Under-fire ace Jacques Villeneuve may not have to sing for his supper just yet, but the Canadian may be forced to take part in a demeaning talent contest if he is to retain his seat alongside Jenson Button at BAR next year.

According to Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, the 1997 world champion may have to face up to a host of potential rivals for his ride in a shoot-out based on the current wave of televised 'star-finding' talent shows. According to the report, the idea occurred to the Brackley-based team when Button's girlfriend became the centre of attention on the BBC's Fame Academy programme, and could lead to a publicity generating F1 version to take place in the off-season.

Villeneuve admitted to the BBC yesterday that he feared for his future, not only with BAR, but also in Formula One, after not having received a firm offer of employment for 2004. Although he doubled his points tally for the season at Monza on Sunday, the Canadian is not thought to get on particularly well with the new management - headed by David Richards - at BAR, and faces pressure from Honda to make way for test driver Takuma Sato next season.

The timing is particularly bad for Villeneuve, as there are few top line seats available next season - the real shake-up could take place for 2005 - and those left open will all require financing by the driver - something that the Canadian is unlikely to be able to fulfil.

Although he has admitted that he has a couple of undisclosed options outside F1, the dearth of decent seats in the top flight means that JV could be forced to take on all-comers in what would amount to a no-win situation.

"We are looking to see if this kind of shoot-out would be a viable solution," team boss Richards told the Telegraph, "It was amazing how involved everyone at BAR and Honda became watching [Button's girlfriend] Louise [Griffiths] in Fame Academy, and the idea seemed intriguing."

Richards admitted that he would not consider just anyone for the contest, as he had the team's integrity and competitiveness to consider, but seemed to think that the idea could work.

"Of course, at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to see that the team have the fastest and best driver we can find, and not just a gimmick," he said, "There are a whole range of options open to us, but this one is an exciting idea if we can make it work."

Talks at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix have apparently paved the way for the shootout idea to be out into motion, although firmer details have yet to be ironed out.

Bahrain has been mooted as a potential venue, as it would generate awareness of the latest circuit to join the F1 circus, as well as giving BAR a chance to run there before it rivals. As in the Fame Academy, the core skill - in this case, driving an F1 car - would have to be supplemented by others essential to the role of grand prix driver, notably technical feedback and presentation outside of the cockpit, including the sponsorship duties Villeneuve is notoriously disinterested in.

"Jacques has got to change his attitude," Richards pointed out, "We have all told him it will take significant changes to convince us that he is the driver we need in our team."

Exactly how the winning driver is selected, however, remains the most obscure detail, as it is unlikely that the team would leave the final choice entirely to a public vote that could land the most uncompetitive, but most charismatic, driver the second seat for 2004. Ironically, Villeneuve's 'speak your mind' mentality and aggressive driving style would probably help his cause should the fans be asked for their input.

The list of possible participants, Villeneuve and Sato aside, is likely to be endless, with another BAR test driver, Anthony Davidson, likely to be considered alongside the two Arden International F3000 drivers, Bjorn Wirdheim and Townsend Bell, both of whom are already scheduled to test the current 005-Honda before the end of the year. Former BAR test driver Darren Manning, now plying his trade in the US-based CART series may also be considered, as could French rival Sebastien Bourdais.

 

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