, Jacques Villeneuve has finally confirmed speculation that he is eyeing a return to F1 in 2010 after three-and-a-half years away from the top flight, claiming the re-emerging 'human aspect' and focus on driver skill and on-track spectacle has made the sport more attractive to him again and suggesting his experience would be a boon with the test ban and continuing uncertainty over the technical regulations.
The French-Canadian's ten-year tenure at the highest level came to a somewhat abrupt end in mid-2006 when, off the back of a series of below-par performances for BMW-Sauber and rather too many accidents for the Bavarian manufacturer's liking, he was prematurely released from his contract ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, for which he was replaced by Robert Kubica, who went on to take the chequered flag inside the points on his F1 debut.
That ignominious ending, however, somewhat overshadowed an illustrious career that had taken in no fewer than eleven victories, 23 podium finishes, 13 pole positions and the 1997 Drivers' World Championship for Williams-Renault. With that experience – allied to prior successes in CART and subsequent outings in sportscars, NASCAR and the Speedcar Series – the son of the late, legendary Ferrari hero Gilles Villeneuve is confident that he still has much to give.
Having already thrown his hat into the ring for a seat at new, North Carolina-based outfit USF1 – arguing that he is a better and more rounded prospect than any of the home-grown American drivers available – the famously outspoken maverick and showman has now confessed that, albeit at 38 years of age, he is ready to retake his place on the grand prix grid and that, after years of apathy, he is beginning to fall back in love with F1 and reconsider the sport as 'fun'.
“The human aspect is counting again, as it did in the past,” Villeneuve told Italian magazine Autosprint. “The work is more like the way I remember it, [though] the atmosphere, now like then, looks boring viewed from the outside. No-one speaks out; in my opinion that's also what loses fans. People want to see gladiators, [but] instead they all sound like they love each other. In reality everyone wants to beat everyone else.
“I'm a racing driver and I always will be; that's why I'm looking about myself for F1. Driving is the only thing that interests me, and all the mess that's happened [regarding the FIA/FOTA civil war] helps me. With the test ban, we experienced drivers are handy. I can't say what will happen, but I'm giving it a go.
“In my opinion today's cars are better to watch, and they will be even more so next year. It will be more fun driving them, especially with the fuel-stop ban. You can see them sliding more, without electronic aids. This way the show is better.
“I've been saying it for ten years – ban pit-stops, get back to slick tyres and get rid of electronics. I'm only sorry that compulsory pit-stops for tyre changes are staying, because that takes away some of the action coming from the fuel factor. It's good to see a driver who stays on the track without changing tyres, maybe running slower, while another one maybe wastes time in the pit-stop then closes the gap.
“When I left, F1 wasn't fun anymore, or rather, driving still was, but the atmosphere outside was bad. You'd spend your half hour with your race engineer, after which the computer would prepare your set-up and they'd tell you 'shut up and drive'. I'm the type of person that always speaks out, but towards the end everything became very difficult.”