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The 'other' Jacques Villeneuve 10 Jun 2005

Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Arrows. 1981 Formula One World Championship. World ©  Phipps/Sutton

Gilles Villeneuve not only had a son called Jacques, it was also his brother's name and all three were driving talents...

Most Formula One fans will be aware that Jacques Villeneuve is the famous son of a famous father, his dad, Gilles Villeneuve, being one of the sport’s most mercurial talents - an outstanding driver whose career was cut tragically short by a fatal accident in 1982. But fewer will know, or be old enough to remember, that the our Jacques Villeneuve is actually the third of his family to drive in Formula One racing, and that his uncle, Gilles’ brother, also called Jacques Villeneuve, drove at three Grands Prix in the early 1980s.

Gilles was three years older that Jacques Senior, and was already on his way to success and glory in Formula One racing by the time his younger brother was starting to race snowmobiles during the frozen winter months in Quebec. With such a famous sibling it was perhaps unsurprising that, in 1976, Jacques quickly moved into four-wheel racing in a one-make Honda Civic championship in Canada - where he demonstrated unarguable natural speed by winning his first event, despite starting from P5 on the grid. He then moved into single seaters with brief spells in both Formula Ford and then Formula Atlantic, a North American championship - which he won in 1981 and was shortly afterwards offered a Formula One drive. Admittedly it wasn’t much of a Formula One drive. The Arrows team had fallen out with one of its drivers, Siegfried Stohr, and for the Canadian and USA Grands Prix (which fell at the end of the season) Jacques Villeneuve was offered a chance to stand in. In part the decision was undoubtedly helped by his famous brother (and the ability of the Villeneuve name to land sponsorship money in Canada) - but Jacques’ undoubted pace had shown he was worth a try.

As it turned out the gap between the relatively underpowered Formula Atlantic and Formula One proved too great, with Jacques suffering from a crash during the first practice session in Montreal and then failing to get through the pre-qualification stage - in those days anything up to 30 cars would try to start the race, with space for only 24 on the grid. Jacques had to watch what turned out to be a spectacularly wet race from the grandstand, his brother putting in a strong performance to bring his Ferrari home in third place.

The next race was held in Las Vegas, on a circuit that was infamously laid out in the parking lot of the Caesar’s Palace casino - and Jacques Senior was again unable to make the cut to the final 24 runners and so could not qualify. Arrows opted not to keep him on at the end of the season.

And there the story could have ended, with Jacques Senior joining the ranks of the Formula One ‘not-quites’. But he was actually to enjoy, or possibly more accurately endure, one final Formula One race two years later. This was after the death of Gilles at the Zolder circuit in Belgium in 1982, which may have been part of the reason that Jacques agreed to make an emotional return to the Canadian Grand Prix in 1983, driving for the newly-formed March-RAM team. Sadly it wasn’t to be a fairytale ending - he failed to make the cut again, trailing the pre-qualifying session in second-last place. Hence, although intermittently quick in lesser formulae, there’s no real proof as to whether - even with better breaks - Jacques Senior really had what it took to compete in Formula One racing.

But in the years since, he has enjoyed success in a wide variety of motorsport disciplines. He drove in CART, becoming the first Canadian driver to win a race in the series in 1985. He’s also competed with some success in sportscars. But it’s where he started that he’s happiest - as one of the finest snowmobile racers that Canada has ever produced, a sport that even now, at the age of 51, he still competes in.