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Volume 91, Issue 32
Friday, October 24, 1997
Going into this weekend's final Formula One race, 26-year-old French-Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve has nothing to gain, but everything to lose.
Two weeks ago at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka, Japan, Villeneuve failed to slow down for a yellow flag and as a result was disqualified for the race. Although his Williams-Renault team appealed the decision, which allowed him to compete in the race under protest, they would eventually be forced to forfeit their fifth-place finish. Otherwise, the Formula One Racing Council would have suspended Villeneuve for the final race this Sunday in Spain and in all likelihood, have handed the driver's championship to German Michael Schumacher.
Since his arrival on the international racing circuit, Villeneuve has not earned the respect he deserves. He won an unprecedented four races in his rookie season, establishing a new record, but critics say he was driving the best car. This year, Villeneuve has won seven stages but trails Schumacher, Ferrari driver, by a single point in the driver's championship. The consensus among Formula One racing circles is that Schumacher's Ferrari is inferior to that of Villeneuve's, but the German's greater level of talent is making up the difference.
So what if Villeneuve wins this Sunday's European Grand Prix and takes his first driver's championship in only his second year on the tour? According to many people, Villeneuve has had the best car, so it is his championship to lose, not to win. Those who hold this opinion, however, fail to realize these expectations must have been built on the merits of Villeneuve's talent. No one expected his Williams teammate Heinz-Herald Frentzen to win, yet he's driving the same fast car as Villeneuve and isn't receiving any criticism for performing nowhere near the Canadian.
For the ultra-conservative governors of the circuit, Villeneuve has been a pain and it seems like the international racing scene is against him since he doesn't match the common race driver's tight-lipped profile. He races because he enjoys it and he's not afraid to speak his mind. As he said in a television interview, "you have to be yourself." That motto, which has been dubbed as too flamboyant, along with his blonde-dyed hair, has given the young Canadian an unfavourable punk image.
But individuality and character must be admired and it takes courage to take on the world as Villeneuve has. He received a slap on the wrist for publicly criticizing the Formula One governing body, when they proposed changes that would slow the cars down in an effort to make the sport safer. In Villeneuve's opinion, however, it would only take away the fun of racing and he went as far as to say that he would return to Indy Car if F1 carried out the proposal.
One might even say that he's a perfect role model for Generation X racing fans. Villeneuve has a spirited side which he showed after winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1995, appearing on David Letterman, where he raced a New York cabbie around a block (losing by a nose due to "engine problems").
Villeneuve has an exciting racing style and is unafraid to make the daring pass which has brought about criticism that he is a dangerous driver. What Villeneuve's style really offers is what race fans want to see.
It seems that critics have missed the fact Villeneuve has had to handle far more pressure then Schumacher has this year and no matter the outcome this weekend, his nay-sayers will remain. If he wins, his performance will go unnoticed. However, should he lose, their cries will grow even louder.
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Copyright © The Gazette 1997