Jacques Villeneuve Press Conference Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 Q: Jacques, I guess first and foremost, is this your first trip back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since winning in 1995? JV: Yes, since '95, it is my first trip back. So a...
Jacques Villeneuve Press Conference Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000
Q: Jacques, I guess first and foremost, is this your first trip back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since winning in 1995?
JV: Yes, since '95, it is my first trip back. So a lot of memories are coming back.
Q: The place is changed a little bit. Have you had an opportunity to -
JV: Actually, I haven't seen the place yet. I've been on the golf course mostly.
Q: Is that right? And your golf game is good?
JV: No, no, no.
Q: I think you'll be surprised when you walk in what you see. The multi-million-dollar renovation, I think, will astound you.
JV: I have heard a lot about it, so I am excited about going back to see. I saw it from a bird's-eye view from the plane the other day.
Q: You come back here, as does Formula One in general, to a rousing reception from the race fans in this country and from around the world; 250,000 people expected to be on hand. Does that in any way surprise you that the reception is as warm as it appears to be?
JV: It's a lot of people. But at the same time, I guess Indianapolis is the best place for the comeback of Formula One. It is the center of racing in North America. That's where the biggest race in the world is, the Indy 500. And the fans that come to the Speedway are racing fans and they'll come and watch any type of racing. Throughout Formula One, coming back into the States is quite exciting, I guess. It gets a lot of people involved. I just hope it's going to go on like that year after year.
Q: Historically speaking you're a member of a very elite group, drivers who have won both the Indianapolis 500 and a world drivers' championship. As an active driver, do you have time to consider the historical aspect of that or do you leave that until when the career is done?
JV: I'll leave that until I have kids or grandchildren, so then you can talk with them and show them all the pieces of paper. But while you're driving -- once you achieve it, the day you achieve something and you get into a smaller group of people, then the feeling is great, yeah.
Q: Is it different winning at Indianapolis than anywhere else in the world?
JV: As an event, it is, definitely. It's not only the race itself, it's all the pressure that it puts on and the importance it puts from the team, from the sponsors on that race and the only thing you hear is that one race, how important it is and so on. So when you get there and then you win it, the feeling is great.
The other reason why it felt special is the way we won it. Having lost two laps at the beginning of the race, I've had to catch them up and that made it exciting because normally in an oval race you spend half the race just driving around, following everybody and saving the car. With being two laps down, you have to race the whole race and push for the whole time. So that made it exciting.
Q: Jacques, after leaving here in '95, pretty much on top of the racing world and then it staying that way for you for a couple of seasons, how difficult has it been the last three years not to be winning races the way you had become accustomed so suddenly?
And the second part would be: What are your thoughts about the return of Barry Green and the improvement in the Honda situation for next year? What are your thoughts for next year?
JV: Well, of course it's not easy after winning to not be winning for a while. But most difficult was '99, when we weren't finishing races. I think I finished only two or three races in the whole season without the car breaking down; and halfway during the season we didn't see any progress. We started the season better than we finished it. And that was very difficult because a lot of energy was put into the project before it started; and then during the season we worked really, really hard and progress wasn't happening. So that was a hard season because you don't get any energy back at the end of the season. So it becomes very, very heavy.
But then as soon as the new car arrived, it felt like a big improvement. And all season we've been able to work with it and to get better. That's been important. We've been able to do a lot of laps and the team has been working hard as well. So ultimately in the season we've been getting better and better which brings back how racing used to be, even before I started winning. When you start to see your work and you can see some improvement, that's what's been happening this year. So even though we haven't been winning, it's actually getting on the right track and the future is looking very good.
For next year, well, Honda will be working hard, of course. That's their first season back after quite a few years. And the engine is strong, it doesn't fail. The only problem I had was last race and sadly that's the race we were the most competitive in. So the engine chose a wrong weekend to do something funny. So that wasn't good.
But apart from that, most of the season the car and the engine have been very reliable. It should only get better next year and hopefully we'll have a more competitive car.
You broached the Barry Green subject. I think there's been a lot written about it; but, honestly, I haven't seen anything from the inside. So I'm not sure where it's coming from.
Q: Would you enjoy working with Barry again considering you had such a winning effort before in Indy cars?
JV: Well, I had a great time with Barry in '94 and '95, and I'm sure I could have a great time with him again. But at the same time, I'm having a great time working with the people I'm working with now. So I wouldn't want to change them.
