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Press conference with Jacques Villeneuve 09 Jun 2005

Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Sauber.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, European Grand Prix, Preparations, Nurburgring, Germany, 26 May 2005

Ahead of his home race, the 1997 world champion sat down and chatted to the press about this weekend’s Grand Prix, life at Sauber, the Indy 500, his future and Ferrari…

Q: What makes this race different for you to the others?
JV:
This is home. This is where I come from so it’s very special.

Q: At this point in the season are you where you thought you would be, in terms of expectation?
JV:
Definitely not. I could see how competitive Sauber was last year and how much progress they made throughout the season. I had a fair idea on the tyre difference and where they would have been had they been on the tyre last year. Then when we got the tyres on last year’s car the car was extremely fast, it was a big improvement, compared to anything that had happened to them before. So we were all surprised and disappointed when the new car came out and it actually wasn’t as competitive. It’s doesn’t feel bad to drive, it’s just slow on the lap times, and it’s very hard to pinpoint.

Q: Regarding tyre changes, are your new rules in Formula One, from a strategic and safety point of view, wasn’t it better last year?
JV:
No, definitely not. I think you’ve seen some better races this year. Safety wise why should it be dangerous? I’ve said before, the only reason there was a problem at the last race was because of flat-spotting a tyre and braking vibrations, and that could have happened even with last year’s rules. Last year you wouldn’t have come into the pits to change your tyre, you would have tried to survive until the end of the race if you are in the lead, that’s just the way racing is so the new rules had no effect on that and you could damage your front wing or suspension by banging wheels with someone and you would still try to stay on the race track until it broke so the new rules have a very tiny effect on that.

Q: In terms of qualification are you happy that it’s back to one day?
JV:
I wasn’t happy qualifying on Sunday, but I was happy with the fact that at least one of the qualifying was with low fuel. Now it’s back to being with high fuel and you never know who is quick. You determine your qualifying lap by deciding how much fuel you put in, so it’s not a pure qualifying lap anymore. It’s part of the race and it’s purely strategy. I’m not a big fan of that.

Q: How much difference is there in how you feel today than this point two years ago before your last race here?
JV:
I feel a lot better than I did two years ago. The last two years at BAR were hell, so anything is better than that. It wasn’t because of the car or the people; it wasn’t the engineers or the mechanics. It was only down to one person who was on a mission at the time to discredit me. That made life very difficult. The year off has allowed me to take a breather, to see what was going on and relax, to come back and not be affected by stuff like that anymore.

Q: Peter Sauber has made some comments that you’ve been a little slower than he expected. How do you react to that?
JV:
I don’t want to react. It’s the kind of comment that can get you really angry and really have a negative effect on the way you drive, so I’d rather not pay any attention to it and just take it as humour. As little as possible that gets in public the better it is. Anything of that kind that gets into the public shows a weakness in the team, and makes the rest of the team weaker. It’s not constructive to performance.

Q: What was going through your mind when this event (Canada) was held last year?
JV:
That I wasn’t here for the party after the race! It was good to be away from racing for a while but of course I was missing not being here. It’s always a special weekend because of the atmosphere, the people and the fans. It wasn’t nice to not be at this one.

Q: When you started with the new team it got off on a bad foot, today are you comfortable or is there still pressure?
JV:
Of course I’m not satisfied. There was Imola which was good and Monaco we were competitive but other than that we’re the slowest Michelin car right now so that’s definitely not a good position to be in. Apart from changing springs and anti-roll bars there’s very little we are doing on the car so from that aspect from the way I enjoy working that’s not very satisfying, but that’s just the way it is so I have to make the best of it.

Q: You are getting older, how many more years do you see yourself doing this?
JV:
Well one more year means more experience, so it’s only a positive. You should carry on as long as you’re hungry, you enjoy working and fighting, pushing the limits and you enjoy figuring out problems. Working on a race car is not only driving it, it’s figuring out what you can change on it to allow yourself to drive faster. That’s fun, but you need the budget and the team to try different aspects and right now we don’t have a big budget so we can’t do that.

Q: You obviously would love to win a race, but what would be satisfactory this weekend?
JV:
I’ll know on Friday what I want to shoot for. Of course going home without points would be a disappointment definitely. 7th and 8th are points but what feels like real points are from 6th onwards, because that’s how the rules used to be. 7th and 8th are good to bring home but they aren’t that satisfying.

Q: Did you watch the Indy 500 and what did you think of Danica Patrick?
JV:
She did a very good job. The funny thing is her mistake allowed her to be in the lead at some point so it would have been a little bit unfair if she had won at that point. That’s all. But she did a very strong job all weekend so she’s a strong racer.

