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JUNE 9, 1997

Villeneuve in trouble?

JACQUES VILLENEUVE's recent habit of publicly attacking the FIA's planned rule-changes for 1998 could be about to land the French-Canadian in trouble. The FIA World Council meets on Wednesday in Paris and the 26-year-old Williams driver has been summoned to explain his remarks. The FIA is annoyed that it is trying to slow down the cars to make the racing safer and that the changes have been accepted by all the F1 teams and yet Villeneuve continues to complain that the new rules are "ridiculous" and that the FIA does not listen to the drivers.

In fact Villeneuve expressed his views about the new regulations during an F1 Safety Commission meeting. The FIA listened to what he had to say but rejected the arguments.

The Williams driver has spent the last few days trying to get the meeting rescheduled as he is already in Montreal and has commitments on Monday and Thursday but the FIA is insisting that he be in Paris on Wednesday. This will not help his preparations for the Canadian GP next weekend.

The summons to Paris have resulted in some scare stories in Montreal newspapers suggesting that Jacques could be suspended for the Canadian GP but this is most unlikely.

There are plenty of documented cases of drivers getting into trouble for saying the wrong things about the governing body and laying themselves open to the charge of bringing the sport into disrepute.

The most serious came in January 1990 when the FIA refused Ayrton Senna's application for a superlicence because the Brazilian would not apologize for saying that the 1989 World Championship had been "manipulated" by FIA President Jean-Marie Balestre. In the end Senna was forced to back down. Eighteen months later when Balestre was ousted by Max Mosley Senna unleashed a vicious public attack on Balestre - but had to apologize again under pressure from Mosley.

That same year Alain Prost ran into trouble with the governing body and was given a suspended one-race ban for anti-FIA remarks he had made on French TV after the German GP. Prost ran into trouble again 18 months later when the FIA discovered comments in a French magazine. Prost said that he had not said what had been reported and threatened to quit the sport if he was punished. The FIA accepted that the magazine had exaggerated the comments.

There does not appear to be much support for Villeneuve among the other F1 drivers. Some may agree that the new rules make the cars more difficult to handle but they argue that speaking publicly on the subject is a naive way of trying to get things changed.

World Champion Damon Hill has said that Villeneuve's comments are "total nonsense" and that: "It should still be difficult to drive a F1 car" and that the new rules "put the onus back on the drivers to show what they can do with an unwieldy beast with more horsepower than grip."