OLBG Exclusive Interview with Jacques Villeneuve

Updated: 141

Jacques Villeneuve: Norris got under Verstappen’s skin, Schumacher started the trend of dirty driving and Sainz is holding out for Mercedes move

OLBG Exclusive Interview with Jacques Villeneuve
In this article: July '24
Jake Ashton Senior News Editor

Jake is a Football and Entertainment betting expert, with a Man City season ticket and a deep knowledge of reality TV betting angles

Retired F1 legend Jacques Villeneuve spoke exclusively to OLBG about the current state of Formula 1, with his thoughts on some of the biggest topics so far this season.

Villeneuve discussed the ongoing saga around Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner, the current state of F1 and the dominance of Max Verstappen and Felipe Massa's appeal over the 2008 F1 title.

Interview July 2024

F1 legend Jacques Villeneuve said that Max Verstappen deserved his punishment for crashing into Lando Norris. He claims the Englishman used his incredible race craft to get under the three-time World Drivers Champion’s skin. 

Villeneuve claims that Verstappen’s dirty driving is influenced by Michael Schumacher’s style, which started the ‘trend’.

The Canadian also believes Carlos Sainz is bing patient with his announcement about next year’s destination so he can earn a place at Mercedes.

Q. What was your take on the incident between Norris and Verstappen in Austria?

JV: “The penalty was well deserved.

“The contact itself? Our problem is that 90 % of the drivers do that now. They squeeze during the braking, or they change direction during the braking. Look at Ocon earlier in the race. “It was even worse as you should never move during braking or just before braking because the guy behind has already decided to brake later than you.

“You don’t squeeze the person out during braking. But they all do it. The penalty was deserved, and half the grid deserves it for what they have done throughout the season. They all do it, and nothing ever happens. They say: ‘Oh well, it wasn’t that clear.’

“Wrong. It was bloody clear. The driver who was there as a steward knows it. He clearly knows it. The problem starts in Formula 4 and Formula 3, and nothing is done. When they get to F1, it seems they think it is the right way to race. But how can you race when you are weaving all the time?

“Defending means you keep the inside, fine. You want the inside, you stay there. You don’t come back on the racing line. There was also this rule that you are not allowed to change lines twice. And they do.”

Image: shutterstock

Q. Was it a watershed moment for Norris?

JV: “Lando could have gone off track because there was asphalt. But he did the right thing to hold his line.

“It sends a message to Max. They will often fight against each other in the future if they fight for the championship. It was important to let Max know: ‘ Hey, don’t bully me. I am here!’

“Lando deserved to win that race the way he has been driving lately.

“His race craft is one of the best race-crafts I have seen in years. It is very old-fashioned. He can read the race and where to put his nose. It is very, very impressive.

“You could hear how he managed to put Max under pressure, even psychologically. That was amazing.

“At the end of the day, Max got points Lando didn’t, so Max increased his lead in the championship which is very frustrating for him.

“But at least Max knows now. I hope Lando stays tough like he has been. It is needed for the coming battles. It was an important statement from Lando that he would not back down.”

🏎️🔥 Lando's Message to Max: "Don't Bully Me!

Lando held his line & sent a clear message to Max. They’ll fight for future championships & Lando showed he's not backing down. His racecraft is impressive, applying pressure psychologically. Max got points, but Lando made a powerful statement

Q. What do you make of Norris now?

JV: “We always knew Lando could be quick. But now, he has stepped up for quite a few races this year and at the end of last year. You can see the difference. I don’t know if it was the win in Miami. The first one often does that.

“His shoulders now seem to be twice as big. He has gone from just being a quick driver to being a proper fighter, racer, and driver who can fight for a championship. It is so impressive.”

