Formula One - On and Off track week 29

Formula One - On and Off track week 29

Jacques Villeneuve lodges 2011 entry, Ecclestone -- a man on a mission, Renault's silly season has started Jacques Villeneuve lodges 2011 entry There were already some rumors about it, but it has now been confirmed: Canadian Jacques Villeneuve...


Jacques Villeneuve lodges 2011 entry, Ecclestone -- a man on a mission, Renault's silly season has started

Jacques Villeneuve lodges 2011 entry

There were already some rumors about it, but it has now been confirmed: Canadian Jacques Villeneuve has lodged an entry for the Formula One 2011 season. He made his bid in conjunction with the Italian Durango outfit, who, interestingly enough, had to withdraw from the GP2 Asia and GP2 series in 2009 due to financial problems. However, there have been reports in the German media that the Villeneuve/Durango bid has met the FIA criteria regarding technical and financial capabilities. Durango owner Ivone Pinton, "I really hope together we will find a place. We still don't know where the car would be built. As well as being the driver, I'm sure he [Villeneuve] will make a useful contribution to the company."

Jacques Villeneuve lodges 2011 entry.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Villeneuve had recently confirmed that he was working hard on a Formula One project, and it looks like he will be a team owner as well as a driver. He will be the first driver/owner since double champion Emerson Fittipaldi was driver/owner of the Fittipaldi team at the end of the 1970s, but he had to quit F1 after his team folded in 1982. The 39-year old Villeneuve, is upbeat about his chances, "I've never made it a secret that I'm looking at a future F1 programme, and have been working hard on that for the past 12 months." But the French-Canadian IndyCar/NASCAR driver will not give any further comments about the progress, partners or funding of the team.

According to German sources Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, who are banned from F1 until 2013, are involved in the new team. There were also rumors, the team would be financed by Al-Saadi al-Gaddafi, son of Libyan president Muammar al-Gaddafi. The car would be branded with the logo of Tamoil, the oil refining and marketing company owned by the Libyan government, in which, no surprise, Al-Saadi al-Gaddafi has a great interest. But Villeneuve has denied the rumors and said all the money comes from 'corporate sponsorship, not from personal investors'. Italians Luca Filippi and Davide Valsecchi might be in a race for the second seat at the new Villeneuve team.

Villeneuve has been more successful in racing than his father Gilles, who died during the final qualifying session of the Belgium Grand Prix in 1982. Villeneuve won the CART series title in 1995, and also won the 1995 Indy 500 before he switched to F1 in 1996 to drive for the Williams team. He won the Formula One championship in 1997, but after he signed for the new BAR team in 1999, his career went downhill. He left the team at the end of 2003 after a long dispute with team principal David Richards.

With no contract for 2004, he was forced into a temporarily retirement, but his luck changed when Briatore hired him to drive for the Renault team during the three final races of the 2004 season. Peter Sauber hired Villeneuve in 2005, but when the team was taken over by BMW in 2006, Mario Theissen replaced Villeneuve with Robert Kubica before the end of the season. While everyone in F1 thought this was the end of his Formula One career, Villeneuve apparently hasn't given up his F1 ambitions, and this is perhaps his chance to make a return to the series.

Ecclestone -- a man on a mission

FOM boss Bernie Ecclestone is again on a mission for the global expansion of the F1 empire, and already told the FOTA and FIA to get ready for 25 races in 2013. This year the Korean GP is new on the calendar, and Ecclestone has made it no secret he is interested in F1 races in South Africa, New York and Moscow. Recently Ecclestone revealed there are plans to build a F1 circuit on the Spanish island of Mallorca, authorities of the island have already reported the circuit could be finished in 2013. And while people are still skeptic about the funding of the GP of Austin in Texas in 2012, Ecclestone admitted he's still eying a race in New York as well, "We are talking to them and trying to our best. Let's see what happens."

Ecclestone wants more an more races.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Russia is also interested in organizing a F1 race on the streets of Moscow, and according to Moscow official Vladimir Makarov, German Hermann Tilke will design the circuit with the Kremlin in the background. The Russian sub- tropical resort city of Sochi on the shores of the Black Sea is also high on Ecclestone list, "We will do it the year after next - in Sochi.", Ecclestone reported in the UK Independent. South Africa is also in the running for a race, and Cape Town seems to be a strong candidate. "We've been talking to the people in Cape Town, there are one or two places now that are coming on quite strong which could happen. We're talking about building a circuit. It's probably three years away.", Ecclestone said.

