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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
Villeneuve pays price for mistakes
By Andrew Benson
Motorsport editor

Jacques Villeneuve
As Jacques Villeneuve ponders what might well be the end of his Formula One career, he could be forgiven for casting his mind back to the summer of 2000.

At the time, the Canadian was weighing up two job offers - one from BAR and one from Renault.

Even without the benefit of hindsight, most felt he made the wrong decision in choosing to stick with BAR - but no-one suspected that in doing so he was signing the death warrant for his career.

In some respects, Villeneuve has only himself to blame for his downfall.

His BAR contract - negotiated from a position of enormous strength - paid him a vast amount of money and ensured he did as little PR work as he could get away with.

He has been massively overpaid and under-worked for five years, which has led most in F1 to believe that he has put his bank balance and personal comfort ahead of his quest for success.

Villeneuve, a multi-millionaire before he even raced in F1, has been made rich beyond most people's wildest dreams by his years at BAR.

Jacques Villeneuve pushes beyond the limts of his BAR-Honda
Villeneuve has rarely lacked for commitment at BAR
But those who claim he has put financial reward before success on the track would do well to remember that Renault were offering Villeneuve the same salary as BAR in 2000.

And it is plain wrong to suggest that just because his salary has been high for a number of years, Villeneuve was not prepared to take a pay cut for 2004 to keep his place in F1.

Villeneuve can be a difficult man, and his reputation has been harmed by his years of under-achievement at BAR.

But he is not stupid - and he was as aware as anyone that a new dose of realism was required to secure a drive in 2004.

The mystery is that he has not got one.

What has been forgotten about Villeneuve is that in all the years of disappointment and frustration at BAR his effort can hardly be faulted.

There has been the odd race where he has lacked motivation, but in a set of circumstances that would long ago have sapped the patience of most drivers, he has continued pushing as hard as ever despite the obvious fruitlessness of it all.

Villeneuve will not go down in history as a great Grand Prix driver - he made hard work of winning his one world championship in a car that was easily the class of the field.

BAR team boss David Richards and Jacques Villeneuve
Richards and Villeneuve have had a frosty relationship
Neither will he be remembered as fondly or as vividly as his father - Jacques is nowhere near as good as Gilles was, and he lacks his easy personality.

But he does share to some extent his fighting spirit, his dynamism, his charisma and his willingness to speak his mind.

He is also better than several drivers who will have seats next season - including Takuma Sato, the man who has replaced him at BAR.

The biggest objective criticism that can be made of Villeneuve is that he has been naive, far more so than a man of his intelligence has any right to be.

Even though it must have been difficult to go through 1998 as reigning champion without a win, it was clearly a bad decision to leave Williams for BAR in 1999.

Villeneuve believed he and his friend and mentor Craig Pollock could set up a team that within a year or two would be able to challenge Williams, McLaren and Ferrari.

They were over-estimating all aspects of their new team - Villeneuve's talent, Honda's engineering, Pollock's management skills, and the ability of now-defunct chassis manufacturer Reynard to build a decent F1 car.

Since Pollock was sacked as BAR boss ahead of the 2002 season, Villeneuve has had an uncomfortable time at a team that was set up around him, to the point that his reputation has suffered some serious harm.

Jacques Villeneuve celebrates becoming world champion at the 1997 European Grand Prix
Villeneuve made hard work of winning the title in 1997
As is usually the way, however, perception has been more important than reality.

It is simply not true to say, as so many have, that Jenson Button has humiliated Villeneuve this season.

In fact, the two have generally been evenly-matched with Button having a marginal edge during a year in which Villeneuve has borne the brunt of the team's dreadful reliability record.

At the same time, the decision of team boss David Richards to get rid of Villeneuve and replace him with Sato may please engine partner Honda but will do little for BAR's competitiveness in 2004.

Sato does have a degree of promise hidden in his recklessness, but even a spin-doctor of Richards' ability will be hard-pressed to argue that the team will be stronger next year for his presence and Villeneuve's absence.

The same goes for F1.




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SEE ALSO
Villeneuve dropped by BAR
04 Oct 03  |  Formula One
BAR to announce new line-up
06 Oct 03  |  Formula One
Villeneuve future unsure
25 Sep 03  |  Formula One
Villeneuve criticises BAR
04 May 03  |  Formula One


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