Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve has launched a scathing attack upon the present state of affairs in F1, slating the DRS-enabled 2011 action as 'useless', 'boring' and 'not even racing' – and lambasting officials for destroying the only genuine excitement with a string of unjustified penalties.
Villeneuve competed in 164 races in F1 between 1996 and 2006, triumphing in eleven of them and clinching the drivers' crown with Williams in 1997, only his second campaign in the top flight. Despite having been linked with a comeback on several occasions since being released mid-season by BMW-Sauber five years ago, the 40-year-old has confessed that he does not care much for the sport's current format – revealing that watching grands prix now only serves to send him to sleep.
The biggest culprit, he asserts, is DRS, which has turned the whole, age-old overtaking debate on its head by making something that was hitherto considered too difficult, now far too easy – and in so doing, removing much of the challenge faced by competitors.
Villeneuve's late, great father Gilles earned himself a legion of adoring fans during his all-too-brief F1 career with Ferrari by frequently drawing upon his legendary skill and fabled car control to keep rivals in faster machinery behind him for lap-after-lap-after-lap – a talent that would arguably now be redundant.
“I don't watch the races anymore,” 'JV' told Reuters. “I'm done, for the first time ever. I just can't be bothered. Halfway through the race, I'm yawning and it's really tough...and I just get upset. When I see these guys not even being able to defend, like Michael [Schumacher] – he should have been on the podium in Montreal.
“I really don't care to see overtaking with DRS; I prefer to see Lewis [Hamilton] going for it, and sometimes it ends in tears but at least it's fun. All the other overtaking with the DRS, I'm just falling asleep...useless, boring, it's not even racing. I don't understand why that thing is on an F1 car. People now think, 'Oh, he's going to overtake me, why bother?' And that's it. No excitement, nothing.”
Famously a hard-charger in his own time, Villeneuve also spoke up to defend McLaren-Mercedes star Hamilton, who has endured a series of run-ins with stewards this season over his driving standards following a number of controversial on-track collisions. The French-Canadian argues that FIA officials should spend more time focussing their efforts upon punishing deliberate offences rather than accidental ones.
“F1 is giving penalties for people making mistakes instead of for people driving dirty,” he railed, “and that is wrong. Mistakes happen. You run into each other – that's life, that's racing and too bad. Then you see a lot of weaving and nasty stuff happening and there's no penalties for that. That's where it's wrong.
“Lewis is racing very aggressively and he forgets to use his head once in a while so he ends up crashing into people, but that should not be stopped – it's racing. That's what you want to see – battles. If every time someone tries to do that there's a penalty, what's the point? You need to let the drivers go for it, and if they bang wheels, too bad. It's fun, it's a good show, the fans are up in the grandstands and they can scream and shout about it...that's good, that's what you want.”
Villeneuve's sole focus at the moment is on the NASCAR Nationwide Series with Penske Racing, standing in for Brad Keselowski – and finishing an excellent third in the Bucyrus 200 at Road America last month, fighting back from a mid-race drive-through penalty and late-race contretemps. He admits that the ethos of racing in the popular stock car series the other side of the Pond has taken him right back to his roots.
“It's so much fun,” enthused the former Indianapolis 500 winner. “It reminds me of why I got into racing in the first place. You get in the car and you are there to do your race and nothing will get in the way of that – not regulations, nothing. It's amazing. It's human against human, beast against beast. It's great. You can muscle your way through, you can work around problems – I love it!”