Q. Did Norris get under Verstappen’s skin, and could he be wary of him now?

JV: “Oh yes, Lando got under Max’s skin. Max knows he has someone to fight against, which is a change. He hasn’t felt like this since his first championship against Lewis. It was just a question of how many races he could win. Now you have someone who can take wins away from him and even championships. And not because he is in a better car but because he can outdrive him. That is what will get to Max and why he was stressed at the end of the race. You could hear it in his radio comments. It is not a position that Max is used to. He has never been in that defensive position.”

Q. Will this crash have an impact on their friendship?

🤔✨ Can Friendships Survive in F1?

Who says they're friends? Fun together doesn't mean great friends. Disrespect can shift dynamics. Mistakes happen, but frustration impacts relationships

JV: “Who says they are friends? Because they have fun together? They get along and maybe have fun together. Now we don’t know if they are great friends. But this could have an effect. Sometimes, mistakes can happen. But if you start feeling that another driver doesn’t respect you and has gone overboard that is when it becomes frustrating and has an impact.”

Q. Can you have real friendships in F1?

JV: “Of course. It is all down to respect, and it has to be mutual. The problem occurs if one driver thinks he is superior and he can be friends until the other driver shows that his opponent is not better than him. That then rebalances the whole concept of friendship and it might not work.

“F1 is not the type of friendship where you invite people to dinner or to celebrate the birth of your kid.”

Q. Who drove similar to Verstappen when you were racing?

Original 'Dirty Driver'? - Senna might have had something to say about that!JV: “Michael Schumacher started the trend of dirty driving. Jarno Trulli was another one.   It was frustrating racing against him. The worst coming together was when I was driving a Sauber and was racing at the back. Some of the back markers just didn’t have the correct race craft or the correct understanding of what happens if you change line if the other guy is already trying to brake later than you. You end up on top of each other.”

Q. Will Silverstone suit Red Bull?

JV: “No, it should suit Max! If you look at the previous races, on the quick corners Max was 10kph faster than the second guy and that included his teammate.

“Maybe that is due to the way he sets up his car. He likes a very pointy car that just pivots and he manages to save his rear tyres. He was making such a big difference there. It looks like it is a car that could carry a lot of downforce and still have good top speed compared to other cars.

“With all the high-speed corners Max should be at ease there. It is his race to lose, but we have seen what a little pressure can create.”

By Mike McBey - Silverstone, England, on Grand Prix day, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=99893873

Q. What are your memories of Silverstone?

JV: “My memories of Silverstone are winning. It was Williams home track so winning it was special. It is one of the temples of racing. It was a tough track.  There were corners where you had to be on the edge. When you got a good lap out of Silverstone it was exciting.

“It was always Lewis’s race weekend. Now it looks like it might be the other British driver. The crowd can go for Norris because Lewis has been struggling and George is beating him as well. That might be a different Silverstone this year. It says something that you can have three British drivers and Lewis is not the leading one. He’s third.”

Q. What makes Silverstone so special?

JV: “The fans are real. They are race fans. It could be raining, cold, in the mud, but they will be there in T-shirts and shorts!

“They are just pure race fans. That is the difference. They are not just fans of a team or a car of a VIP. They are race fans.”

Q. Carlos Sainz. Is he playing a waiting game that could backfire?

By Liauzh - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=147713551JV: “He is still probably hoping for Mercedes, that Antonelli is not good enough so the seta is available for a few years.

“But playing the waiting game you could find out you are the last one standing and the last one standing is not a positive here. At some point, you are bound to annoy other teams who have made you amazing offers. He seemed certain to be joining Williams, and then something happened.

“When you get a good offer and delay and delay at some point you will piss people off and they won’t want him. You end up signing very late and you make it obvious to that team that they were only your third choice.  That is not the best thing to do either.”

Q. What difference could Sainz make to a team?

JV: “He got to McLaren and the team started getting better. He left and it kind of plateaued and suffered when Ricciardo went there.

“Then he got to Ferrari and they started getting better.

