Jacques Villeneuve showed no early interest in following in his father’s footsteps, but a short stint at racing school, and perhaps encouraged by the enthusiasm of people surrounding him for him to emulate his father, Jacques signed up to drive in Italian Formula 3 for 1989.
Here he spent two years without winning a race, but Formula 3 did teach him composure, and the coolness of temperament he was lacking when he started racing.
He moved to Japan to race F3, where he started winning, and then to the Toyota Atlantic series, before moving to IndyCars with Forsythe Racing for 1994, where he was Rookie of the year.
In his second year with Forsythe, Villeneuve won the Indy500 en-route to the IndyCar title.
His long-expected move to Formula 1 happened the following year, when he joined Damon Hill at Williams for the 1996 season.
An explosive debut at Albert Park in Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix, where he qualified on pole, dominated the race and would have won but for an oil leak late in the race, which handed the win to Hill.
A close battle followed throughout the rest of the season, Villeneuve faring admirably against his more experienced team-mate, eventually losing out in the last race of the season at Suzuka where HIll was crowned champion.
Such was Jacques Villeneuve’s speed and consistency in 1996 that Hill was released to join Arrows for 1997 and Jacques was joined by German Heinz-Harald Frentzen.
Seven wins followed before a winner-takes-all final race showdown with Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher. In a controversial end to the championship, Schumacher blatantly and shamelessly tried to take out the Williams driver in scenes reminiscent of Adelaide 1994, but on this occasion, Schumacher was unsuccessful in his efforts and the championship was Villeneuve’s.
Unbeknown to Villeneuve, his career would never reach such heights again. Renault, Williams’ engine partner since 1989 decided to withdraw from Formula 1, leaving the team without a works deal. Their 1998 supplier Meccachrome (1997 Renault engines, rebadged) were sorely down on power against the Mercedes and Ferrari powerplants and Williams found themselves on the back foot from the outset. Villeneuve failed to win a race and the reigning champion finished the season in fifth place, 79 points behind winner Mika Hakkinen.
Villeneuve left Williams to join manager Craig Pollock and Adrian Reynard at the newly formed British American Racing. Expectations were high, but eleven consecutive retirements at the start of the season set the tone for a disappointing five years.
Despite showing signs of raw speed, BAR suffered all too frequent unreliability, and when Craig Pollock was sacked and replaced by Dave Richards, Villeneuve found himself less at home at the team and his form dipped.
He left the team at the end of the year, and without a drive for 2004 took an enforced sabbatical. It wasn’t long before Jacques would find himself back in a Formula 1 car however, as with three races of the season remaining, Jarno Trulli and Renault parted company and he was drafted in to try and secure second place in the World Constructors championship for the team.
Sadly for both parties, in Jacques’ time away from the sport, Formula 1 cars had advanced significantly and he was off the pace, failing to register a single point, and Renault had to settle for third.
A so-so first season with Sauber followed, during which he scored nine points, good enough for 14th place in the World Drivers Championship.
BMW then bought out Sauber, triggering wholesale changes at the team, leaving Villeneuve in an uncertain position. An injury sustained at the German Grand Prix caused him to miss the Hungarian Grand Prix, and his replacement, Robert Kubica, took his opportunity with both hands and finished the race in seventh place.
BMW, so impressed with Kubica, decided that they’d like to have a shoot-out between he and Villeneuve, Jacques declined, Kubica got the drive, and so ended the Formula 1 career of Jacques Villeneuve.
Since leaving Formula 1, Jacques Villeneuve has tried his hand at other series, including NASCAR, Rallycross, V8 Supercars and Formula E, without ever repeating the success he had with Williams in 1997.