Less than a month away from turning 52, Jacques Villeneuve is still fired up by racing, wanting to become the first driver in more than half a century to win what is known as the Triple Crown of Motorsport, only ever accomplished by British racing legend Graham Hill.
The veteran Canadian driver participated in last weekend’s World Endurance Championship (WEC), at Sebring in the USA, while Formula 1 gathered for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix weekend in Jeddah, where Villeneuve might have been had it not been for his latest racing commitment.
The 1997 F1 World Champion, reportedly worth $50-million, is also a pundit for French television, attending Grand Prix races on their half respected by this site for his illustrious achievements in motorsport and his no-holds-barred punditry which was missing in recent weeks, in the wake of the opening in the Middle East.
Speaking to Journal de Montreal, Villeneuve explained his absence from the F1 paddock this season so far: “First and foremost my job is a racing driver, I’m not a semi-retired as some claim. The proof is that I’m riding full-time this year in an important international series.
Jacques: I don’t think I’ll be hanging up my helmet anytime soon
“My health is excellent, so it’s not a problem. My passion is intact and I’m not here to have fun. Racing is what I do best,” declared Villeneuve, going on to reveal his dream of victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2008, he came very close to taking the top step of the podium at the legendary endurance race, when he finished second. He will have a third chance next June to achieve this ultimate goal, although he is the first to admit the vast challenges of that ambition.
This season in in WEC, Villeneuve is racing for the less fancied and private Vanwall Vandervell team among one of the strongest fierlds ever assembled for the series, including big money efforts by the likes of Ferrari, Toyota, Porsche, Peugeot, BMW and Cadillac to name some.
For Villeneuve – son of F1 legend Gilles – the “real” Triple Crown is victory at the Indy 500 (which he accomplished in 1995), plus the title of F1 World Champion (accomplished in 1997) and the final piece of the trifecta, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Englishman, father of fellow F1 World Champion Damon Hill, won F1 world championships in 1962 and 1968, with an incredible run of Monaco Grand Prix victories (1963, 1964, 1965, 1968, and 1969), winning the Indy 500 in 1965 and Le Mans in 1972.
Villeneuve winning Le Mans would emulate racing great Graham Hill
Some argue that the Triple Crown of Motorsport is victories at Le Mans, the Indy 500, and the Monaco Grand Prix, which only Hill has accomplished, but he himself when ordained the unique accolade, referred to the Triple Crown as winning Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500, adding that the F1 title(s) was what gave him that honour.
Winning Le Mans, would see Jacques emulate British racing legend Graham Hill, winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1965, Damon Hill’s father added a win at Le Mans in 1972 to come full circle. For more than 50 years, other drivers have tried to follow in his footsteps, including Fernando Alonso, but in vain.
Villeneuve ventured: “It’s not me saying it, it’s Hill himself who, at the time, referred to the F1 championship title and not the Monaco Grand Prix. It was Hill who invented the Triple Crown, the… real one in motorsport.
“I want to be the second driver in history to accomplish this feat. It would be a great accomplishment, but hey, at the risk of repeating myself, it’s going to be complicated this year.
“We are a small team and we have to face big names supported by big car manufacturers, including Toyota, Peugeot, Ferrari and Porsche. But I am patient and I still have good years ahead of me,” insisted Villeneuve.
The arrival of a sixth Villeneuve child is due mid-year
The Canadian continued: “With my busy schedule, managing my time is more and more complicated. I’m going to be a dad for the sixth time [he has five boys] in early June and I’m proud of it.
“As I am engaged full-time in the World Endurance Championship, I have reduced the number of Grands Prix to ten in my role as an analyst for French television,” added Villeneuve, whose third wife, Guilia Marra (who gave birth to son Gilles in January 2022), accompanies her husband on his travels.
As for another racer in the family, from the Villeneuve pride, JV said: “Henri, the fourth youngest, is the only one of my children who is really interested in motor racing. He started go-karting. I asked him to draw his helmet, which he did. His helmet is different from mine and that’s good.
“He also plays hockey. It is still too early to know if he will follow in his father’s footsteps. The two oldest, Jules [aged 16] and Joakim [aged 14], have as their main activity, apart from studies of course, skiing and table tennis respectively. All my sons are athletic and they keep busy when I’m away,” added Villeneuve.
At Sebring last weekend, at the opening round of the 2023 FIA WEC, driving for the Floyd Vanwall Racing Team, run by ByKolles Racing, with Tom Dillmann and Argentina Esteban Guerrieri, Villeneuve made his WEC debut, the outfit finishing 30th.