The past few years have been tough for Jacques Villeneuve. He is used to winning, but it's been awhile since he stood on the top step of the podium. Villeneuve won the Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship in 1995 and then moved to Formula...
The past few years have been tough for Jacques Villeneuve. He is used to winning, but it's been awhile since he stood on the top step of the podium.
Villeneuve won the Indianapolis 500 and the CART championship in 1995 and then moved to Formula One with the Williams-Renault team in 1996. In his first F1 season, he won four Grands Prix and finished second in the points behind teammate Damon Hill. In 1997, Villeneuve won seven races and 10 poles on his way to becoming World Champion.
While he hasn't been at the front of the pack, Villeneuve never has stopped giving his best.
"You always have to give your best," he said. "It doesn't matter what situation you are in. And that is what I have been doing since I joined BAR. So as soon as the car is competitive, I will be ready."
This year's Lucky Strike BAR-Honda, designed by the group led by new technical director Geoff Willis, is the best car yet created by the team, Villeneuve said.
"The fact that Geoff Willis joined and changed a lot of people in that (design) area will make a big improvement for the team," Villeneuve said. "The technical people are at a much higher level now than they were before."
Villeneuve believes that the 2003 BAR 005 chassis can be very competitive but added that Ferrari is still out of reach.
"The aim is not to chase Ferrari; the aim is to fight everybody else," he said. "Ferrari will still probably be a step ahead of the rest of the field. I believe we have made a big step forward with the car, and now a lot of it depends on Honda. The way they were working last season, it should be very promising for this year, as well. Ferrari could make a worse car, but I don't think that will happen."
"The fact that this car will be more competitive is great. Everybody in the team is excited because they have been working for many years without going forward, and for the first time we should get competitive, so that's great."
"Once he goes quick on the racetrack -- that is the only way you respect another race car driver a lot," Villeneuve said of Button.
Throughout his F1 career, Villeneuve always has been outspoken. But that is something missing from many of the latest generation of drivers, he said.
"When I got into F1, it was difficult to say what I thought because people would always end up thinking that I was doing it on purpose to get an image or a reaction," he said, "and it is easy to get blasted for it.
"After a while I got respected for it, and now people know if they ask a question, I will tell them what I think. Most people who get into F1 now get in very young, and they are being told how to be and what to be, and they are too happy just to be in F1 to even bother saying something that might antagonize someone."
As for the targets for Villeneuve and Lucky Strike BAR-Honda in 2003, Villeneuve only will be happy with podium finishes.
"Unless you are in the top three, then you cannot be happy about being in the top six or top 10," he said.
This is the final year in Villeneuve's contract. The BAR team has been centered on Villeneuve all these years, but that is something that will change, according to team principal Dave Richards. Still, Richards believes that Villeneuve and BAR may be together in the future.
"The team was built around Jacques," Richards said, "and it is a different team to what he enjoyed for the last few years. It is a team that you will reflect on at the end of the year and say, 'That team is going places and will be a team for the future.'
"This team has to prove itself first. We have to get our organization and car working effectively and prove that we are a top-challenging team - a team that top drivers want to drive for. I believe that we will do that during the course of this year.
"I believe that toward the end of this year we will be the most attractive team for Jacques to want to drive for in the future, and we will be in a position where we are looking for the best drivers. I wouldn't be surprised that it will end up in a natural marriage if it all goes to plan."
No matter what happens, Villeneuve plans to try as hard as ever this season. "I have never lost motivation," he said. "I have always given everything that I had, and I will until the last day of my contract."
Villeneuve's second-to-last race with Lucky Strike BAR-Honda under this contract will be the fourth annual United States Grand Prix on Sept. 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He finished fourth in the inaugural F1 race at the Brickyard and sixth in last year's event.