Debut & Williams (1996-1998)
Villeneuve exploded into the world of F1 back in 1996 by taking Pole Position in his first race at the Australian GP for the Williams team. The Canadian had signed a 2 year deal to drive for the team. Although he did not follow up his pole position with a maiden win, he did manage to finish on the podium. At Round 4 the European GP, Villeneuve was able to clinch his maiden F1 win, managing to fight off increasing pressure from Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher. Jacques went onto win a further 3 GP’s in 1996, at Britain, Hungary & Portugal.
Villeneuve managed to take the title fight between himself and his team mate Damon Hill right down to the final round in Japan. However with his own retirement in the final race, Damon Hill was left with a comfortable champion win.
Villeneuve started the 1997 championship in the box seats, with Hill moving to the underperforming Arrows team, his new team mate at William was Frentzen. He took 4 Pole Positions out of 4 GP’s as well as race victories in Brazil & Argentina. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher emerged as Villeneuve’s main challenger for the title and it culminated with an infamous show down at the final race in Jerez. The two divers collided on Lap 37 and Schumacher was accused of deliberately colliding with the Canadian’s car.
In the end the botched move by Schumacher wasn’t enough to get passed Villeneuve and the German was forced to retire. Although Jacques did not win the race, he did take his maiden title, adding a further 5 Grand Prix victories to his name over the course of the season.
1998 saw a sharp decline in the Canadian’s fortunes, he failed to win a single race and could only manage 2 podiums at the German & Hungarian GP’s.
At the start of the 1999 season, Villeneuve moved to be the lead driver at the newly formed British American Racing Team (BAR), which he co-owned. However any hopes that Villeneuve had of getting back to the top of the podium never materialised, as he was soon relegated to the mid field and the position of also-ran. He retired 11 consecutive times in the course of 1999, although 2000 and 2001 did show some improved form as well as two podium finishes’ at the 2001 Spanish & German GPs, it wasn’t what he hopped for.
2002 saw a major re-shuffling at BAR with a lot of staff going as well as Villeneuve’s £15 million a year salary being reduced. The Canadian began to feel uncomfortable at the team. This coupled with an uncompetative season in 2002 and a new team mate for 2003, in the form of Jenson Button, Villenuve was out paced and out performed at most race weekends. Although his contract was due to run out at the end of 2003, Jacques decided to leave the team after the US GP and was replaced by raising Japanese driver Takuma Sato for the final race.
This looked to be the end of his F1 career as no race seat materialised for him in 2004. It was only after Jarno Trulli had been dropped by the Renault team in the latter stages of 2004 season that Jacques returned to racing for Renault in the final 3 races. Although he failed to finish is any of these 3 races, Villeneuve did manage to secure a 2 year race contract to drive for Sauber in 2005 & 2006.
Sauber & BMW (2005-2006)
2005 started very poorly for Jacques as he was often the lowest of all the Michelin shod cars. He did manage to score his first points of the season at the San Marino GP. However rumours that the Canadian would soon be dropped by Sauber gained strength after Villeneuve managed to nearly take out his own team mate Massa in a hopelessly over eager overtaking manoeuvre at the Monaco GP. Although both cars survived it did take them both out of what would have been double points paying positions at the end of the race.
He only managed to other points finishes in the course of the 2005 season, at the French & Belgian GPs. However with the news that Sauber had been purchased by BMW for 2006, Villeneuve’s future again looked in doubt. However the newly named BMW Sauber team decided to honour the contract and keep Jacques on.
However yet again Villeneuve was out performed by his new team mate Nick Heidfeld and made to look amateurish. He only managing to score 7 points and the Canadian was dropped by the team after the German GP to be replaced by young Polish driver Robert Kubica.
Villeneuve was not resigned by any other F1 team and was left to try and peruse a racing career in Le Mans and the NASCAR.