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Liv­ing by the lessons his fa­ther taught him

Many things con­nected with Jac­ques Vil­leneuve could be con­sid­ered un­con­ven­tional: the grunge look; the over­sized driv­ing suits and rac­ing boots with the tongues hang­ing out; en­gi­neers deal­ing with set-up re­quests that veered from the norm. He won a world cham­pi­onship in his sec­ond sea­son of F1, but his sub­se­quent grand prix ca­reer at­tracted con­tro­versy more than cel­e­bra­tion.

We’re meet­ing near his home high above Lake Geneva on a sum­mer’s day. But vis­i­bil­ity is less than 20 me­tres be­cause of driz­zle and fog. Typ­i­cally, he’s cho­sen L’Alchimiste, a mod­est fam­ily restau­rant in full swing as the lo­cals from the vil­lage gather for lunch. It’s a place Jac­ques knows well, hav­ing spent most of his teenage years here in Vil­lars-sur-Ol­lon fol­low­ing the death of his fa­ther, Gilles, dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for the 1982 Bel­gian Grand Prix.

Jac­ques emerged from the shadow of the much-loved Fer­rari driver to be­come his own man by shar­ing his fa­ther’s love of speed. The urge to com­pete con­tin­ues to be fullled by in­ter­na­tional ral­ly­cross; a will­ing­ness to say it like it is, is satised by F1 pun­ditry for French and Ital­ian TV net­works – and, hope­fully, a re­laxed chat with F1 Rac­ing. Mau­rice Hamil­ton: So here we are, in a place where I guess you did a lot of your grow­ing up. Jac­ques Vil­lenueve: Yeah, ex­actly. I went to board­ing school just across the road. This is where I had sex for the rst time, my rst beer, all this kind of stuff be­tween the ages of 12 and 17. It was good fun. There was a moun­tain; ski­ing – it was a blast. MH: I take it you must feel com­fort­able here, and even though it was at a dif­fi­cult time of your life when you rst ar­rived here, that’s why you’ve come back? JV: It was a strange time be­cause, be­fore my dad died, I’d been liv­ing away from home for more than a year. Fam­ily life was ex­plod­ing after his death and, ap­par­ently, the en­ergy wasn’t good so my mother [Joann] sent me away. It’s con­fus­ing; it’s all a bit fuzzy back then. MH: You were very young. JV: I was 11. I do re­mem­ber when he passed away be­cause that’s a very clear mem­ory. It was the rst race my mother didn’t go to. I re­mem­ber we were walk­ing back from school. Grow­ing up, we would only get a toy at Christ­mas or on birthdays. At the time, there were th­ese lit­tle por­ta­ble black and white video games. I kept pes­ter­ing my mother and, nally, we stopped and bought one. We got home and the phone call ar­rived. That mem­ory is su­per clear. I re­mem­ber her pick­ing up the phone and, even with­out say­ing any­thing… MH: You knew? JV: Yes, I knew. Some­one came to stay with us [Jac­ques and his sis­ter Melanie]. After that, we took a mil­i­tary ight to Canada, which, for an 11-year-old, was a cool ex­pe­ri­ence even though it wasn’t at all com­fort­able. It was very hard for maybe a week or two but, at the same time, it

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