After three years away, 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve is deadly serious about making another Formula 1 return in 2010, and attended last weekend's Singapore Grand Prix to continue his negotiations with teams.
Villeneuve spoke out on how things were progressing, and what he thinks about F1 2009.
Q. So what brought you to Singapore?
Jacques Villeneuve: Just continuing my work on getting back to Formula 1. It's very simple. I didn't want to go to Monza because it is always a crazy weekend and I was told it would be a lot calmer here. I wanted to see this track anyway – it is one that is definitely worth coming to, so it has been a good experience.
Q. Are you planning on going on to Suzuka as well?
JV: No. I have kids to take care of.
Q. But it is one of your old stomping grounds?
JV: Yeah, I know. Maybe Japan might have been more fun knowing the place well from the past, but I am not here to party of anything.
Q. How is progress going on your talks for next year? There were some quotes in the German newspapers last weekend saying you would definitely be back in F1?
Q. Yes, that's what they said...
JV: Oh wow! It is amazing. It is not good when there is stuff like that written, because it is not definitely. And, when it doesn't happen, you then look like an idiot. So, I am not really in favour of this extreme positiveness unless it is real. There are possibilities, but there are a lot of drivers out there wanting to get in, and it seems that teams are much more desperate to get money than they were in the past. For some reason, although times are harder, every other driver seems to have money. That is really interesting.
Q. Do you have a budget?
JV: Nope. I didn't work on getting a budget for F1. I was working on getting a budget for NASCAR and different things, and you cannot go to someone and say, 'we will do this or that, or that, or that'. You need to focus on one area.
Q. Why do you want to come back to F1?
JV: Because I love racing. It is in my blood. I was born to race. There are two series in the world at the top level – F1 and NASCAR. I would say NASCAR I could do for many more years – Mark Martin is 50 and he is leading the championship. And you cannot beat an F1 car, in terms of driving the car. There is nothing that compares to it. So if there is a chance to do it, you have to do everything you can for it. And when I am home, I am either doing Motocross and doing stupid jumps, or go-karts, or whatever. That aspect is still there. I would be stupid not to try it, as I am really passionate about it.
Q. What do you miss about F1?
JV: The competition. The racing. Driving the cars on the limit. Also, working with the engineers to get the most out of the car. The mental work that goes into that is also part of the excitement and something I am missing.
Q. You did the Le Mans 24 Hours, was that so different?
JV: It was not so exciting because basically you don't try to get the perfect set-up for yourself, and as I wasn't the main driver for the whole season I wasn't too involved in the set-up. I would just get there and try to adapt to what the other two drivers were doing during the season. It was nice, it was fun. We ended up being quick both times I drove. But it is not the same levels of excitement. It was very calm. The whole race you are very calm and relaxed. There is a little bit of a rush missing.
Q. Does your present domestic situation allow you to commit to racing?
JV: Domestic in terms of being divorced?
Q. Yes, with your kids...
JV: Of course, I guess it is easier when you have a wife helping out. But I have a nanny. But it is fine. There is no fighting, and if there had been any fighting then you would have heard about it for sure. So it is not a bad situation. And if it was two little girls instead of two little boys it might be a bit more difficult.
Q. Does the fact that Rubens Barrichello is doing so well this year, having been in the sport for so long, boost your chances of coming back, do you think?
JV: Oh, it is great. That is great. But it is not only Rubens. It is the experienced guys who are running at the front – with [Sebastian] Vettel there once in a while as well. The way the cars, the regulations, have evolved it seems that experience has become paramount again, as is the way the driver works with his engineers. All the teams that relied on young blood seem to have gone backwards and are having a very difficult time getting up to speed. You cannot rely on the electronic any more. Teams cannot say to a driver, 'Shut up and drive'. That just doesn't work anymore.
Q. You still have a very good relationship with Jock Clear. What does he say about it?
JV: Well, he is part of the reason why I wanted to come back. Since the beginning of the season, he has been telling me that I would love these cars. They would suit the way I work and drive, and I would have fun again – even with the way the teams have got a bit smaller. So that kind of helped me want to come back, which is why I went to Monaco.
Q. Your talks with US F1, have they stalled totally?
JV: US F1, for some reason is not an avenue. I am not American enough!
Q. Do you feel that the teams you are speaking to understand the benefits of experience?
JV: Yes. But also, it is one thing to arrive with a sack of gold. But I still have some image in different countries. If a team works it well, it can bring it money as well – I just don't arrive with that sack of gold attached to my belt. That is all.
Q. When you were racing in 1997, with you and Michael Schumacher going at it big time, and you compare it to this season – do you feel that there is something missing at the present?
JV: There is a huge lack of excitement. They are all lovey-dovey. They are all best friends. There are no gladiators. When I watch sport I want to see battle, I want to see gladiators going at it. I am not saying they should kill each other, that is not the point, but they should want to outperform the others in a mean way. That has to be driving you, and it doesn't seem to be driving anyone out there. It is amazing.
Q. Do you talk to Michael nowadays?
JV: No, we have never been socially active – if that is the right word. It would be great if he came back. There has never been a hate problem between us, but just other things happening. He has achieved a lot and he was definitely a character in F1.
Q. Do you think nowadays in F1 the drivers have lost power? And that could have been a factor in why Nelson Piquet agreed to crash deliberately in Singapore last year?
JV: That is not a driver losing his power. That is just a driver being weak, young and a total idiot. And proving that he should never have been part of Formula 1. It is very simple.
Q. Were you surprised that he was granted immunity?
Q. What do you think should have happened?
JV: He was granted immunity, he got it, so that's fine. But it doesn't mean that people will look at him in the paddock with respect. If something like that happened to me, I would go to the moon or something – go somewhere really far away.
Q. You worked for three grands prix with Renault...
JV: Yeah. It was great. I was never asked to do anything weird or to help Fernando [Alonso]. Not that I would have done so anyway, but it was never in any of the discussions.
Q. So are you surprised that Flavio Briatore was involved in something like this?
JV: I am sure that we don't even know the full story anyway – and it is easy to just start judging. One of the last things I read is that it was Nelsinho who brought the subject up. If someone brings that up to the table, what do you say? You say, 'You're an idiot' for a few seconds, and then you start thinking about, maybe think it is a good idea, but then you push it away. Everybody for a few seconds will think, 'Hmmmm'. You don't say no to a present. Then later on, you just adapt. If it really happened like that, then I think it is amazing.
Q. How do you rate your chances of coming in?
JV: I don't know. Some days it is very high and some days it is very low. It is a moving sand right now. It is really strange. They are better than they were a month ago.
Q. Is there more chance with an incoming team, or an existing team?