After a period of uncertainty for Jacques Villeneuve, BMW Sauber has confirmed that he will race for the team in 2006 alongside Nick Heidfeld. Villeneuve parted company with BAR at the end of 2003 and sat out most of the 2004 season before returning for the last three races with Renault. He competed for Sauber in 2005 as teammate to Felipe Massa and struggled in the early season before settling in to the team.
Villeneuve always maintained that his Sauber contract would be carried over to BMW for 2006 but the manufacturer, which takes control of Sauber in January, seemed reluctant to confirm the Canadian's position. Several other drivers were linked with the race seat but now Villeneuve's place is secure, at least for next year.
"We took a close look at Jacques' performance level at the end of last season," said BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen. "After an extremely tough first half of the year -- which showed that even a former World Champion cannot come back after a period away and be competitive from day one -- he got closer and closer to his team-mate over the second half of the season. We are in no doubt that Jacques will make the BMW Sauber F1 Team stronger."
Villeneuve debuted with Williams in 1996 and was champion with the team in 1997. He had a tough time in his five years with BAR from 1999 before they split acrimoniously. His three races with Renault last season were also hard work, then he returned to racing full time with Sauber this year. His best finish was fourth at Imola and he ended the season 14th in the drivers' standings, one place behind Massa.
"Between 1999 and 2004 I experienced first-hand the difficulties and complexities involved in setting up a new team but I've never been afraid of a challenge," said Villeneuve. "Sauber was already a good team and now we also have the resources of BMW behind us. I will do everything I can to contribute to the success of the BMW Sauber F1 Team."
Villeneuve will be on the test track for BMW Sauber at Jerez from 8th of December. Heidfeld has already been at work at Barcelona this week, running the BMW V8 engine in the interim Sauber chassis. The team, which will launch its 2006 challenger at Valencia in January, has yet to confirm a test driver for next year.