Q: Given the right package, do you still think you’re one of the quickest drivers in the world?
JV:
Definitely. If not I wouldn’t have come back to race if I didn’t believe I could do it.

Q: If you look at Formula One at the moment you have (Fernando) Alonso dominating and (Michael) Schumacher off the pace. What’s been most surprising for you?
JV:
Even before we started winter testing I was discussing with a few people, and I didn’t expect our competitors tyre-wise to be able to bridge the gap with Michelin, but it felt like I was the only one thinking that and everyone else didn’t believe me. Since the beginning of the season that’s how it’s been so I’m not surprised at all. I expected the McLaren to be leading the championship, not the Renault, and Kimi definitely has the faster car but somehow they haven’t managed to get the points and so Alonso is off on another planet. When you’re in that position it’s difficult for you to miss it. The way he feels right now they can lose the championship if they do something stupid, that’s all.

Q: Being with a weaker team, have you given up hope of catching onto one of the big teams?
JV:
With the way the season's going it definitely won’t allow you to be on strong end of negotiations and get with a team that’s winning races. But I enjoy working with the team even if you’re not at the front, as long as you are going forward, so it depends on what we plan for next year. If the team wants to progress and make leaps forward then I will be very happy to keep working on the project.

Q: Ferrari has always had this dream to drive Villeneuve with Ferrari. If Schumacher retired, is there an opportunity for you?
JV:
Nothing has shown that it could be an opportunity so it’s not something I can comment on.

Q: What reception do you get from fans when you come back to Canada?
JV:
When you meet people you feel like you are part of the country. It’s become more like that over the years. At the start because I grew up in Europe and it took longer for the people to accept that, but over the years it’s become more and more respectful.

Q: There are suggestions that Andrew Ranger might be ready to make a step to F1 sooner rather than later. What advice would you offer him?
JV:
Not to jump bridges. He’s still very young and has a lot to learn. He definitely has a lot of talent, but it’s difficult to know what’s going on when you’re in Europe - I try to see as much as I can. So many things can happen psychologically when you’re racing and that will often have a bigger effect on your future than pure talent. Getting wins and crashes can affect the way you drive. I think it’s important not to get into F1 too early, although if you get the chance then you take it.

Q: When you look at your rivals they’re all basically kids. The last few years have seen more and more of the characters leave the sport. Do you see younger guys with good talent but robots?
JV:
It’s more difficult now to judge talent because there are so many driver aids in the cars that any good driver will be able to drive the car. You just brake as hard as you can, throw the car into the corner and step on the throttle and the car will take care of it. It’s easy for a driver new to F1 to adapt to it than a driver that’s been there for a while. If a driver arrives in F1 without experience then, of course, it will be much harder for them to express themselves. They are 19 or 20 and just happy to be there. They will have a big sponsor and a big team owner who wants to be a star himself and will not want the driver that’s the star. So the driver will just be happy to be there and drive the race car and that’s just the way it’s evolved. That’s partly the media’s fault, not only the team owner. That’s because of the way they take comments out of context on purpose that puts a whole marketing department or sponsor on the back of a driver. So everyone’s at fault for that. The media makes and breaks heroes, so if they keep making characterless people as heroes, then that’s what we’ll keep getting.

Q: Did you make up your mind about what will happen after 2006?
JV:
No idea. If it continues like this year there won’t be much choice.

Q: Has the media been too hard on Jacques Villeneuve?
JV:
No, it’s okay, I can take it. The media’s only been harsh because more is expected. If I hadn’t won in the past, then there would be no criticism now. I’ll take criticism any day if it’s because I’ve won in the past. You don’t get anything for nothing. There’s always a price to pay.

Q: How is your relationship with Felipe Massa?
JV:
Surprisingly very good. When he first arrived in F1 he didn’t go down too well because he arrived very young without experience and at the time he was making mistakes. Since then he’s improved a lot and he’s matured a lot. He spent one year as test driver at Ferrari and he’s become a very strong driver. He’s much calmer than he was so he’s controlled his Latin blood a lot and that’s made him a stronger driver. There’s a mutual respect and we get along well now. We work together on the same lines so that makes life a lot easier.

Q: After this you are on your way to a department store to do an autograph session, is that still fun for you in the lead up to a race?
JV:
No, sitting in a department store is definitely not the most fun thing you can do! It’s part of the weekend craziness.

Q: In terms of tyres, how does this track play as far as tyres go, because it’s high speed but slow corners, with a lot of braking? How do you expect the tyres to perform?
JV:
The high speed straight lines put a lot of stress on the tyres and so they need to be hard, but depending on how the suspension works, the tyres will make bubbles. But then you still need a soft tyre because the corners are very slow and you don’t have the downforce to keep the tyre on the ground. So that’s the trade-off you have to make.