“He has a great work ethic and the way he works with engineers, his feedback is great and it pays off. It has a lot of value. He is quick and competitive and he seems to react well under pressure.

“When he was dropped by Ferrari he did not react badly. He reacted like a cool cat. That makes a lot of difference. Teams like that. He would be great for Williams who need two drivers like that. They are on their way up.”

Q. What do make of the Goodwood Festival of Speed? What are your memories?

JV: “I drove my Dad’s T3 which was owned by Nick Mason, the Pink Floyd drummer. That was the coolest thing.

“I went to see Pink Floyd in Nice when they brought out their album ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason.’ I am trying to get into their music. But it must be a generational thing!”

++Ends++

Interview April 2024

Thoughts on the Red Bull situation?

JV: “It is chaos. Even when we try to read between the lines, it is impossible because there is just too much going on. Social media is out of control on this. Everybody has a take on what is right and wrong without really knowing the facts. That is so dangerous.

“A lot of judgments are being made but how can you make a judgment when you don’t know all the facts?

“People are being pushed into judgment knowing only snippets. It is very frustrating and dangerous when we don’t actually know the full picture.

“It has to end soon one way or another. We can’t have this thing dragging on and on.”

What’s the worst thing for you about this story?

JV: “The thing that is really awful in this vendetta is those who get damaged by the fallout. That is Horner’s children when they go to school. That hasn’t been taken into account by anyone. The kids’ friends are reading all this on social media. Maybe it is because I have six kids, I can understand the effect it can have.  But it seems as though because it is not directly F1, it doesn’t matter.

“It is super important. Collateral damage should not exist. It is difficult once it has been leaked but that is why it should all have been sorted out behind closed doors.

“But by doing that bystanders such as the kids are damaged. People who have nothing at all to do with it.”

Do you think Horner’s opponents would have expected him to have gone by now?

JV: “That is normally what happens. But he hasn’t.  And why should he? At some stage we might find he was 100% right and some people will not be happy.  Or we might find we have been duped and he is 100% wrong. Right now, it hasn’t been done the proper way.

“It is only because this is F1 and the sport is so huge that people are talking about it.”

What is your interpretation of Max‘s relationship with Helmut Marko?

JV: “Helmut Marko is a grandfather figure for Max. He is the one who took him under his wing from the age of 17. The attachment is understandable. There is a protection feeling which I can relate to as I felt the same with Craig Pollock. It is a very potent psychological feeling and it is really hard to fight that.

Max to Mercedes?

JV: “I can’t imagine Toto Wolff wanting Max! The only way he would entertain the idea would just be to annoy Red Bull. I can’t see him at Mercedes because they lost the championship to Red Bull and Max (in 2022).

“It would definitely not be because he really wanted Max. It would be more to do with wanting to get at Red Bull. There are a lot of personal vendettas in there right now both inside and outside of Red Bull. The whole thing is a mess.

“It is not surprising because F1 has got so big, it is worth so much money that everyone is going crazy.”

Is it a negotiating ploy by the Verstappens, because would Red Bull really want to lose their prize asset?

JV: “Who is to say that Horner is not the huge asset? He has been at the heart of the team for so long with a lot of championships under his belt. He has always managed to get the team to a winning standard.

“The decision on drivers was always Marko’s. But he was not running the team day to day. Would the team be as good without Horner? That is a difficult one.

“Would the team win without Verstappen? Probably. Max is winning because he has an amazing car and Red Bull is winning because they have an amazing driver.

“But he is not the only amazing driver that exists. Put Alonso in that car and he would be winning as well.”

Do you think Horner then is more important to Red Bull than Max?

JV: “Max is the image of Red Bull, so he is super important for them. Red Bull is Max and Max is Red Bull. The link is super strong.

“The same thing happened in the past with Sebatian Vettel. No-one could imagine him driving in another team. It just looked weird.  But when it happened people just went with it. And they ended up winning with someone else.

“So, a team is always bigger than the driver.”