Q: Jacques, are you at all disappointed next season Jordan will also have a manufacturer's situation with Honda power and there will be two Honda-powered teams competing head to head?
JV: It's both disappointing and a good thing. It is disappointing pride-wise because that means that they haven't been happy enough with the team. So some people within Honda decided that they needed to have a backup plan. So that side of it makes you feel quite bad. But for the pure development of the engine, it's a lot better because then you have two teams putting all the effort into developing it. And the other thing you have to know is Mugen is very linked with Honda. So it's taking efforts away from this project. Next year it's going to put everybody together. So it can only be better for the Honda power plant and for us. All we have to do is be in front of Jordan.
Q: As you were watching that tape from the '95 race, tell me some of the things that came to mind that maybe you haven't thought about for a while. Did you have the goose bumps? And what else did you think about when you were watching? Have you seen that tape in a while?
JV: No, I haven't seen it in a while but people always bring it back. It's been such an important moment in my career because it's probably the race that got me into F1 in the first place apart from winning the championship that year. That's the race that got Frank Williams interested. So then he watched what happened the rest of the season. So it's been a very, very important race for the last five years. So it's more than just bringing goose bumps because of the moment.
Q: Jacques, do you think that your previous experience around this track is going to benefit you at the weekend? And, also, could you give me your opinion on what you think the other drivers will struggle to come to terms with on this circuit?
JV: I'm not sure the experience will help a lot because we're not really using the oval. We'll be using Turn 1 the wrong way around, so we just have to remember not to turn left but to turn right! I don't think we're going to go quick enough through that corner for it to be risky; only if it rains. Only if it rains, then it will be a little bit risky through there. But if it's dry, coming from the infield -- I'm not sure what speed we're going to be -- but I don't think it's going to be close enough for it to be dangerous.
Q: Jacques, you mentioned the rain. In fact, Derek Daly and I spoke about this just a couple of weeks ago. Rain in central Indiana during the month of September is relatively rare, yet the forecast calls for rain possibly on Saturday and on Sunday. Which would you prefer? Would you prefer a wet track?
JV: When you don't qualify well, you're not going quick, then a wet track can be good because normally you have cars crash and you have a better chance of finishing in the points. If you're quick, then rain just makes it a little bit like a gamble. Because the rain doesn't stay constant for the whole race, it dries out a little bit and then you get in an in-between situation where wet tires aren't quick and dry tires aren't quick either. And you have to stop on the right lap or else you can lose 10 seconds. You can lose a chance at the podium or points because of that. So it makes it a little bit of a gamble, which is good when you're in the back. So if we're quick, and I'm expecting the car should be quick here, then rain is not what you want. With this car in the rain -- actually, it would be quicker in the rain than the dry. So it doesn't matter too much. That might be the first time you'll see cars on the Speedway with rain.
Q: This team, which was set up and has been run by Craig Pollock, it's a high-profile team. It's been a bit of a struggle. Do you think, Jacques, the struggle is because it was underestimated what it would take or do you think the struggle is a reflection of just how difficult it is to be successful in F1?
JV: It is very difficult to be successful, but even before the car did the first lap last year, it was already in every paper pushing it and pushing the image, I think, to an awful lot of people, which is why it looked so bad in the end. But as a new team it started better than any other team ever started, which you have to look at as well. But this team got into F1 saying we're going to win right away and that just doesn't work.
Q: People in America, especially around here, haven't seen Formula One for decades and the only souvenir and link they have with this world championship is you really. So we assume you'll be a center of attention. We know that you don't especially like to be solicited and being asked around too much. So how will you deal with that? Can that affect your weekend?
JV: We're taking care of that today. So it should be okay for the rest of the weekend.
Q: That's it, we've seen it?
JV: Well, it's fun to be back here. Of course, there's going to be a lot of attention because the last time I was here was winning at the Speedway. But our chances of being that competitive this weekend are slimmer than they were in '95. But we're still going to give it a shot. You don't get into anything without trying and we will want to do good and we'll just try as hard as we can.
Q: Jacques, there are some circuits that drivers just immediately like or they immediately dislike. When you came here to run the oval in '94, it was pretty obvious it suited your style. Do you feel like the same potential exists for you here at Indy with the road course configuration that you get out there and you think to yourself, 'This is a track I love'?
