Jacques Villeneuve-Exclusive Interview Jacques Villeneuve-Exclusive Interview

Jacques Villeneuve: Sainz outperforming LeClerc and Ferrari must be wondering why they let him go, I was angry after whole grid went to Senna’s funeral but only five turned up to Ronald Ratzenberger’s

Retired French-Canadian F1 star Jacques Villeneuve questions F1 owner Liberty Media’s decision to buy MotoGP for $4.5bn.

But he believes a Ride to Survive Netflix series is next following the takeover.

He also spoke about the tragic death of Ayrton Senna, who died 30 years ago on May 1 this year, and compared him to film star James Dean.

What are your thoughts on the Carlos Sainz situation?

JV: “Carlos Sainz has responded so well after basically being kicked out of Ferrari.

“We can see he is not there to play second fiddle to LeClerc. He is there to play his game and show the world what he can do. He is starting to make the difference with LeClerc.
“He has put himself in the shop window big time. He is the only one winning races for Ferrari. His value will have really gone up over the past three years. Every time he has made a move people have said the team who have signed him are taking a risk. Every time he performs better than expected. He is certainly outperforming LeClerc.

“People are starting to realise he is a serious contender. He is very mature and dedicated, clever and works hard which is really making the difference. Talent alone is not enough.”

Will Ferrari be wondering what they’ve done in letting him go?

JV: “There are two camps in Ferrari. One wanted Hamilton and the other wanted to keep LeClerc. So Sainz was the sacrificial lamb. It’s ironic that Sainz will probably walk out with a better situation. You must wonder if they think, ‘what have we done?!”

“What does Max having to retire at Melbourne say about the situation at Red Bull on and off the track?

“I am not sure it is related. They have had so many races without any issues it was bound to happen at some stage. These things tend to happen when a team is already in the eye of a media storm.

“It must be a distraction. It is too much. They need to sort it out quickly and stop this crazy TV show.”

What are your thoughts on F1 owner Liberty Media buying MotoGP for $4.5bn?

JV: “The price is very high. That’s giving a lot of value to MotoGP. And it’s more than Liberty paid for F1. The sellers must be happy because they have made a big killing.

“Not sure how that synergy will work. The two worlds are so different. Even if you look at the fans, the riders and the drivers are two extremes. I am not sure what their plan is.

“I’m wondering if they will think about having the two together and hold races on the same weekend. There is obviously something in the pipeline.

“F1 is the biggest sport in the world and MotoGP is only a few countries, mainly Spain and Italy. There is a lot to be built and a lot of potential. And we have seen how good they are at building things.”

What would you think about a doubleheader weekend?

JV: “I don’t see the point of it for F1. It might be good for motorbikes. MotoGP is pretty much Spain v Italy in terms of riders with a few others thrown in. It is like a local championship which is not that appealing.”

Can you see another documentary series? Maybe Ride to Survive?

JV: “It certainly has all the writing on the wall for it. It seems logical. They will make MotoGP a lot bigger than it is now and hopefully make it more international.”

What do you remember of Roland Ratzenberger?

JV: “I remember him fondly. He was like an older brother to me. He was just there. The great memories I have from Japan involve Roland.

“He took me under his wing when I moved to Japan. He was racing in Japanese Formula 3000 for Toyota who I was racing for too.

“He was fun. He was not living in Tokyo. But he would often jump in his car and drive to Tokyo to party with us and then sleep in his car because he couldn’t drive back!.

“He was really old school in that respect. Life was to be enjoyed. When I saw him get into F1 I was so pleased for him. It was amazing. And he was in his early 30s which is late really for a driver.”

What do you think about that weekend at Imola?

JV: “It was I think only Roland’s third Grand Prix. It was a really tough weekend, awful in very respect.

“What I find the most painful is that every year at this time people ask me how I feel about the anniversary of Senna’s death. I tell them I didn’t know Senna but I knew Ratzenberger. They’d say, ‘Oh we don’t care about him, we care about Senna.’

I would respond, ‘I care about Ratzenberger, he was my friend, he’s the one I care about. ‘

“I find that very painful even today. Suddenly Senna was a big loss but apparently Ratzenberger wasn’t. That is how most media people portray it and I find that awful.