Is Max driven by more world titles or the possibility of a new challenge elsewhere?

JV: “I am sure Max believes he could win at Mercedes and at Ferrari as well; that he would make the difference. He has to believe like that. And he might be able to make that much of a difference. But that is something we won’t know until he makes that move.

“Right now, he is beating Perez and that makes him look amazing. But we don’t know how good Perez really is. We just know he is not as good as Verstappen.

“If Max jumped teams, it would take him a while to get things going again. He would not just get into the Mercedes seat and start winning. It takes time.

“This is the first season that Max has a car that is working perfectly for him from the very start. In the past it always took a few races to get his bearings with the new car. This one seems to have been born to perfection for his driving style.

“You see that not in qualifying so much as in the race itself. When a car suits a driver that is when he will be able to massage it. He is on the edge massaging the car without abusing it. The other drivers aren’t able to do that.”

What do you make about the start of the season on the track?

JV: “The other teams just aren’t doing as good a job as Red Bull and Max. Behind Max the field is super tight. That doesn’t make the racing exciting itself.

“The grid is so tight.”

Thoughts on the race this weekend in Melbourne?

JV: “It’s never been a great track for excitement. But it is a great driving track. We have to see if the other teams and drivers have managed to figure out their cars so they can actually put Max under pressure.

“It will probably be a perfect weekend for Red Bull! He will be qualifying front row, make a good start, massage his tyres then maybe get a ten or 15 second lead. Perez will start sixth work his way through the field and finish second. 

“Max will win. Unless she is taken out on the first corner! But there’s no chance of that. He seems to understand the space around him really well. He never seems to encounter trouble. Not like his first year. So he has managed to improve as a driver and his hunger never stops.

“What is happening now politically and media wise doesn’t seem to be affecting him. It is business as usual once he is in race mode.”

Memories of Melbourne?

“It was my quickest track. I loved it. It was just a natural track for me to drive. In my first season and on my debut I got pole on Damon, just. The next two races I was a second off the pace. The following year I was on pole by two seconds ahead of my team-mate. I just loved that track.”

What demands does it place on a driver?

JV: “It is not overly demanding. The corners are not long. There is always a bit of rest between each section. So, you get into a nice rhythm.

“The only negative was it was the first race of the season, so your heart is a little bit higher, the excitement. That was what made it hard. As a street track the roads can be a little bit bumpy and slippery. It makes it fun. There has to be a lot of adapting especially with the set up of the car.

“There is no reason for Melbourne to be any different for Max. He approaches every race as if it was the last trace and he is fighting for the championship and he needs to win at all costs. That is his mindset.”

Who might pose a threat? Ferrari?

JV: “With Sainz being cut and the early driver announcement, I am not sure how the team dynamics are working.

“It is obvious in the first race Ferrari did not help Sainz. The balance is not as good as it used to be, which is not helpful.

“LeClerc is under pressure because he has to prove he isn’t the number two driver next year and he has to do that now.

“The whole landscape has changed within Ferrari since Hamilton was signed.”

Why are Mercedes so off the pace?

JV: “It is very disappointing. Listening to them before the start of the season it sounded like they were back in the hunt, the car was apparently amazing. Then you see the first two races and that is not the case. The car seems difficult to come to grips with. Lewis apparently has a hard time setting the car up and George seems to be more at ease with that.

“Gradually Mercedes will start working more and more with George because he is the driver of the future of the team.”

Ollie Bearman made a positive start?

JV: “He did well because it was a tough track, it was super-fast and he didn’t make a mistake. But he was in a Ferrari not a Sauber for instance. The potential is there. He was aggressive which was great to see. He was making moves. You could tell he was hungry and wasn’t afraid to go for it.

“But the first one is almost the easiest. There is no pressure, the adrenaline is pumping. The second one is normally the tough one. It was refreshing to see his performance and to see how he was preparing his moves. You could tell there were a lot of thought processes going on.