JV: I think it should turn out to be a nice track to drive on; and the other thing is it should suit the car. Whenever the car feels good, then you end up having more fun driving. You take more pleasure which means in the end you drive better, also. And our car seems to be a lot better with low downforce circuits and this track should be with low downforce. So we should be able to be in the front.
Q: Jacques, in Europe you promised us you wouldn't attend this press conference without having seen the track. So, obviously, you haven't seen the track, which is bad for us. Now, you've seen bits of it, you've seen tapes of it? Can you comment on the infield from whatever you've seen?
JV: Well, I saw it quickly from the plane! It looks quite good. There's just a couple of corners that look very, very, very tight. But the rest of the layout looks like it could be quite interesting to drive on. But the very interesting factor on this track is that on the simulations it looks like you can do the same lap time with high downforce and with low downforce. So some cars will be slightly better off with more, some others with low. So it should make it interesting in the race.
Q: Jacques, as a driver how do you approach driving on a track that's never been raced on? Do you have guidelines to go by?
JV: The thing is you only have two hours on Friday to learn the track. When the track is new and nobody has run on it, then the asphalt has no grip. Within a few laps you destroy the tires, also, until rubber gets inside the asphalt. So the thing you have to do is just to drive around and not do too much setup work because by the end of Friday the track will have changed completely. The best thing to do is walk it or go around it on a scooter or something just to have a visual idea of where the track is, where the braking markers or when it turns left and right. That's quite important as well, just to have a memory of it so you don't have to learn that on Friday, because you don't have that much time.
Q: Do you think that the drivers should have been given more time to go on the circuit?
JV: No, there's no reason to get more time. We've been doing this for long enough that we shouldn't need to know a track in advance.
Q: Jacques, the decision was made to give each team two additional sets of tires for this weekend. Your comments on that decision?
JV: I think that's good. Most of the races this year, people don't go out in the first half hour or full hour just to save tires for the weekend which is very annoying for fans. And it's very frustrating because you don't want to be the first out on the track and destroy your tires and then you have to miss a new set of tires later in the weekend. So that's good, a couple of sets. That means everybody will be out there at the beginning.
Q: Would you have preferred that there had been some testing here prior to coming here?
JV: No, I prefer when we just get into it without getting too much preparation. Any track this year where we've had a lot of testing prior to the race weekend, every car is just too close to the perfect setup. The rest of the weekend generally is not that interesting. That's why people don't actually do laps until qualifying.
Q: Jacques, I noticed a broad smile creased your face as you watched yourself cross the finish line in 1995. Would you reflect on where that victory ranks in your career? And just as you've traveled around the world the last five years, what's the impression, what's the feedback, reflections you get from other people as you discuss that day?
JV: As a pure race, it is the race that meant the most, definitely. Championship-wise, it's difficult to compare this one to the F1 championship. They're a different time in my career. Without having won that race, I probably wouldn't have gone to F1, which means I wouldn't have won the championship in the end in F1. So it was probably more important. But once something is achieved, then you just want to achieve something else. Once you achieve something new, then that new thing becomes the thing that makes you happy. It's very difficult. I really can't tell you which one of the two is the most important.
Q: Jacques, we hear a lot about the pressure that's placed on the Formula One driver. I guess we got a chance first-hand to see some of that after Michael Schumacher won at Monza. You were 23 when you first came here, 24 when you won for the first time. You're 29 years old now. Do you consider yourself, by Formula One standards and that mental stress, do you consider yourself a young man or an old man in the sport?
JV: Well, outside of the sport I consider myself a young man. Inside the sport, maybe in the middle. I guess it's also the way the people and the media, the teams, see you. When you reach your thirties in F1, you're part of the old guys. I think the age average is lower in racing in Europe. But in general, racing in Europe, most drivers started when they were eight, going on the international scene of go-karting and going with that pressure forever. Once you reach your thirties, I guess you reach a point where you've spent enough energy.
Q: Is the mental stress and strain more magnified, say, than it was when you were running with Indy car?
JV: Definitely. It's a lot more. Well, there's a lot more money involved, also. So because of that it becomes more political and there's a lot more pressure from the team and sponsors. There are more fans because it's a very international sport. You get a huge amount of following in most countries in Europe, in Asia. So the stress level is quite high. Yes, it's a lot higher than I remember it in North America.
Q: Jacques, you have driven with the walls. Do you have an advantage in that area going through turn one in reverse with a wall out there? Most of the tracks don't have that.
