Former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has confirmed that he 'will return' to the top flight following a three-year hiatus in 2010 – as speculation intensifies that the French-Canadian either has signed or is soon to sign a deal with American newcomers USF1.
The 1997 title-winner has made an increasing number of paddock appearances of late, as rumours grew that he was bidding to make a comeback to the highest level – rumours that he himself corroborated in affirming that 'I'm a racing driver and I always will be', and as such was chasing an opportunity to rejoin the grand prix grid. He has also made no secret of his appreciation for the way in which the regulations are moving, with the long-awaited return to slick tyres and reductions in downforce levels.
“What I miss most about Formula 1 is driving the car,” he stated. “Those cars are amazing – the competition, the speed... The fastest cars to drive through a turn are in Formula 1. My sons – Jules, two-years-old and Jonas, just one – have only seen me driving an F1 car in pictures. I would love for them to see me while racing; it is something that would be worth it.
“I like the current Formula 1 format, in which tests are banned, and in this case maybe more experienced drivers would be more in-demand. I'm taking a look at some options. I would love to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and NASCAR, but there is nothing like Formula 1. I still can compete there; I still have some years to do so.”
Taking things a step further still, Villeneuve – who left the sport with his tail between his legs mid-season in 2006, somewhat ignominiously parting company with BMW-Sauber following a succession of below-par performances and rather too many accidents for his employers' liking – has now told German magazine Sport Bild
: “It is true, I will return to Formula 1.”
It is anticipated that an official announcement could be made in the forthcoming weeks, and whilst at 38 the son of legendary Ferrari hero Gilles Villeneuve would become the oldest driver in the field, he does come with the kudos of eleven grand prix wins to his name – even if there have been none since 1997 – and a high profile both sides of the Pond.
On the sponsorship side, international video website YouTube
is understood to be likely to come on-board as the North Carolina-based outfit's principal backer, whilst the first car is expected to roll out of the Charlotte factory as early as October, with concerns about the Cosworth powerplants the team is to use in 2010 not being ready in time having now been put to bed. A test base at either Paul Ricard in France or Aragon in Spain is also reportedly being sought for winter running.
Meanwhile, Villeneuve – who has competed predominantly in sportscars with Peugeot's Le Mans 24 Hours project and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series since leaving F1 three years ago – has confessed that he is keen to make more guest appearances in the South America-based Top Race Series, in which he participated at Interlagos last weekend and will do so again in Buenos Aires later in the year, where he will be bidding to claim his 'revenge' after crashing out in São Paulo when he hit a bump.
“I like the cars in Top Race, the atmosphere and the level of the series,” underlined the Québec native. “I go there to do my job [of] driving the car and to have a good time. My priority is Formula 1 or NASCAR, but who knows? It is possible that I will race more [in Top Race] next year. It would be good, I like it and I have enjoyed the two races I have competed in.
“The objective is to improve and to have a better result in Buenos Aires – my revenge. I'm not satisfied with my performance, because I came from very far and I didn't reach expectations. The car (a Mercedes TRV6) turned and braked very well, but it wasn't that powerful on the straights. I hope we can improve before Buenos Aires, where I want to have better results. It was another great experience to be in a Top Race competition in Brazil; I feel very comfortable racing there.
“I came back because my experience last year was marvellous, in every sense, especially in the sporting sense. I like the series, I feel good and that is why I like being there. Just like last year, I come to participate, even though I would love to improve the results from 2008. Even though I had been in São Paulo before, I felt proud to be part of the event to honour a great driver like [Ayrton] Senna. He is one of the greatest in history, and you can tell that because of the admiration and respect that we all, as colleagues, feel.”