With 19 races on the 2010 calendar, and two more new races on the future calendar -- India in 2011 and Austin in 2012 -- and a maximum of 20 races per year under the current 2009 Concorde Agreement, Ecclestone will likely ditch other European races like Turkey, Germany, Hungary or Valencia. Ecclestone revealed he could even axe the Monaco Grand Prix, "I think we can do without Monaco, they don't pay enough. The Europeans are going to have to pay more money or we will have to go somewhere else." Ecclestone probably thinks this is a just a way of 'conducting business', but others, like the circuit managements and promoters, might interpret this as ordinary blackmail: pay more or we go somewhere else.

It's a pity commercial rights holders FOM and CVC see F1 as an emporium, and are not interested in preserving Formula One's heritage: the classic European races like Monaco, Germany, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Silverstone. The FOTA global fan survey earlier this year revealed that more than 50% of the fans think these races are crucial to F1, and are in favor of preserving these races for the future. After 2012, when the 2009 Concorde Agreement expires, Ecclestone wants a new Concorde Areement with 25 races, which boils down to one race every fortnight. Most teams are not happy with 25 races, they already have financial and logistical problems getting their personnel and equipment from one race to another in time, and especially for the smaller teams the financial burden could prove to be a bridge too far.

Renault's silly season has started

Although Robert Kubica signed a two-year contract with the French Renault team, the future of his colleague Vitaly Petrov is anything but secure. Although the Russian is still in the picture for 2011, the silly season about his possible replacement has already started. And there are plenty of candidates, apart from test and reserve drivers Dutch born Chinese Ho-Pin Tung and Belgium Jerome d'Ambrosio, there is a long list of drivers who reportedly would like to take over Petrov's duties. The names: Nick Heidfeld, Kimi Raikkonen, Heikki Kovalainen, Adrian Sutil, Timo Glock, Kamui Kobayashi and Christian Klien. With the excellent performance of the Renault team this season, the second seat has become very popular with drivers. Team principal Eric Boullier about the long list of names, "Some are fanciful, others are realistic because there are already discussions."

Still no 2011 contract for Vitaly Petrov.
Photo by xpb.cc.

So what are the real possibilities? Although Lotus and Virgin have confirmed they would like to retain Kovalainen and Glock for 2011, a move to Renault would be a step higher on the ladder for both drivers. Because neither of them has signed a contract for 2011 with their current employer, they are free to leave and join Renault. Sutil is very pleased with the progress Force India has made this year, but although team owner Vijay Mallya speaks highly about Sutil, he hasn't offered the German a contract for 2011 -- well, not yet. It will be a dilemma for Sutil, stay at Force India and hope the progress will continue, or take a gamble and join Renault, again a step up the ladder for him.

Heidfeld and Klien are currently more or less unemployed, and both are waiting for a chance to make a full return to F1. Klien has a dubious testing role at the HRT team, and Heidfeld was sidelined when Mercedes opted to hire Michael Schumacher and is now Mercedes' reserve driver, and with an in-season testing ban in place, he has so far not driven one single mile in the Mercedes. Raikkonen hasn't ruled out a return to F1, and without any movement in the driver market, Renault seems the only possibility, but it is very doubtful whether Renault could meet the demands regarding the Finns salary.

If Petrov leaves, Renault will lose about 5 million Euro of sponsor monies, and this is where Kobayashi comes into the picture. He has a significant backing of Japanese sponsors, who are looking for a chance to help their prot?g? to make it to the top of F1, something Kobayashi certainly deserves after his excellent results driving for the BMW-Sauber team. In fact, he would be a logical choice, as he has the same stamina and fighting spirit as Kubica, like Kubica he has shown he can get the best out of any F1 car, and again like Kubica, he has devoted his entire life to F1. What else can you ask from a F1 driver?

Join us again next week for the weekly "Formula One: On and off track".


See also: Formula One - On and Off track week 28

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Jacques Villeneuve , Kimi Raikkonen , Flavio Briatore , Peter Sauber , Emerson Fittipaldi , Heikki Kovalainen , Christian Klien , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , David Richards , Kamui Kobayashi , Jérôme d'Ambrosio , Adrian Sutil , Luca Filippi , Davide Valsecchi , Vitaly Petrov , Bernie Ecclestone
Teams Sauber , Force India , Williams