JV: Well, by the end of Friday, I'm sure all the drivers will get used to going around Turn 1, or else they shouldn't be in F1 anyway. So I don't think it should be a problem for anybody. Maybe the first few laps, and then it also depends on the speeds we're going at. But the other thing we have to look at is that we race in Monaco surrounded by walls and guardrails, and it doesn't seem to create problems for anybody. The speeds aren't that high, it's true, but the corners are tighter. After a few laps everybody should be comfortable. It depends on the grip level of the tires and the speed we go through, which I'm not aware of yet.
Q: You mentioned the mental stress. Give us an idea of how all-consuming being a Formula One driver is. How much discussion goes on with the team during the week? How much testing do you do? How much of almost every day does your job take over from what we just see on television?
JV: You get to the track on Thursday normally and that's when you start working with the engineers.
Q: Away from the track.
JV: Oh, away from the track. Between every race we have three days of testing outside of the winter, just once the season starts. Then after the testing you spend three or four days physical training just for the racing because it's something you have to do week after week. Not for the next weekend but for the next year and so on. It's something you carry on. Some drivers do a lot of PR as well. I've been trying to avoid that. So there's quite a lot of that in between races. I haven't done this that much lately, which is good because the season has been very difficult. There wasn't much left for PR. We have November off, so that's good. Once November is gone, we get back into testing.
Q: Jacques, when you arrived at Williams, there was some discussion, and Frank had been quoted as saying they observed some of your cornering skills and suggesting that maybe oval racing had a strong influence in helping you approach apexes a little differently. Could you talk a little bit about what skills might have helped you that you picked up in oval racing when you first got over there?
JV: Well, the first time you drive on the oval, your foot wants to come off the throttle. It is very impressive. The effect of speed with the wall there and the fact that you get into these corners without lifting, it is very impressive. It does make your driving smoother because you have to drive smooth on a track like that. Mostly to be quick on an oval, you need the car to be a little bit loose or to have the rear end a little bit light. That allows you to drive smoother. I think that's been a great, a great help. Driving in general, that's been useful in any type of track. In general, the corners that suit me the best in F1 have always been the high-speed ones and I'm sure that comes from the ovals.
Q: Jacques, there's been talk of the similarities possibly between Monza and this track in terms of some very fast sections and very slow. So there's a compromise. If so, are there any concerns, given the drama that happened in Monza, about this mixture and any safety concerns here at all potentially?
JV: The track wasn't at fault in Monza, it's just part of racing. If you're four or five drivers getting into the same corner at 350 km/h, then by the time you react to what the other people are doing in front of you, it's too late. And it is going to happen. We're not there to drive to a bar, we're there to race. We try to put our nose wherever we can and sometimes it ends up in wheel-banging and that's part of racing. When it doesn't happen, everybody complains that the racing is boring. As soon as it happens, everybody complains again. So you just have to know what you want. You want racing or you don't.
Q: So you're saying it's more the drivers than the track?
JV: I would say it's more racing more than the drivers and the track. If it didn't happen, then that also means we weren't really racing. It's happened over the years, it's happened all the time and it's part of racing. It's part of the competition, it's part of the fighting. It's happened less and less because of all the pressure on the political side where you're not allowed to crash. As soon as you crash, it's better to not win but at least to not crash. That's a sad thing that's happening to the sport. But whenever there's some real racing happening and a little bit of wheel-banging, which we don't want but sometimes it happens by mistake, then we get blamed heavily when we shouldn't because it is part of the racing.
Q: How concerning to you is it that there's even talk about bringing Barry Greene into BAR, having to bring someone in from Champ Cars to Formula One? Is he the guy that the team needs? Would you want to work with him in Formula One?
JV: I think the team is doing fine. The team has been progressing quite a lot. So there's no need for change. But this team has had a lot of political, internal problems, mostly last year. It's been much better this year. I think it's just last year that's coming back and coming out a little bit. So talks have been happening. But I have no idea how much truth there is to that. I'm really not involved in them and I haven't heard anything from within the team. So it surprises me a little bit.
Q: Jacques, you obviously believe in the potential of this team. You've signed an extension of your contract for three years, and it surprised a lot of people.
JV: I'm sure it did. The option, the other main option was quite good contractually. They were very similar, so I didn't have to look at the contract to make a decision but just where I was wanting to stay. It wasn't an easy decision. But I've put so much energy in this project, I was there from its beginning and now that it's showing lights of being successful, it would be very annoying if it was another driver that was starting to win with this. So I was wanting to stay with it and to work hard. But on the other hand, if the team is not competitive next year, then I'll be able to look somewhere else.