Should we admire Max for what he is doing rather than say F1 is boring ?

JV: “Of course. We have all admired Senna, Prost and Michael. And he was winning just like Max is now. Everyone has admired Lewis for so many years and how he was winning. The same as Max if not more regularly. He was lapping the whole field at times in his Mercedes. No-one complained about that. So why are we complaining about Max being so dominant?

“Is it because he is a tough guy that we can complain about him knowing he can take it? I think that is it.

“He is not trying to be nice, he is not trying to be friendly. He is just being him. That makes it easy for people to bash him. If he was a whiner and a fake trying to love everyone no-one would complain.”

“He was raised without a choice to be tough. As a racer it has paid off. That is all we can comment on. Because we don’t know the real Max as a person and what he is like behind closed doors.”

Is it good he can keep his private and public personas different?

JV: “It is good for him. But F1 is the most high-profile sport in the world right now. It is a theatre. You are almost not allowed to have a private life. Unless your private life is part of everyone’s he will keep being bashed.

“It doesn’t bother him. That is what is amazing. He is there to race, and he keeps winning.

“But it is easy not to be bothered by things when you are winning.

“He is doing great, but he is not doing anything to be liked. He doesn’t even care. He just wants to race and I admire that. He is not fake in any way. Whether people like that or not that is the case.

“I really respect that. He is a straight shooter. There are no grey areas.”

If Max were to leave Red Bull, who would be your choice to replace him?

JV: “They need someone who is known for being aggressive, selfish when he needs to be, that is hungry and knows what it takes. The only one out there who would be available to do that is Alonso. He would be a good choice. Whether he is the right choice you don’t know because some teams have found it difficult working with him in the past. Some have found it easy.

“Teams like Red Bull are not easy to work with. If Helmut doesn’t like you then you are in trouble. It can be very complicated.

“Another choice might be Sainz. He is a very mature driver and very intelligent. You saw that in the Singapore race last year. He won the race for Ferrari. Not Ferrari for him. He has a lot of strengths but does he have that extra tenth of a second that Verstappen has? Don’t know.

“Is he capable of massaging the car the same way that Max does? I haven’t seen anyone massage a car like Max does.”

Biggest disappointment for you so far this season?

“Alpine. How could a team go backwards like Alpine has done? It is amazing as Red Bull have produced a car that is better than what they had. It is embarrassing.

“They are constructors.”

Any other observations?

JV: “The big disparity is between qualifying and race pace. Some teams manage to qualify well, and they are awful in the race and vice-versa. We didn’t have that much of a gap last year. Wherever people qualified was where they raced. That is very strange.”

What do you put that down to?

JV: “A lot of internal battles. Take the Red Bull second team. Before the start Ricciardo was doing a big media push about how his mojo was back. Marko was saying well there might be a Red Bull seat available. That has created an issue inside where the drivers are not driving as smoothly and calmly as they were last year. That affects the way races unfold.

“There are a lot of internal battles going on which all started with Lewis’s move. On the chess board that was the key. That broke the log jam. People are a bit more hype and on the edge which is probably affecting a lot of the driving as well because they can see a possible prize.”

What is your feeling about Massa and his appeal ?

“I find it ludicrous. I am trying to understand what is going on in his mind. What is behind his thinking? I don’t know.

“There is no legal basis for his appeal. It is madness. But with judges you never know how it will end up. That is what is scary and dangerous.

“What about Maradona and the Hand of God at the 1986 World Cup? Do you try to challenge things like that now? Of course not. You can’t.

“There is a certain time when at a certain time a result is declared. It is too bad. That is life. You win some, you lose some.  You can’t just cancel a race where every driver has been risking their lives, for the rest of the field who adapted to the situation now knowing what was going on.

“At the end of the day, they screwed up their own race.  It is the most ludicrous thing I have heard in a long time. Felipe should be embarrassed.”

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