All I Know Is That We’ll Be at the Edge of Our Seats
Former F1 racer Jacques Villeneuve gears up for the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as he looks back at his competitive days in the industry, his involvement in the sport he’s passionate about and reflects upon the current season.
When you go to tracks where you have raced in the past, does is still give you that buzz?
It depends on the track because there are some where I enjoyed driving and others where I didn’t.
Which ones were your favourite to drive on?
For the pure driving aspect it would be Suzuka. Montreal is another one because it was home, the circuit was in the city, the crowd was always great and it was an amazing track for racing. The other special one was Monaco, both for the atmosphere and driving.
What do you think drivers make of the Yas Marina Circuit?
It’s a very modern race track. The whole premises looks beautiful but one issue I have with it is that there’s no edge to the track. It’s only a painted line so anybody can cheat and it doesn’t give you any feedback on speed; so the cars look slow. It’s like watching planes in the sky when there are no clouds.
Do you think this has been a good season so far?
It’s been an amazing season, because we’ve had a battle for the Championship. We’ve had a surprise winner in Ricardo [Zonta] so this has been one of the best teams in years.
Do you miss the F1 whenever you watch it?
I really miss is the racing, but that’s why I did the Indy 500 this year. If you’ve been passionate about racing in the F1 then you’ll always miss it. Anyone who doesn’t probably shouldn’t have been a race car driver to begin with.
How long do you think a driver can continue competing at the highest level? It has always been physical sport but drivers these days do a lot more physical training.
It’s a lot easier now than 10 years ago. A kid couldn’t come into Formula One 10 years ago and drive more than 10 or 15 laps without being knackered. You see that drivers now get out of the car and aren’t even sweating, they look almost too thin to be healthy but they don’t run out of juice.
With better technology, understanding of health and training, a human being can perform longer than they could. Also the fact that you don’t hurt yourself anymore means that at 30 you don’t have a broken bone. Whereas in the past just being alive was a good thing!
Your competitiveness will depend on your hunger and if you’re willing to make sacrifices or if you’re only thinking about not hurting yourself. When you start double thinking what you should be doing naturally, then it might be time to stop.
How long do you see yourself doing this for? Do you still have the same passion every time you get in the car and hit the corners as hard as you ever did?
Yes that’s what keeps me alive. I’ll carry on as long as I feel strong and passionate enough.
How hard is it to think of what you have to do in your post-racing career, given how difficult it will be to replace that buzz you get from racing?
I’ve never had an issue with that because I’ve been passionate about so many things such as music and skiing. But I’ve seen a lot of racers in this new generation who have no passion other than driving.
Do you think that’s from the demands in the level of professionalism?
No it’s because of their upbringing where they were put in a go-kart at the age of 8 and were told ‘you’ll be a race car driver’.
You must have done some karting when you were small?
I was in Formula Three when I was 17, but before that I did skiing. You don’t need to do go-karts to then do race-karts. You need to prepare yourself psychologically and you can do that in many different forms of sports. Going fast is not the difficulty; it’s what you do when the going gets tough and dealing with critical moments to win championships.
What role did your parents have in your career when you were young?
My father gave me a name which helped get sponsors. He died when I was 11 which helped me deal with difficulties. He wasn’t a present father, we largely saw him as a racer. Family became secondary once he got into F1. The person who was supportive of me racing was my mother because she was present afterwards.
Given the pressure that you’ve been under from having to travel around the world but be present for your kids, what have you been doing that’s different?
I don’t spend my day telling them that car racing is all that there is. If they ask about cars then I talk to them about it. It’s also not a good career choice nowadays because you almost have to pay your way into racing when you will probably never have a career, so I wouldn’t push my kids to do that. Obviously I’ll be proud if they are racers, but I won’t take them go-karting with a Formula One budget.
The whole carnival surrounding the F1 is an important part of it. Being a driver who is in it for the racing, how do you separate yourself from that?
You don’t because you need to use it for your career. You’re owned by the fans and you’re not allowed to say no to them. Once you become a personality you have to live with it, it’s part of the business.
What does the next 12 months hold in store for you?
I did the Indy 500 last season so I might possibly do this whole season, racing is the priority.
When you look back, what are some of the most enjoyable highlights of your career?
It’d be either the Indy 500 or the winning the Championship in a tough race at Jerez. The Indy 500 gave me my F1 career so it’s very valuable.
Do you have any regrets over the past 20 years?
It’s easy to have regrets, but then you always think that the grass is greener on the other side. I’ve had an amazing experience doing everything I’ve done. My ongoing career has been very fulfilling.
Do you have any predictions for the race?
No, all I know is that we’ll be at the edge of our seats. Whoever wins would have deserved it. I have a small preference for Lewis [Hamilton]. We all thought Lewis was the quick guy and would get all the pole positions and Nico would be the better racer and would use his brain to compensate for his lack of speed. But it’s been the other way around.
Jacques is a guest host at The Podium Lounge Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race after party at the Yas Viceroy tonight, Sunday 23 Nov.