The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Jacques Villeneuve

Auto Racing

1997


Photo of Jacques Villeneuve

Photo of Jacques Villeneuve

Date
December 11, 2008
Collection
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame

The Showdown at Jerez

FIA Formula One World Championship, also known as F1, is the top class of auto racing.
The 1997 F1 World Drivers’ Championship would be determined at the season-ending European Gran Prix in Spain on the physically demanding Circuito de Jerez.

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve driving for Williams was one point out of the series lead behind hard-driving German Michael Schumacher of the Ferrari team. Michael, Jacques and his teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen served notice it would be an exciting race when all three qualified with an identical lap time – to the thousandth of a second – in 1:21.072. A first in the history of the World Championship!

Jacques, the first to set the time, started in pole position. Schumacher and Frentzen jumped out at the start leaving Villeneuve in third. On lap eight Frentzen allowed his teammate to pass. Villeneuve raced hard but Schumacher was running well consistently maintaining a small lead.

Villeneuve studied Schumacher looking for a weakness and an opportunity to make a big move with an element of surprise. It was clear. On the ‘Dry Sac Corner,’ the hairpin at the high-speed corner after the long fast back-straight, Villeneuve was able to brake later than his opponent every time. He took his final pit-stop after Schumacher. On lap 48, with fresher slicks he was less than a second behind when he flew into ‘Dry Sac’ on the inside. As Jacques advanced past him, Michael appeared to be startled - then suddenly turned into him. Jacques was hit hard but continued, although, forced to slow down. Michael’s Ferrari ricocheted to a beached stop in the sand. His race was over. He was later disqualified for the deliberate hit. Jacques hung on to finish third, clinching the overall World Drivers’ Championship title with 81 points and 7 wins for the year.

It would be difficult to overstate the global magnitude of his achievement. The 1997 F1 season featured 17 races, in 14 countries, on 5 continents, with an estimated television viewership of over 500 million per race. With his F1 triumph, the young man from the small town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, may just be the most internationally recognized Canadian sports figure in history.

Jacques Villeneuve decided at the age of five that he would be racing. Not a day since has he entertained any other notion. Not even the horrific crash that took the life of his father Gilles at the Belgian Grand Prix when Jacques was 11, deterred the young man. His father had become a legend on the Formula One circuit driving for Ferrari. Ever respectful and proud of his father Jacques set out to build his own credentials and earn independent recognition.

Mission accomplished. Jacques Villeneuve is only the third driver after Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi to win the IndyCar Championship, the Indianapolis 500 and the Formula One World Championship. No other Canadian has won the Indianapolis 500 or the F1 Drivers' title.

Villeneuve in close call Adobe PDF Transcript


Highlights

1992
Japanese Formula One Series – 2nd place
1994
Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year
1994
CART Rookie of the Year
1995
Indianapolis 500 Winner
1995
CART Series Champion
1995,1997
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
1995,1997
Lionel Conacher Award
1996
Formula One Series – 2nd place
1996
Lorenzo Bandini Trophy – Outstanding Figure from the world of racing
1997
Formula One Series Champion
1997
Hawthorn Memorial Trophy – Most successful British or Commonwealth F1 Driver
1998
Named to the Order of Quebec
2008
24 Hours of Le Mans – 2nd place