Jacques Villeneuve back home: thirty and happy

Montreal, 2001-06-05. Since 1996, the Jacques Villeneuve press conference has become a well-established tradition, in the (busy) Canadian Grand Prix week. This year, the main novelty was the location itself: the Newtown, Jacques' own ...

Montreal, 2001-06-05. Since 1996, the Jacques Villeneuve press conference has become a well-established tradition, in the (busy) Canadian Grand Prix week. This year, the main novelty was the location itself: the Newtown, Jacques' own restaurant/nightclub on Crescent Street, in downtown Montreal. Opened just a few days ago, the place was built at a reportedly cost of $CAN 6 million, and it shows: very chic, very trendy, very cool, very everything. The posh Victorian-style establishment is graced by a lounge and open terrace on the top floor, while the Mediterranean-style restaurant is on the main level, and the nightclub is in the basement. This is where Jacques went down, at 11AM sharp on Tuesday, from his 'office', upstairs.

The house is full to the roof, everyone is eagerly waiting for the local hero, but the atmosphere is relaxed and family-like. The Montreal media crowd is a tightly knit family, so the whole affair looks like a teen party in the basement of the parents' house. This is over-amplified by Jacques' ever-boyish look and the fact that he calls the Newtown his 'home', in Montreal. The perfect spot for the event.

Jacques, you seem happier than you've been in a long time, and once again, you're back in town.

"Well, my roots are here, in Quebec and in Canada. When the plane lands in Montreal, I look outside the window, and my heart always pinches. Montreal is fun, women are good-looking, people are open, and now, I have this place of mine," Jacques announces proudly, with his typical intensity. He adds: "since I'm 8, my house has always been a small Quebec island in Monaco."

How do you feel about criticism, about the fact that a few people in the (local) medias raised questions on the fact that you didn't seem as competitive as before?

"Whatever people say or have said, I've never doubted in my abilities, as a race car driver. It's so easy to criticize, you know. I try to pay attention to positive comments, now, and far less about negative one. At the end, I'm sure the public will remember the good results, like the podium in Spain, for instance. I've matured quite a lot since the beginning of my career. One thing I know is that my motivation and passion are totally intact. I'm hungrier than ever before. I won the World Championship once, I know how good it tastes, and I want to taste it again." His metallic blue eyes are sparkling; we know that he means business.

Jacques Villeneuve. Live from the Newtown. Photo by Brousseau Photo.

But aren't you missing the glory years, with Williams?

"By having successes early in my career, with the Indy 500, the CART Championship and the F1 World Championship, at least I know where I stand. I know that I can do it. It gives you credibility and it makes things easier afterwards, with everyone, and especially the engineers. The rest is up to work: working hard enough to find the winning path again." Jacques pauses, and continues: "I have no choice, and must live with it. If we give up, only for a moment, motivation drops. If I give maximum effort, I can't blame myself, and it gives energy to the team. Now that we're seeing light at the end of the tunnel, it's easier to find motivation. The podium in Spain was a critical moment, even though we realize it was a lucky shot."

You look quite busy these days: the restaurant, the racing sim with UbiSoft, and, of course, we all know that you're more than just a regular driver at BAR.

"Yes. Although I haven't been working on the video game for a while now, development is in Montreal so I can't be as involved as I should. Also, video games, multimedia and the Internet are all evolving at a dizzying pace, it's getting harder to get the 'right' concept, one that will stay for a long time. At any rate, we should go back to work on the development of the racing sims, now that this project (the Newtown) is done. With the restaurant, I worked on the general concept, but my two partners took care of the details. The restaurant project was dear to me; I wanted to have a nice place to relax with my friends, where I could quietly have a coffee. But BAR is my main interest, of course: I have a multi-year contract, and as long as the team is 100% committed, I have absolutely no reason to leave. And besides, it would just be sad to stop now, with the tremendous experience I've gained. I feel that I still have so much to give."

Jacques Villeneuve. Thirty and happy. Photo by Brousseau Photo.

Looking forward to this weekend, what are your expectations?

"A podium, we must have a podium", said Jacques, loudly and clearly. "My last and only top-3 in Montreal was in 1996, and Montreal is very special to me. I want a good result. Without any doubt, this is my most important race of the season, and I'm back here after good performances in Spain and Monaco. Now, we need a flawless race on the track and in the pits. A podium, nothing less."

What do you think about the modifications made in the last corner, and the new speed bumps?

"I haven't seen any of them yet. It would take more than different speed bumps, to make the last corner safe. Actually, they should go back to grass only, and modify the design of the curve, instead"

The Gilles-Villeneuve circuit has a history of exciting races, do you think traction control will have a negative impact as far as passing goes?

"It's really hard to say, really. Traction control may have a limited impact in Montreal. The track has long straights where we can use slipstream, and good braking zones. But since we've never driven here in this configuration, we will know only on Friday I guess".

Jacques Villeneuve. Hey, I'm a club owner now: Jacques Villeneuve and his Newtown business partners Martin Poitras and Jean-Pierre Da Costa Li. Photo by Brousseau Photo.

How do you see the rest of the season?

"We're getting closer to the top teams, but we would need a major technological trick. Something that our competitors would take 5 or 6 races to develop. Our engineers are working hard, but we don't have this trick, so we must work hard and develop the car to make the small steps that'll bring us closer to the top. Above all, we're awaiting a new and major evolution from Honda. Honda is a big machine; they've had successes in the past and I'm confident in their ability. They work hard as hell.

After chit-chatting about girlfriends ("no one special right now, I need someone who can complete me"), hairstyles ("the hippy style of the early '90s was because I was afraid to go to the barber shop when I was living in Japan") and lame linguistics considerations (about 'Newton', the name of his restaurant) that only a few journalists seem to care about, Jacques was still at it, talking like he's never done before. And besides, he couldn't run away, he was the host!


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Series Formula 1
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve
Teams Williams