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Villeneuve launches 2011 bid – with Briatore, Symonds

16 July 2010

Undeterred by his failure to rejoin the grand prix grid in F1 2010 when Serbian hopeful Stefan GP's determined effort was turned down by the FIA at the eleventh hour, former world champion Jacques Villeneuve is reportedly trying again for 2011 – by setting up his own team, possibly in collaboration with disgraced 'Singapore-gate' protagonists Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds.

According to authoritative German magazine Auto Motor und Sport, the eponymously-named Villeneuve Racing is one of three shortlisted contenders for the available 13th grid slot next season, in company with the mysterious American Cypher Group – with whom former A1GP and Indy Lights ace Jonathan Summerton has been linked – and likely either Joan Villadelprat's Spanish Epsilon Euskadi operation or Durango. Other reports suggest the French-Canadian's project would in fact be one in partnership with the Italian GP2 Series graduates.

The hitherto considered hot favourite – multiple GP2 and F3 Euroseries champions ART Grand Prix – withdrew its bid last week due to insufficient financial guarantees [see separate story – click here]. There are believed to have been as many as ten applicants to begin with, and a final decision is expected from the governing body later this month.

Villeneuve Racing is understood to have successfully overcome every hurdle thus far, and has an existing infrastructure in the UK, with further rumours that ex-Arrows and Super Aguri F1 employees could be involved – thereby suggesting a Leafield base. For their race-fixing crimes, Briatore and Symonds are both banned from holding any direct posts in the sport until the beginning of 2013 – but that stipulation does not cover background work. It is unclear, however, how the FIA would regard their participation.

Villeneuve – who clinched the crown with Williams in only his second campaign in the top flight back in 1997, but subsequently never won another race and left with his tail between his legs midway through a desultory final season with BMW-Sauber in 2006, to be replaced by Robert Kubica – has refused to comment on the speculation, with his spokeswoman Hannah Griffiths acknowledging only that the 39-year-old is 'currently concentrating his efforts on a return to NASCAR while also working on a return to F1'.

The eleven-time grand prix-winner is on the verge of a NASCAR Sprint Cup comeback at the legendary Brickyard at Indianapolis next weekend, whilst Briatore has also been linked with other significant roles having now been spotted three times in the grand prix paddock in the last five races.

At Silverstone last weekend, the flamboyant Italian sported a VIP paddock pass that can only have been issued by his friend, business partner and hugely influential F1 commercial rights-holder Bernie Ecclestone – alongside whom it has been mooted he could work in a sponsorship capacity as of 2013.


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