It’s become something of a tradition in auto racing: if you’ve gotten to the point in your career when no one will hire you, hire yourself. Or at least become a team owner. Drivers as various as Alain Prost, Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren, Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney, Jim Hall, Michael Andretti and A.J. Foyt have all become team owners in various racing formulas, with varying degrees of success. It’s one way of satisfying the racing bug once a driver is past his prime driving years.
It now appears that 1997 Formula 1 champ Jacques Villeneuve is preparing to follow the trend. Villeneuve has been angling for an F1 drive ever since he was dismissed by the Sauber BMW team in 2006, to make way for Robert Kubica. In fact, he’s been trying to latch onto any kind of regular drive. He’s gone so far as to compete at various kinds of stock car venues, and at one time had his sights set on a regular NASCAR drive, which never materialized.
It has now been revealed that Villeneuve has formally applied to fill the 13th spot on the Formula 1 roster for 2011, which had formerly been reserved for the now defunct USF1. Villeneuve himself has refused to comment on this, but reports seem to indicate that Villeneuve might be pulling together staff from the old Arrows and Super Aguri teams, along with former Renault honchos Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds. Although Briatore and Symonds are currently banned from active team participation until 2013, it’s possible that they might serve in some behind the scenes consulting capacity until their pans expire, and then join the team publicly.
There has also been report that Villeneuve will partner with the former GP2 team Durango, which is based in Italy. In a story in The Globe and Mail, Durango owner Ivone Pinton was quoted as saying, “I really hope together we will find a place. We still don’t know where the car would be built, but the team’s base will definitely be ours, in the Veneto (region of Italy). As well as being the driver, I’m sure he will make a useful contribution to the company. I think he’s preparing a job to do after he hangs up his helmet.”
Naturally, this makes sense, as many drivers have become team owners as means of extending their connection to racing, and giving themselves wsecond careers. Whether any of these rumors ever become a reality is anyone’s guess, however.
What is true, is that Villeneuve, (like another driver from the same era in F1, Eddie Irvine), has always been a colorful character who has never been afraid of speaking his mind or saying the wrong thing (which in his case, often amounted to the same thing). Formula 1, which seems to become increasingly corporate and politically correct each year, might well benefit from Villeneuve’s return, even if he’s sitting behind the pit wall rather than in the cockpit.