LUNCH WITH JACQUES VILLENEUVE
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 fullled by international rallycross; a willingness to say it like it is, is satised 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