“The whole grid went to Senna’s funeral. Only five went to Roland’s. That shows you how ridiculous it all was.

“People say their deaths were a big loss for F1. No, they were a big loss for the families who have to grieve. Ratzenberger was as much a loss as Senna. For me, Ratzenberger was the bigger loss because he was a friend.”

Memories of that qualifying day when Roland died?

JV: “I was watching the weekend on television. It sticks in the memory. Two dead drivers, accidents in the pit lane and at the start. It was just bad luck. Things just went from bad to worse over 48 hours.”

In the aftermath of the crash what were your emotions?

JV: “I have lost different people in racing so I kind of just go cold and don’t react. That started with my father’s death. After Roland I became super close to Greg Moore and then he passed away (in an accident in 1999) so I didn’t tend to get close to drivers.

“You just turn cold because that is self-protection. You don’t show your emotions and keep it all inside.”

In your opinion what was the impact of Senna’s death?

JV: “You think business when you think like that which is awful. He was a human being. But the sport lost a huge amount in the value he brought to F1.

“He was super talented, super-fast and he probably would have given an amazing fight to other drivers for quite a few years to come because he was so passionate about racing.”

Where would you put him in the pantheon of F1 greats?

JV: “It is difficult to compare eras. It is like trying to compare Fangio with now. You actually didn’t see him racing or know the era.

“But he has become an almost mythical figure.

“That is the James Dean effect. Any driver who passes away at the wheel keeps his place in history a lot longer than say multiple champions, like Prost for example.”

How much was that weekend a catalyst for change with regard to safety.

JV: “It was a start. Back then you were happy to reach the end of the season without having broken something. And happy if you hadn’t died.

“Now you are surprised if you break a finger! That’s how safe they are and that’s them being as fast as they have ever been.”

The worst weekend in F1 history?

JV: “That weekend was probably the one that hurts the most because that was when there was the most human damage.

“For me the worst weekend was the death of my Dad. So I have a hard time thinking about something that might have been bad for F1. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. What matters is for the people who are left behind. We shouldn’t bother worrying about F1. It is not a living entity.

“F1 is a business. You have to think about those left crying behind, those who were hurt.

“I would say it marked the start of modern F1. The mindset regarded death and getting hurt changed then compared with the 1970s and 1980s.

“Drivers then were living on the edge. They were a small group, and they knew that might be the last time they were waking up when they went to a race. I guess you viewed life very differently in terms of the way you lived. You don’t enjoy the same things that we do now.

“Frankly, racing is not really dangerous right now.”

How did you approach the sport?

JV: “Remember I did part of my growing up with my Dad. Even then outside the track it was the same level of taking risks and pushing the limits and feeling special if you were capable of living on that edge.

“Whatever I did growing up, that is the way I looked at life whether it was on skis or behind the wheel. It didn’t have to be racing.

“The risk itself was part of the fun and showing the other guys you could and they couldn’t.

“Basically you had bigger ones! That was the attitude which is why when I got to Spa and won the world title the goal was to go through the Eau Rouge sequence of corners. At that time no-one went flat through it. That was just an ego thing which earned you bragging rights.

“That is how I grew up. When I first started in F3 it was still quite dangerous. When I got into F1 it started to move into a safer direction.”

Could a similar accident that killed Senna happen today?

JV: “A piece of the wheel penetrated his helmet. That could still happen today. He was just unlucky. Look at Massa in Hungary (in 2009). He just got lucky that the spring from the car in front didn’t pierce his brain.

“The safety of cars now allows average drivers to be competitive. They don’t need to really feel where the limit or the edge is. They get trained on the simulator, they get on the track and just repeat it without really knowing how close to the danger zone they could be. They don’t have to respect it. You used to have to go through a corner multiple times to get the feel. That kind of thing has gone now.”

Has F1 lost something because of it?

JV: “Yes it has, but it has gained other things. The sport has never been as good as it is now. You can’t reminisce and think the past was amazing. It wasn’t amazing. It is just our memory of it that is amazing.

“There’s good in modern F1 as well.”

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Last Updated: April 18, 2024

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