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Villeneuve has it all to prove at Sakhir 30 Mar 2005

The podium (L to R): David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren, second; Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Williams, third and World Champion; Mika Hakkinen (FIN) McLaren, winner for the first time. European Grand Prix, Rd 17, Jerez, Spain, 26 October 1997. World © Sutton Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Sauber in the FIA press conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, 17 March 2005 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Williams FW19 spun out of the race on lap 34. German Grand Prix, Rd 10, Hockenheim, Germany, 27 July 1997. World © Sutton Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Sauber Petronas C24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Race Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 6 March 2005 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Sauber Petronas C24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 5 March 2005

Can former champion rediscover his racing genius?

Believe the media and Jacques Villeneuve’s race this weekend could well make or break his fortunes with the Sauber team. After disappointing outings in both Australia and Malaysia the 1997 world champion knows that - unless his performance improves dramatically - time is surely running out on his Formula One career.

Villeneuve's outstanding talent is not in doubt - at least, not to anyone who remembers the fearlessly aggressive racing he unleashed on his Formula One debut back in 1996, and which he used to take his well-deserved championship title the following year. The question now is whether the 33-year old can still muster the sort of speed and motivation required to compete in the toughest motor racing series on the planet.

History suggests that drivers who return after a period of absence, even former champions, often find it difficult to take advantage of their second chance. The 1979 world champion Alan Jones left the sport at the end of 1981, only to return twice - neither time with any significant success. Nigel Mansell came out of retirement to drive for Williams following the death of Ayrton Senna - adding another Grand Prix victory to his tally - but he survived only two races when he tried to move to McLaren in 1995.

Alain Prost was more successful - although his motivation was never in doubt - having sat out the 1992 season without a drive he returned to Williams in 1993 and took his final drivers’ championship. But the great Niki Lauda is probably the finest example of a (successfully) broken Formula One career, leaving the sport for three years before taking another world championship title in 1984 - proof that some drivers have been able to rediscover success.

But for Villeneuve the demons may lurk deeper - many believe the five unsuccessful years that he spent with the BAR team have taken from him much of the energy and on-track enthusiasm that made him such an impressive racer during the early part of his career. The current crop of technical regulation changes also do little to favour the French Canadian's on-the-edge racing technique - back in his heyday, he was never a man to carefully conserve his tyres or shepherd his engine to the line.

But whatever happens to Jacques Villeneuve, he should still be regarded as one of the finest natural talents that we've seen in the sport during the last decade, at his finest his fearless, inspired racing reminded contemporaries strongly of his legendary father, Gilles. Had Jacques managed to stay with more competitive machinery, or if he hadn't been forced to share a grid with Michael Schumacher for so long, then history might have looked very different. But this weekend, both he and the watching world will know, is when Jacques Villeneuve has to prove himself as never before.

For an in-depth look at Jacques Villeneuve’s career, and those of the 26 other Formula One world champions, please see our Hall of Fame section.