DECEMBER 19, 2001
The morning after the night before at British American Racing
Jacques Villeneuve is almost certain to leave in the longer term, most likely in the short term. He is still managed by Craig Pollock, who remains a board director of BAR, and even now it's easy to imagine Pollock and Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore trying to cut a deal to move Jacques to the blue riband French team even before the start of the new season.
For much of 2001 Jacques has seemed to struggle with his motivation as only on rare occasions has the BAR-Honda 003 enabled him to display flashes of the star quality which carried him to the 1997 world championship. BAR without Pollock in charge will soon take on the character of an alien environment for the 30-year old Canadian who originally left Williams - let it be remembered - because Pollock was going to craft the new team round his specific requirements. On the face of the last three year's results, this clearly hasn't worked.
It is a well established tenet of the F1 business - or any other successful business, in fact - that after any major reorganization of the management structure, the incoming new man wants to stamp his identity on the operation as quickly as possible. Richards is not the kind of guy to operate on an impulsive basis, but it would be understandable if he quickly concluded that Villeneuve represented a symbolic totem from the previous regime and that a change would benefit all concerned.
Ironically, the beneficiary of all this BAR realignment could be the number two driver Olivier Panis who has already blossomed in this new environment. Yet hard results will be difficult to come by. Richards has taken on what looks like his biggest challenge to date; making a success of a team which was, originally and uniquely, founded on PR hype and the quest for marketing initiatives rather than on an established engineering heritage.