F1: Gentlemen, Stop Your Engines

Matthew Potena
by Matthew Potena
f1 gentlemen stop your engines

Formula One has lost two of its unique drivers: Juan Pablo Montoya and Jacques Villeneuve. Montoya was dumped— I mean, Ron Dennis decided that "with so many things happening in Juan Pablo’s life right now, he should take some time out of the car and prepare professionally and personally for the future.” Perhaps Mr. Dennis was referring to Montoya’s appearance at a press conference in front of sponsors' banners not affiliated with McLaren Mercedes, announcing he'd secured a seat in next year's NASCAR series…

Jacques Villeneuve has also departed the sport. Immediately after the German Grand Prix, Villeneuve informed Sauber-BMW that the injuries he sustained during the race meant he was “not ready” to race in Hungary. Without any further ado, the team ditched the Canadian for Robert Kubica, who became the first Polish driver in Formula One. After a brilliant drive, Villeneuve's "temporary replacement" became permanent.

Say what you will about Montoya and Villeneuve’s driving abilities, they were two of the most colorful characters on the F1 grid. Montoya’s combative Latin temperament always shone through in his driving. He won the CART Title in 1999 and the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, both on his first attempt. Montoya’s skill and determination also gave Toyota its first CART win that same year. In 2001, he switched to F1 with Williams-BMW and won the Italian Grand Prix. In 2002, Montoya scooped seven pole positions with no wins. Disillusioned with Williams, he signed to drive for McLaren for 2005. With both Williams and McLaren he won seven out of the ninety-five races in which he competed.

Villeneuve was also a CART star. In 1995, only his second year in the series, he won both the Indianapolis 500 and the CART title. With the help of Bernie Ecclestone, he secured a ride in the Williams-Renault. Driving the best car in the field, Villeneuve grabbed pole position in his first race. He followed that accomplishment with two more poles and four wins in 1996. In 1997 the Frenchman earned ten pole positions, seven wins and the F1 championship. Since 1997 Villeneuve has neither been on pole nor scored a win. He won eleven races out of the one hundred sixty five in which he competed.

When explaining his decision to abandon Formula One for NASCAR, Montoya stated that he “wasn’t enjoying the races.” He also justified his decision by claiming “I had done everything I had to do and I had achieved almost all the goals that I had. I only needed to win a title and I realized my chances were very small. Leaving was the best decision that I could have made.” And in case you missed the point: “to fight for fifth position is not amusing.” While the statement was a standard rhetorical spin out, at least it showed a bit of tact.

Villeneuve took a rather less diplomatic approach. His first target was seven times champ Michael Schumacher. “He's a racer – but a pure racer, nothing but a racer and because of that, I think the day he hangs up his helmet people will just forget him”. And, “Michael simply isn't a great Champion because he's played too many dirty tricks and because he isn't a great human being. Yes, Senna played dirty tricks too but he did it with more class, more integrity. When he took Prost out at Suzuka in 1990, he said he was going to do it before the race.” So, playing dirty tricks is acceptable as long as you tell your fellow drivers that you will do it beforehand?

[As of this writing, Michael Schumacher owns the records for wins (89), pole positions (68), championships (7), fastest race laps (74), and most total points (1,338). It will be a long time before anyone forgets Michael Schumacher.]

Villeneuve’s next target was his former team. “I’ve led races, I’ve won races. I know how to do that. So I guess the question as to whether I’d drive for BMW next year was this: did BMW think they needed someone next year who could lead and win races? If they did, then they’d need me. If they didn’t then they wouldn’t. It just depended on how ambitious they were.”

When I think of “Villeneuve” I will always think of Gilles Villeneuve and Ferrari. People still talk about his wheel banging with Rene Arnoux in the 1979 French GP while fighting for 2nd place. Same goes for his heroic win in the 1981 Spanish GP, where he held up the 2nd through 5th place finishers for the final 18 laps. When I think of Jacques Villeneuve, I remember his recently released music video, which makes George Michael look butch by comparison.

Montoya will be missed. Jacques who?

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  • Transylvanian Transylvanian on Aug 23, 2006

    Please. It's not that Formula-1 will fall apart without these drivers. But: anybody who makes it to Formula One is no doubt a great driver. That being said, this is the top of the line. No matter how successful you were in the CART or the Indy 500 or Formula 3000, the F-1 is the real deal where the cream of the crop has their final challenge. Trying to justify Juan Pablo Montoya or anybody else's greatness with enumerating their previous successes is not fitting. JPM was a good F-1 driver. He definietly brought his unmistakably latin temperatment to the racetrack. Watching this guy chase down Schumacher or anyone in front of him was a delight, but when he trashed his Williams into the wall several times his maiden year, I started to wonder wheter he is champion material. I still remember 2003 and the Indianapolis paddock filled with colombian flags. That was the closest he came to the title... but previous impeccable records, victories in other series, agressive driving style are just not enough. F-1 champions require something more, something that carries the team (as was written in the previous excellent posts), but also something that sets the person apart. Luck is needed as well, but without the genius success is always elusive. That brings us to Jaques Villeneuve. He was champion once, so there was a glitter of genius. That was his time, his patience and a fair amount of luck as well as a still excellent Renault powered Williams took him there in 97. After that he struggled with a weak car, and in the recent years wheter at BAR or other teams we could see a fading old tiger who did not have his bite any more but still thought he had it. After proving it race after race that he is not the same driver who was champion once, BMW had enough. Sad to see such a good driver fade away like that ... That being said, I keep them both in my mind as they were at the height or their careeer. We will hear for sure of JPM in Nascar as we do hear of Mika Hakkinen in DTM, after all these people cannot live without racing and even Jaques might show up in Nascar one of these days. But the show goes on. Besides the 'young lions' of yesterday, Raikonnen, Alonso, Button, Webber, new faces such as Nico Rosberg and Kubica are showing up to challenge the remaining old tigers such as Schumacher who still has a terrific bite and Coulthard who still enjoys bringing in points for his team. This is not the end of a story, it's just the closing of a chapter ...

  • DarkOneForce DarkOneForce on Aug 24, 2006

    Fantastic post. Thank you.