Q: Jacques, you talked a little bit before about how international the sport is but yet the U.S. sort of lags a little bit. You've lived here a little bit: can you give us an idea of what American people are not seeing or what we're missing that the rest of the world is excited about?
JV: To tell you the truth, I find the fact that it's more technological or not has very little influence on the racing itself. So it depends on what you want to see. But that's the way F1 is. And that's the technological part of it, it's part of the upbringing and it's part of what you learn when you grow up and watch racing on TV. It's part of what makes people excited about it, also. I'm not sure that would be the case in the States, so it is not required in the States. Although I don't think it's been tried before. You know, there's a lot of racing in North America anyway. So that's why it's always been very difficult for F1 to come through. There's not much that's American within F1. There's no drivers right now and there's no engine or cars. So that makes it also more difficult. But we could have a very exciting weekend. This race could become a very successful event year after year, which doesn't mean that F1 will become successful in North America but at least this one race should and that will already be a good step. To come back to an earlier question and ask about oval racing, it also brought a different approach to setting up. On oval, the setup of the car becomes a lot more precise than on a road course. You don't fight the car as much on an oval. You need to get the perfect spring, even sometimes differences in spring that don't look like they're going to make a difference, even on paper they don't seem much but on the car they make a big difference. Once you start working like that and you bring that to road courses, it is very useful. Sometimes you have to fight the car and live with the setup you have. But if you have the time to really get into it and to get the perfect set-up, then you can get something out of it.
Q: Jacques, can you just elaborate on that? We could have a great exciting weekend but we could also have one of these weekends that Formula One has where there is no overtaking, no crashing, no action and you don't sell as many tickets next year.
JV: I'm not sure about that. I think because it's in Indianapolis, the fans that come here -- first of all, you get fans from all around the world. But the fans from America that come here are pure race fans. They all come to any racing event that will be at the Speedway. They're Speedway fans in a way. You also have a lot of Formula One fans all around the States. They're not really grouped together. So you won't really come across them but there's little groups all around the States that follow it. That's a great opportunity for them to come and to see the cars and see the racing. Whenever there's not a very exciting race, it doesn't seem to bother Europe so much because of the upbringing and because you grew up with it like that and just looking at the technology and understanding what's happening on the racetrack. So it's okay, it goes down well. I'm not sure how that would go down well here if we have a boring race.
Q: You just mentioned spring rating settings gave you experience from IndyCar racing. Do you think you can use some of the tricks in terms of spring rates to negotiate the banking section here? And do you think those cars would be completely different aerodynamically from cars that used to drive and slipstream down the fast section in order to try to make it best through turn one?
JV: The tricks on an oval track, you set the car up differently because you only turn left. You have stagger, you have different springs left and right. But that won't be the case here because you have a lot of left- and right-handed corners. So it is a road course, it is not an oval. It is a road course with one high-speed corner which we normally get anyway. We get corners, at Spa, Eau Rouge we go through at 300 kilometers an hour, and Suzuka we go through over 300 kilometers an hour. So I don't see why this should be a problem.
Q: How about slipstreaming?
JV: We would get that in Monza and Hockenheim. These cars are very difficult to slipstream because they're very efficient down the straight and don't create a big vacuum behind the car. The other thing is the engines rev so high that when you're in a slipstream, you lose a lot of engine efficiency because you lose a lot of the air that the engine leaves. So you don't get as big a slipstream as you wish you got. You lose more downforce through the corners than slipstream you get from the straightaway. The best slipstream we got was probably in Hungary which is a very short straight line, but because it was maximum downforce, it created a big vacuum behind the car.
Q: Jacques, when you're at the top of your game and winning, what was it like to go through this period where you haven't been quite as successful? What does it do to a driver to make him want to come back hard?
JV: I guess it depends on how hungry you are. If you're still hungry for winning, then you'll just work as hard as you can to get there. If you've won the championship and you're not that hungry anymore, you haven't had a winning car and you just push enough to win again or else you just give up. But I'm still very hungry, so I haven't given up. The hardest I've ever driven was the last two years; even harder than for winning the championship. I believe my skills have improved the last two years. Once we get the winning car it's going to be very useful.
-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-